A runner in London (© Getty Images)
Welcome to The New Normal: life in the time of coronavirus, where we'll be sharing stories and updates about how athletes are adjusting to and coping with the spread of COVID-19. We'll be providing updates regularly and daily and encourage athletes to get in touch so we can share their stories, too.
Updates by Jon Mulkeen and Bob Ramsak
Friday 17 April
Rohler: 'I feel like the fans are missing our sport very much'
18:15 - 17 April
Hands up. Who’s missing athletics? (🙋) One person who can see the raised arms in the room is Olympic javelin champion Thomas Rohler.
“I feel like the fans are missing our sport very much,” the German says from his base in Jena. “This is something I’m happy about, actually. Because when there’s something always around you, it’s a given; the fans don’t tell you that they love it so much. But they tell us that they miss it so much, these days, that it tells me that they love our sport. They miss our sport. I think I see a big chance here.”
It is the fans’ hankering that drives Rohler’s continued commitment to training through the Covid lockdown: “That keeps me very much motivated, staying in the best shape I can.”
And just as well: as a javelin thrower, there was no indoor season for Rohler, who now hasn’t competed since October, when he finished 14th in the Doha World Championships final. Although the Coronavirus has scuppered designs on an Olympic title defence in Tokyo this year, he is able to see the bigger picture.
“The good thing is that my horizon of planning, in terms of a sports career, is much further than 2020/2021,” he explains. “So, for me, when things started getting critical in Asia, let’s say in February, me and coach were already talking about the postponement of the Olympics could be an option this year, so we never planned super-strict.
Of benefit, he believes, was his involvement with World Athletics’ Athletes Commission.
“This is something that helped me in the situation. I was never very sad about it; we were very much involved in finding the opinion about how to decide, we were very close with fellow athletes – local groups, the clubs, and the athlete level. It really helped. I was so much integrated in the process of the postponement. I’m a person who can accept things that I cannot change.”
Although there will be no stab at double Olympic glory this year, and there remains no saying when normal competition of any kind will return, Rohler insists he is ready to snap back into action.
“I’m trying to stay fit and so I’m able for a quick restart, let’s call it. I think the tough part of Covid-19 is the fact that it’s not plan-able at all, and sport is all about planning – you have to know when to reach a competition, you have to structure training. You need to be in crocodile mode, you need to be able to just be relaxed and fit for an uncertain period of time.
“I’m trying to get myself in a good position, ready to attack again whether it’s late 2020, hopefully, or 2021. I’m hoping for some competitions just to keep the circuit running.”
In the meantime, he’s happy to indulge in some of his passions outside of sport.
“I will keep on being a good family guy,” he says. “Making things around the house, making the garden as beautiful as I can. Taking the positive part out of Covid. And, at the same time, I really hope the measures that are being taken, the travel restrictions and these things, that they really last; not something to get the curve down now and then in spring 2020 and then it all comes back in fall time.
“I’m very much nature related. The fly-fishing season just started, the garden season just started, these are the things that keep me mentally healthy. They are things that I love besides sport.
He adds: “I think this is something we should tell everybody out there. It’s also the time for sports heroes like we are to tell people that it’s ok to be a normal person, to have things around your passion. There are more passions to follow. People should stay positive.”
For Walsh life under lockdown includes building, throwing and biking
16:45 - 17 April
New Zealand’s national lockdown has left Wanda Diamond League shot put champion Tom Walsh consigned to the house. The Kiwi has not, however, been left short of things to keep him busy during the Covid crisis.
Walsh worked as a builder before becoming a full time professional athlete, and the skills he developed on site continue to come in useful today.
“I’m an active relaxer, I think they call it. I like to do things rather than sit by a beach and put my feet up!” he says from his home office, beer in hand.
“We bought about ten acres of land about nine months ago, so that’s a long term plan. It’s the dream house: a little bit of land, a little bit of stock, and just a bit more space.
