UG’s top athletes’ schedule cleared
Oh good, the Games are finally cancelled
Funnily enough, Thijmen Kupers, an 800-metre runner, had been hoping for a while that the Olympic Games would be cancelled. Not that he hadn’t been training. Officially, he was still trying to qualify for this year’s Games. Nevertheless, the student of human machine communication had toned his training activities down already.
He was preparing for the Games being cancelled. While others continued their training unabated, reasoning that it would give them an edge, he felt this wasn’t smart. ‘Training too hard can damage your immune system. That would be a bad thing right now.’
He was relieved, therefore, when the International Olympic Committee finally made up its mind last week. The Tokyo Olympic Games will be moved to the summer of 2021. The outbreak of the coronavirus has made it impossible for the event to be held safely.
‘Now it’s just a matter of staying fit’, Kupers says. ‘I run and cycle, and my sports club loaned me a few dumbbells.’ Nevertheless, the cancellation of the Games is a bitter pill. The athlete was forced to delay his debut once before; he failed to qualify for the Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 by just three hundredths of a second.
This year, he was determined to qualify. When the Diamond League in Shanghai, set to take place in May, was cancelled, he saw the writing on the wall. The virus could potentially impact the rest of the season severely: ‘I realised fairly quickly that we were training for something that wasn’t going to happen. I had originally planned to graduate in 2021, after the Games. I’ll probably have to move that, too.’
Aegir rower Melvin Twellaar was even more disappointed. While Kupers still had to qualify for the Games, he and rowing partner Stef Broenink were set to compete in their double scull.
Twellaar did see it coming, though: ‘For me, the news came on time. Originally, the IOC was set to make its decision only two months ahead of time, which would leave us with very little time to prepare. Now we know what to expect.’ Besides, he emphasises, ‘health comes first’.
I was training for something that wasn’t going to happen
He will continue his training, albeit differently. Fortunately, the Bosbaan in Amsterdam is still open to rowers, as that is where he trains. Other facilities have closed down. ‘They only allow boats of max two people, and only permanent rowing partners’, he explains. ‘In the boat, you’re approximately 1.5 metres apart, that’s why.’
The rowing union quickly responded to training complexes shutting down. ‘We were sent an ergometer and a bicycle. I was pretty well prepared. I just wasn’t doing any strength training, but I don’t need to anymore now that the Games are cancelled.’
Now he suddenly finds himself having time off. ‘There might be an alternative competition in October. That way we have something to look forward to.’
There is one bright spot, though. The Games may have been delayed, but he won’t have to qualify again. His Olympic ticket will remain valid, even if he doesn’t have to keep up his training. He’ll continue training in order to keep up. ‘I have to stay at the level I’m at now. I’ll get back to strength training as soon as I can.’
For some, the delay might actually be a good thing. Cyclist Lonneke Uneken debuted last season, switching to top team Boels-Dolmans this year. She was also named Groningen sports talent in 2019. She really wanted to ride at the Games, but they would have come too early for her.
On March 11 and 12, she and her teammates were staying in a hotel in Drenthe. The parcour recon of the Acht van Westerveld and the Ronde of Drenthe, two international tracks, continued as planned. The organisation hadn’t yet made any decisions about cancelling the event. In the meantime, the famous classic Strade Bianche in Italy had been cancelled.
Teammates who live in Spain have to stay inside
When they returned to their hotel on the twelfth, Uneken and her teammates were told that their track weekend was cancelled as well. ‘The decision made sense’, says Uneken. On the day she was supposed to ride the Ronde van Drenthe, she rode an individual tour through Groningen of 187 kilometres.
Since then, she too has switched to her ‘winter training schedule’, she said. For Uneken, it’s no problem. ‘Fortunately, I’m allowed outside and the weather is nice. Some of my teammates live in Spain, and they have to stay in.’
She is having trouble staying motivated, though. It’s not usually a problem, ‘but that’s because I’m on a strict training schedule, working towards a race. Now I’m just riding my bike around’, she says. To keep it up, she reminds herself that ‘every training is good for something. If I can’t compete this year, I’ll do it next year.’
At least now I can concentrate on my studies again
For now, her first race will take place in June: the National Championship on the VAM hill in Drenthe. If that’s happening. In the meantime, Uneken is using her extra time to focus on her studies. ‘I’ve been abroad so much that I didn’t have time. Now I can concentrate on it again. Although the exams I was supposed to have two weeks ago have been delayed.’
Then, maybe, just maybe, she can race at the Games, albeit in 2021. The delay could be an opportunity for her, couldn’t it? She laughs. ‘My chances might have increased a little. But only a little. The other Dutch women cyclists are still training as well.’