Italian distance runner Yemaneberhan Crippa (© Getty Images)
Since the spread of the deadly New Coronavirus began earlier this year, athletes, like everyone else, have been forced to adjust. First, those things directly related to their athletic pursuits: their schedules, their training, their travel. As the virus continued to spread across the planet, those adjustments moved from the professional to the personal and are now impacting on most aspects of their lives -where and when they can eat and shop, who they can see and who they can't – just like the rest of us.
With nearly 25,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,809 deaths reported (as at 16 March), Italy is by far the hardest hit country in Europe and was the first (After China) to institute a nationwide quarantine. That came on 9 March, a lockdown that has dramatically restricted movement and further turned normal life on its head.
That’s the context now in which athletes are looking towards the Olympic Games. Conjecture about the future of those Games, scheduled to get underway on 24 July, is feeding the uncertainty, but for now that goal remains as the key driving force for Italian athletes who are trying to keep upbeat even as some scramble to find places to train.
“I’m worried about the national emergency and the lack of races but my mood remains good,” said Davide Re, the national 400m record holder, who, instead of attending an overseas training camp, is currently in Rieti where he is today celebrating his 27th birthday. Restrictions have closed indoor training facilities, but as a national level athlete, he has been given permission to train on an outdoor track.
“I’m sorry to celebrate my birthday in quarantine, without the classic pastarelle at the camp,” he said. “But training is good. Luckily, being a national athlete I have the opportunity to go to the field so my routine hasn’t changed too much. We can't use the gym, of course, but we can use the weights on the track outside.”
For Vallortigara, a time for focus, and reflection
From Siena, high jumper Elena Vallortigara reports that for her, not too much has changed.
“Last week I managed to train every day on my track except Tuesday, but I made up for that on a football pitch. If the facility remains open, it changes little, because I can jump and train on the track.
Not knowing when the season will resume, Vallortigara said, is the more difficult uncertainty to manage.
Since the date of her next competition is up in the air, Vallortigara said, “the best thing is to continue my general conditioning work that I would have done in this period anyway, and then finalise my plans when there will be more specific news - even on the Olympic Games. Making many plans on what may or may not be is really a waste of energy right now.”
Re concurred. “I hope we’ll know something soon about the season to figure out how to regulate our training.”
An even greater difficulty, Vallortigara said, “is to maintain a positive, and even a little detached attitude. I feel that this feeling of general panic and insecurity has an impact on me, as on everyone. I’m fortunate to be able to go to the field and maintain at least some normalcy in my days.
“But the most important problem is people’s health: from my side, I try to remain focused on the target, because I think this can help me, hoping normality may come back soon. I also hope everyone can come back to their usual lives as soon as possible, but in the meantime, with increased awareness. This period should also be one for everybody to reflect.”
Crippa assists national campaign
Meanwhile, national 10,000m record holder Yeman Crippa continues his drive towards Tokyo from his home base in Trento.
“The situation is more difficult and I have to be much more careful, and always have my self-declaration with me,” he said, referring to a state-mandated document which allows him to leave his home.
“For a while I won’t be on the track and in the gym, but for bicycle and road training there isn’t a problem. But it’s not a good situation because races and training camps have been cancelled. Tomorrow I was supposed to go to the United States.
“It’s getting hard but I won’t give up. I know it will work out so my preparation for Tokyo continues, albeit with some more obstacles. It would have been worse if we hadn't been able to train at all.”
Like the others, he’s taking the current health risks and national decrees very seriously. Crippa was among the leading figures involved in the #DistantiMaUniti campaign set up by the Italian Ministry for Sport and Youth Policies whose aim was to convince young people to stay at home during this critical period.
Bringing their work home
Plenty of athletes are bringing their work home as best as they can. Like this unidentified high jumper in Milan.
So too are shot putter Leonardo Fabbri and hurdler Luminosa Bogliolo.
After a strong indoor campaign capped by a 21.59m national indoor record, Fabbri is back at work at his home in Florence.
“We decided to disconnect for a few days after the commitments of the indoor season, where I competed a lot. But now my training continues at home.” He’s hoping to return to his regular training base in Bologna two weeks from now.
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Bogliolo, last year’s World University Games 100m hurdles champion, brought her work into her living room in the northwestern town of Alassio, located midway between Genoa and San Remo.
“Yes, I have all the tools in my living room, so when I'm not on the field I can train on treadmills, stationary bikes and resistance bands,” she said. But she too is finding the uncertainty of competitions the most difficult aspect to adjust to.
“The situation continues to change. Mentally I want to believe that we will compete again, but you cannot know. My coaches are changing the schedules a bit, but we’re working as if we’ll have a regular outdoor season.
“I’m trying not to give up and stay focused even if what is happening in Italy and around the world is truly an incredible situation."
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Nazareno Orlandi (FIDAL) and Bob Ramsak for World Athletics