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“I’m actually designing a big shed with a gym and a workshop, and few other bits and pieces that can go in there. So there’s a bit of the paperwork at the moment going in to designing that and getting to the planning stage.”
Not that the 2017 world champion is in a rush.
“I don’t want to do all of the jobs too quickly! We’ve got another ten days of our lockdown to go. I don’t want to get to the last few days and start annoying Dana (Walsh’s partner)!”
And the beer at his side? Nothing special, he insists.
“It’s not a Corona so I’m alright!” Walsh laughs. “No – the joys of being a slightly heavier man, you can get a way with a few of these. I might have one or two a night.
“But, look, I can afford that kind of stuff. I don’t need to be trim for my sport, so there are certain luxuries that come with that. But also to stay at 125kg obviously takes a bit of effort with how much I eat, too.”
Walsh explains that training, although disrupted by lockdown, has not come to a halt.
“I can’t throw and train in the facility that I normally do, because that’s a government facility and closed,” he says. “But I’ve got a wee gym set up in my garage with some weights.
“It’s actually very lucky, I bought an e-bike six or seven months ago, when I came home, so I’m biking to a shot put circle which is about five minutes away from my house. I’m actually losing some weight because I’m doing some aerobic work! I’m very lucky that I’ve got quite a good set up here.”
That arrangement means Walsh believes he remains ready to compete as soon as it is safe to do so.
“Listen, as long as everything is right and the right decision is made by the countries and so forth to keep people safe, I think for sure I would make it happen. Like I said, I’m in a very lucky position, with a wee gym in my garage and a circle not too far away. I’m not like someone who hasn’t been able to do my event for a month. I’m closer to being ready than some may be.
“But, look, who knows? We may have comps at the end of the year, but we may not. I know in New Zealand that we’ll probably put on some indoor comps, anyway, to keep the ball rolling. The joys of having three or four really good shot putters, at a world level, in one country, means that we can compete against each other.”
Not that he’s in a rush to return to competition. His wider priority remains a global recovery.
“Obviously, all around the world, and also back in New Zealand, there’s going to be a lot of people, a lot of businesses hurting from it. But I think that most places in the world are doing the right thing by trying to restrict travel and so forth, to really nip it in the bud early on. I feel like here in New Zealand we’re doing a really good job of that.
“I’m happy to take one for the team, one for the country, one for the world, in terms of sacrificing a few things, to make it better in the long run.”
In the meantime, he’s growing a beard. It is not a result of one of his infamous bets with his coach Dale Stevenson.
“It’s probably because I’ve got a little bit lazy,” he smiles. “But I’m sure it will come into a bet at some time with Dale. We’ll have something on the line.
“I lost a bet about three or four weeks ago, and I had to have an earring for about a month. That’s just come out. I look really good with an earring in, too. Just another bet that I lost to add to the tally.”
Tonight: Wanda Diamond League Call Room live - special Doha edition
14:45 - 17 April
The 2020 Wanda Diamond League season was supposed to launch in the Qatari capital this weekend, but with the world in lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis, the Road to the Diamond League Final is officially on hold.
Luckily, the Wanda Diamond League communications team have something to fill the big, athletics-shaped hole in your weekend: the WDL Call Room.
Under normal circumstances, the call room at the Qatar Sports Club is where the stars of the Doha Diamond League would have waited to take the stage at Friday's season launch.
As it turns out, we are now all playing a waiting game. So the WDL team decided to invite some of the world's best athletes into a virtual, coronavirus-free call room.
Instead of live action from Doha, the WDL will be broadcasting the next best thing: a special highlights and discussion show starring some of the world's finest athletes.
Multiple Diamond Trophy winners Tom Walsh and Katerina Stefanidi will join javelin superstar Thomas Röhler in the virtual call room to talk Doha, the Diamond League, and self-isolation.
US 100m hurdles star and world record holder Keni Harrison will also be dropping in, and we will be making a virtual trip to Doha itself with local high jump hero Mutaz Essa Barshim.
