After coming desperately close to several world titles, few athletes were as desperate to get on the plane to Tokyo as Brazilian shot putter Darlan Romani.
Romani was forced to settle for fourth at the 2019 World Championships in Doha following the closest shot put competition of all time.
The 29-year-old's throw of 22.53m would have won him gold at any previous World Championships however he was left out of the medals after Joe Kovacs, Ryan Crouser and Tom Walsh all threw over 22.90m. Kovacs went on to take the gold medal by just a centimetre with a throw of 22.91m.
No athlete had thrown further than 22.80m since 1990 before this competition, perhaps making Romani the greatest shot putter to miss out on a medal at a major championship.
Desperate for vengeance, the news of the Olympic cancelation was a tough reality for the shot putter. “My wife came out and told me the Olympics had been postponed when I was doing a technical session in the garden.”
“I’d had excellent results over the last two years and was feeling good about things so when the news came it was difficult to accept.
“As time went on I realised the world is going through a tough time and there are greater things at stake but the Olympic Games was the goal. It is the dream of every athlete to win Olympic gold.”
Rio finalist and Area record holder
Due to the depth in shot put competition in recent years Romani has frequently just missed out on medals.
Nevertheless Romani wrote himself into Brazilian athletics folklore in front of a home crowd at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when he became the first Brazilian to make an Olympic final in the shot put since Antonio Peiriera Lira in 1936.
Romani broke his national record twice at the competition throwing 20.94m while qualifying before breaking the 21-metre barrier for the first time in the final (21.02m) to finish fifth.
A first South American record followed two years later at the 2018 World Indoor Championships in Birmingham where Romani threw 21.37m. He once again missed out on a podium finish settling for fourth.
However, it was the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League fixture at Stanford in 2019 when Romani really caught the eye of shot put fans. He improved the South American record three times to move up to ninth on the all-time list.
His throws of 22.46m, 22.55m and 22.61m left not only his opposition stunned but also Romani himself as he added 61cm to his personal best to become the Diamond League record holder.
Fast forward nine months to this year Brazil’s strict coronavirus pandemic lockdown which left Romani stranded at his home in Braganca Paulista on the outskirts of Sao Paulo with no training facilities.
“Lockdown has impacted my training a lot. I had a great rhythm and was feeling strong getting ready for the Olympic Games. Everything was on schedule however our training camp suddenly locked down,” explained Romani.
“The facilities I train in usually were closed but I managed to borrow some equipment from the national training centre so I could train from home.”
The shot putter was left with no choice but to build his own facilities to continue his training.
He adapted a scrap yard near his home into a makeshift training centre, by building a concrete foundation for a throwing circle. He then laid a homemade wooden circle on top of it to simulate competition throwing regulations.
It was here, with the backdrop of rusted barrels, bricks and scrap wood that Brazil’s greatest thrower prepared for the Olympic Games.
Romani said: “I prepared the floor as if I was building a house. I flattened it all as if it was a building foundation to ensure it was level. I then added a wooden mobile sector to complete the project.”
Romani built a wall at one end of the landing area to prevent his neighbour’s afternoons being interrupted by heavy iron balls dropping into their garden.
Romani’s training faced further difficulties due to his coach’s vulnerability to coronavirus. His Cuban coach Justo Navarro is 68, therefore at greater risk if he catches the disease.
Consequently he was not able to assist Romani with his training beyond attending occasional technical sessions meaning Romani was left with just his wife Sara and daughter Alice as training partners.
A return to strict social distancing
It seemed normality would return for Romani when the CNDA (National Center of the Development of Athletics) announced selected athletes could return to training at the start of July.
However, the centre was forced to close again after the city of Bragança Paulista returned to the red phase of the Sao Paulo Plan to combat the coronavirus.
Romani said the region’s return to stricter lockdown created further complications as he had returned his gym equipment to the national centre since he no longer believed he’d need to train from home.
“When the training centre reopened I returned the equipment I’d borrowed as we didn’t expect it to close again,” he said. “However, two weeks later the situation where we live got worse and we were put under red alert.
“We could not get to the centre in time to borrow back the equipment again so I now don’t have any facilities to train. I can only hope that things go well so the centre can reopen. My only other option is to launch a formal petition.”
Romani is uncertain of how well his training is going at the moment. However, the loss of gym equipment will make training from home much more difficult.
A glimmer of hope comes from the Brazilian Olympic Committee’s deal to secure a training camp in Portugal for the next few months.
Around 200 athletes from 16 sports - including 28 from athletics - will be able to come to Europe to continue their training for the Olympic Games.
The athletics group is expected to leave Brazil in early August meaning Romani could be back to normal training in a matter of weeks as long as he passes a test for Covid-19 and quarantines for 48 hours before he starts training.
There is also potential for European competition in the coming months. However, there will be one downside for Romani: He may have to once again be forced to wait to stand on a podium on home soil.
Jacob Phillips for World Athletics