Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

What does Tokyo 2020 postponement mean for GB’s medal hopes?

Posted on 30 March 2020 by Emily Salley

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Last week it was announced that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics would be postponed until 2021 due to the global spread of coronavirus.

While most agreed that postponing the Games was the right decision, the news was met with mixed emotions from athletes.

For some it might be a year too late to achieve their Olympic dreams and elsewhere, it was welcomed as a second chance by some competitors.

So how does it impact Team GB’s medal hopes?

Great Britain and Northern Ireland exceeded expectations at the past two Olympics, finishing in the top three of the medal table at both Rio 2016 and London 2012.

But Tokyo 2020 was predicted to be a much less successful Games with data predicting Team GB would pick up 23 fewer medals than their total of 67 in Rio.

With the Games now taking place a year later than planned, some Team GB athletes’s dreams of medals have been crushed. The likes of Max Whitlock and Dai Greene have voiced their concern that 2021 may be a year too late.

But for other athletes it’s another year to train and improve their chances of succeeding in Tokyo.

This isn’t to say that these athletes are happy that the Olympics have been postponed. No one wants to see the biggest sporting event on earth cancelled or deferred for a year because of a global pandemic. 

The extra twelve months will simply work in some athlete’s favour.

Source: Gracenotes. Virtual Medal Table showing predictions for Tokyo 2020

For promising young stars like Jemma Reekie an additional year to develop and prepare could set her up for Olympic glory. 

The Scot has broken the British indoor records over the 800m,1500m and the mile distances in 2020 and she took to Instagram to pledge her dedication to 2021.

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 “I am going to use this extra year to get faster, stronger and fitter for the Olympics. I will use the hunger and excitement to push myself and make every minute count,” Reekie wrote.

Britain’s golden girl, Dina Asher-Smith might not be viewed as an up and coming talent anymore after her success in last year’s World Championships but at 24-years-old, Asher-Smith is still young and has been improving each year.

Another twelve months could prove essential for her bid for the 100m gold, given that her main rival and current World Champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will be 34 by the time Tokyo 2021 comes along.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson is another athlete, like Asher-Smith, who had been entrusted with Great Britain’s medal hopes. 

The heptathlete’s results have progressed each year and an extra twelve months is unlikely to harm her Olympic ambitions.

In Rio 2016, Great Britain flourished in track cycling, rowing and artistic gymnastics with these sports picking up almost one third of the medal haul.

However projections for 2020 by Gracenote saw the success of these three sports diminish with only eight podium finishes expected compared to the eleven golds collected four years ago.

In rowing, the GB men’s eight are the reigning Olympic champions but the team has since changed and whilst they have medalled at some international events, they haven’t hit gold just yet.

Henry Fieldman, cox of the British men’s eight, believes that an extra year will help a young British Rowing squad to become more experienced.

“We’re going to be doing an extra year of maturing as people and learning more about ourselves. So, I think we’re gonna rock up at the Olympic Games, with an older, more mature team that we would have had, and perhaps that was one of our weaknesses,” Fieldman explains.

Credit: Nick Middleton

Meanwhile in cycling, Team GB have been struggling this year as Elinor Barker was the only cyclist to pick up an individual title in the Track Cycling World Championships in Berlin in early March.

Britain’s medal hopes in the velodrome could depend on cycling’s power couple, Jason and Laura Kenny, who have a combined total of ten Olympic gold medals. But the pair have not been performing to the heights we have seen of them at previous Games.

An extra year to prepare can only be a positive for British Cycling who are fighting to hold onto an era of Olympic greatness.

The worldwide spread of Covid-19 has torn up the sporting calendar with the Olympic Games being postponed for the first time in its history. 

It has been postponed for all the right reasons but it will be hard for some athletes to come to terms that their chances of stepping onto the podium might be over. After all, this is something they have dedicated their whole life to.

But for some, an extra year presents an extra twelve whole months of opportunity. Another twelve months to train, develop and mature, improving upon what they may have lacked before.