The show will revisit some of the highlights from the last ten years of the Doha Diamond League, including Barshim's first victory on home soil and the time Röhler nearly took out a cameraman with a 93.90m monster effort.
There will also be advice on how to keep fit with the help of your dog, and how to practise pole vault from the comfort of your own home.
Here's a teaser:
Harper-Nelson's lockdown training diary
11:30 - 17 April
Just because she's training very close to home and off the track doesn't mean that 2008 Olympic 100m hurdles champion Dawn Harper-Nelson is escaping her training 'death days'.
In her case, it's Tuesday. Watch part of it below.
I wonder how many people on Harper-Nelson's street know that they live near an Olympic champion?
Track & The Neighborhood— Dawn Harper-Nelson OLY (@DHarp100mH) April 15, 2020
Tuesday is death day
Dawn: The track isn’t open
Coach: Say Less
💪🏾🙏🏾 #Tokyo2021 @usatf @worldathletics @nbcolympics @womenshealthmag @runnersworldmag #withme #oneteam
🎶: @brunomars @zoeesl pic.twitter.com/YS4dEQ9s4o
Thursday 16 April
NACAC Track and Field Coaching Association Virtual Coaching Congress set for this weekend
17:00 - 16 April
The North America, Central American and Caribbean Area Association (NACAC) coaches association will hold a three-day virtual congress from 16-18 April via Zoom.
A long list of distinguished coaches from the Area will be participating, either speaking on panels or sharing presentations. More information is on the association's Facebook group page. The entire programme, with direct links to each Zoom presentation, is also available for download.
Penn Relays continue with with digital version on 24 April
14:35 - 16 April
Since its inception in April 1895, The Penn Relays has grown into the oldest and largest athletics competition in the United States, continuing uninterrupted since that inaugural edition.
Its 126th edition, slated for next weekend, won't attract the 15,000-plus participants that have converged upon The University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field in Philadelphia annually in recent years, with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing its cancellation.
Instead, organisers will host its first digital livestream of an all-virtual rendition of the classic event by way of the popular game Minecraft on Friday 24 April.
Partnering with Gen.G, the global esports organisation connecting the best gamers in the United States and Asia, The Digital Penn Relays will allow multiple teams of speedrunners and individuals to compete against each other on custom-built Minecraft courses around Franklin Field, including hurdles, water, lava and even an ice race course with boats.
Echoing the traditional Penn Relays, teams will include boys & girls high school and collegiate divisions as well as several Olympic Development athletes. With a focus on bridging the generations of gaming, teams can also be a mix of Penn students, high school students, parents, alumni, faculty and speedrunners.
Even over self-isolating distances, Melbourne Track Club bonds remain strong
13:00 - 16 April
While the battle to contain the coronavirus has scattered members of the Melbourne Track club to various corners of the country, the bond its members have created over the years have remained stronger than ever.
The Gregsons (Ryan and Genevieve) are in the NSW town of Forster, middle-distance star (Matthew) Ramsden has returned to Western Australia and the likes of (Stewart) McSweyn, (Brett) Robinson and (Sinead) Diver are at home in Melbourne, training alone or in pairs.
But they are all constantly in touch.
"You communicate with them as much as you can without being a pest," (coach Nic) Bideau told AAP.
"Getting everyone together and training together is a unique thing for us but it's just not possible at the moment.
"We can't really measure our success because there's no competition.
"When competitions are back on the table we'll be straight back together again and pick up the pieces.
Martinot-Lagarde auctions Doha kit, raises €1500 for local coronavirus battle
10:15 - 16 April
French sprint hurdler Pascal Martinot-Lagarde auctioned the kit he wore during last year's World Athletics Championships in Doha, raising €1500 for local nursing staff battling the coronavirus.
The Doha bronze medallist's kit was among the most popular so far in an auction campaign organised by Cyril Demoulin, the goalie for the French national handball team, and implemented via his website. Demoulin has collected dozens of kits, shirts and jerseys from French athletes across all sport for his initiative which has so far raised €40,000.
France has been especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 17,000 deaths reported and 106,000 confirmed cases.
Wednesday 15 April
17:15 - 15 April
After finishing third at the US Marathon Trials in February, 2012 Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Sally Kipyego headed back to her farm in Kenya with her family.
In a recent interview with Runners World, Kipyego – who trained as a nurse – explained what the situation is like in her country of birth.
“I am worried, obviously. I have a lot of friends who are nurses and healthcare providers. It’s kind of scary to see what is happening in the US. Kenya is such a small country. If it was to leak out to the villages, I don’t even know. The health system is not that great. If somewhere like America is struggling to handle their situation, then you can only imagine what would happen if there was an outbreak, a high spike. We’re trying our best. Hopefully there is a vaccine out there in the near future.
“It’s horrible what is happening. I can’t even believe how the world has changed in the last few months. Yes, we are runners and we are Olympians and everyone is talking about the Olympics being postponed and all that. But [it’s not so important] in the grand scheme of things."
Ibarguen on the verge of making history
15:45 - 15 April
When Caterine Ibarguen struck gold in Rio four years ago, she became the oldest ever winner of the women’s Olympic triple jump title.
Now the Tokyo Games have been postponed, the Colombian will be 37 by the time of the next Olympics. And if she finishes in the top three in the Japanese capital, she stands to make even more history as she will become the oldest ever triple jump medallist – man or woman – and only the second woman to secure three Olympic medals in the discipline.
Her first goal, though, is to remain healthy until 2021 and to enjoy the process.
“It seems to me the most sensible decision, because everyone's health comes first," she said in a statement issued by Global Sports Communication. "I do not deny that it was a bit sad for me, because I was very excited to be there this year, however I will look on the bright side.
“This will serve for a better recovery and an optimal preparation. Until this date I will continue for Tokyo in 2021.
“If God allows me, I will be there. Until the end of my fabulous sports career, regardless of the result, I will enjoy it.”
Strong alone, but stronger together
14:00 - 15 April
The world's best pole vaulters never shy away from facing one another in the competitive arena, so it's understandable that they're missing one another at the moment.
But they came together - virtually, of course - for a video message, united in their belief that they are stronger together.
The fittest nurse in Quebec
10:00 - 15 April
For Canadian marathon runner Melanie Myrand, the postponement of the Olympic Games is the least of her worries at the moment.
The 34-year-old works as a front-line care specialist at the Saint-Polycarpe community service centre in Montérégie, Quebec, where she is exposed to the risks of contracting the virus.
“When you make the decision to work in health care, it’s because you decided to take risks for the good of others,” says Myrand, who finished 27th in the marathon at last year’s World Championships in Doha.
“I wouldn’t like to get the virus and I would probably have minimal symptoms if that happened to me, but my first choice is to be a nurse. The second is that of being a runner. If I catch it, I won't be able to run like I used to, but my priority is my job as a nurse practitioner. If necessary, I will put myself at risk for others.”
Tuesday 14 April
While waiting to make Olympic debut, Harrison has found time for Oreos
22:30 - 14 April
Kendra Harrison has waited a long time to make her Olympic debut.
The 27-year-old has qualified to represent the USA in the sprint hurdles – no mean feat in itself, given the nation’s depth in the event – at five consecutive World Championships, indoors and out.
She has improved over time, too. From a DQ in the semis in 2015, to a fourth-place finish in 2017, she made it on to the podium in Doha last year, taking the world silver medal. Indoors is a similar story too; she turned an eighth-place finish in 2016 into gold just two years later.
She looked set to make the Olympic team in 2016, but finished sixth at the US Trials – her one loss that season. She famously rebounded two weeks later, though, and broke the world record in London with 12.20.
Harrison had hoped to get a second shot at making an Olympic team in 2020, but she has now accepted that she’ll have to wait another year to make that dream a reality.
“I had a pretty good indoor season and then going into the outdoor season we were going really well,” she said. “I’ve been working on my running mechanics and training with Jenna Prandini. Getting my speed back up, I was just excited to sprint at the beginning of the season, before I started hurdling.
“And then when all this started happening, it was kind of like, ‘is this really happening? We’re really shutting the world down?’ That’s when I was like, ‘alright, we got to just get back and really realise that our health is the most important thing’.
“I was looking forward to the Olympics this year,” she added. “At first I didn’t think it (the coronavirus) was going to be as bad as it was. I was still trying to keep a positive mind. But we (athletes) are not the only ones going through this. We’ve all got to adapt.”
Since the IOC decided to postpone the Olympics, Harrison admits her motivation has taken a slight knock. But she is also trying to find positives.
“At first, before the Olympics were postponed, it was really easy for me to stay on my regimen and diet,” she said. “But as soon as it was postponed, it was just kind of like, ‘so can I have some Oreos?!’
“You can’t be too strict right now, because you don’t know what’s about to happen. So I’m enjoying some of my meals. They’re not the healthiest but, you know, I just take a little bit here and a little bit there, and just go day by day. And I try not to be too hard on myself, because we don’t know what’s going to happen the rest of the year.”
When she hasn’t been training at home, Harrison has spent time on other pursuits.
“I like to paint, so I’ve been painting a lot. I’ve been doing a lot of house projects. I bought my first house last year and there were a lot of little things I wanted to get done, so I have finally been able to do them. But I do know some states have it worse than others, so I’m just really grateful Texas isn’t as bad as New York, or Florida.”
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Calling Indian athletics coaches
19:30 - 14 April
Athletics coaches in India can still top up their knowledge while in isolation.
In collaboration with the Sports Authority of India, the Athletics Federation of India is running online classes for level-one coaches.
More information here:
Bolt creating awareness and helping in Jamaica's fight
18:15 - 14 April
Sprint superstar Usain Bolt has donated JMD500,000 (€3400/$3700) to the 'Jamaica Together We Stand' telethon.
Bolt's home country is looking to raise $10.5million (€9.6 million) to help fight the spread of the coronavirus in Jamaica.
He also took to social media to share an image of his 100m victory at the 2008 Beijing Olympics - which doubles as a fitting reminder of the current social distancing rules.
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Chambers looks on the bright side
12:10 - 14 April
After retiring from athletics in 2016, two-time Jamaican 400m champion Ricardo Chambers embarked on a farming career.
In recent months he devoted much of his time to growing parsley and had a guaranteed market from hotels in Jamaica. But those potential sales were thwarted by the outbreak of the coronavirus.
"I made a massive investment," he said in a video posted to his Instagram account. "I thought it was easy money. I thought 2020 was going to be my breakthrough year. And then the coronavirus came, hotels closed and it wiped me out."
"The only thing I can do now is look for the opportunities from the coronavirus. I can't wait for the tourism sector to rebound, so instead I'm going to plant something in these beds that our local citizens can buy.
"This virus has set me way, way back. But the good news is that I don't have the virus, I'm alive, and I'm healthy. When you fall off the bridge, you get back up stronger and smarter."
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Monday 13 April
Sidelined from training, Arbe goes to work - building his house
18:00 - 13 April
When Argentine marathoner Joaquín Arbe clocked a 2:11:02 lifetime best at the Buenos Aires Marathon last August, he punched his ticket to the Tokyo Olympic Games and was expecting to be using the early months of the year working on his build-up to Tokyo. But since the coronavirus quarantine left him with no place to run, he has instead been on his knees laying his kitchen floor.
"When I returned from Cachi, where I was training before all this happened, I knew that I could no longer go out to train and that I would have no choice but to stay at home, so I took advantage."
Since his grandmother gave him and his family the unfinished house, He's been using his modest earnings from road races to make gradual improvements, additions and renovations to the home. A self-taught builder, he often reaches out to his 9000 Instagram followers for tips, advice, feedback and praise. He's hoping that he'll be allowed to run soon, but in the meantime, he'll be plastering his childrens' bedroom walls.
Kipyegon: 'We just have to understand and wait'
15:20 - 13 April
Faith Kipyegon says she'd been working herself into great shape this pre-season, boding well for the run-up to her Olympic 1500m title defence in Tokyo. But like everyone else, she's been forced to adjust to the whims of the coronavirus epidemic.
Speaking to the Daily Nation from her training base in Eldoret, Kenya, Kipyegon said:
“I was in good shape this year and I was hopeful of retaining my title and to even run my personal best compared to last season. The virus has stopped the world and we just have to understand and wait.”
Instead, she's passing her time with long runs and speed work.
“I had great plans this season of improving my performance in the distance and I would have used the Diamond League races but we have been left now to train on our own because there is no competition ahead."
Kipyegon suffered a hip injury in the World Championships final last year but still clocked a 3:54.22 national record to finish second behind Sifan Hassan. It's a performance she was very pleased with.
“Hassan beat me due to my short preparation for the race because I was also coming back from maternity leave."
Tokyo delay in Manangoi's favour
13:00 - 13 April
A hamstring injury kept Elijah Manangoi from advancing from his 1500m heat at the Rio Olympics four years ago. He took the world title the following year in London but another injury sustained last August, this time a stress fracture, sidelined him from defending his title in Doha.
The Tokyo Olympic postponement might actually work in the 27-year-old Kenyan's favour, offering another year to fully mend and better prepare for his Olympic title quest.
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Speaking from his home in Ntulele, Narok County, about 131km from Nairobi, Manangoi told the Daily Nation:
“I was looking forward to the event this year after having fully recovered but again, the postponement gives me a chance to prepare better."
“If normalcy resumes, it could be late this year where one can only take part in two or three events. For me it gives me an extra year to prepare hence it will definitely help me build up well towards the Olympics but also the 2022 World Championships."
He also discusses his current solo training regime, which begins at 5:30 each morning.
USOPC donates 8000kg of food to Colorado food bank
11:00 - 13 April
Following the recent Olympic Games postponement announcement, more than 18,000 pounds (8,100kg) of food that the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee has been collecting for its Olympic and Paralympic athletes was rerouted - instead of heading to Tokyo it was set to the Care and Share Food Bank in Colorado Springs.
“These are incredibly difficult times for everyone,” said Rick Adams, the USOPC’s chief of sport performance and National Governing Body services. “Our CEO, Sarah Hirshland, is someone who’s always thinking about others and in this case when she became aware that we had this large volume of food she wanted to make sure we did all we could for the people in Colorado Springs who need it.”
Why was the food bound for Tokyo?
The logistics behind sending athletes to the Olympic and Paralympic Games are coordinated to the smallest details and begin years in advance. A big part of the USOPC’s support of athletes is making sure that they have the proper nutrition both for performance and recovery, and that means ensuring that the same food the athletes would be eating in the United States is available in whatever country the Games may be held. As such, the organization ships enormous amounts of food to wherever the Summer and Winter Games are located, and it also sends chefs that prepare the athletes’ food on a regular basis at the various training centers to ensure continuity, Adams said.
Food planned to feed #TeamUSA athletes in Tokyo will now be used to help feed those in need.— Team USA (@TeamUSA) April 7, 2020
"Unfortunately the product isn’t on its way to Tokyo, but there are more important things going on and we wanted to do our small part to help."
With thousands facing layoffs in the state, the food will be put to good use immediately.
Care and Share serves 31 counties in southern Colorado and last year helped 171,000 people, chief operating officer Shannon Brice said. Although she doesn’t yet have numbers, they’ve already seen an increase in need with many people unable to work amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s going to continue to be an issue and we’ll be responding to it for a good amount of time,” she said.
The USOPC regularly donates food from its Colorado Springs facility to the food bank, but nothing on the level of the shipment delivered last week. It totaled 18,362 pounds, Brice said, and with one pound equaling roughly 1.2 meals it will make a significant difference.