KAMPALA, UGANDA – The coronavirus pandemic has some top-flight athletes struggling to stay sharp for next year’s Tokyo Olympics after training facilities were shut down and competitions cancelled.
Ugandan runner Halima Nakaayi, the gold medalist in the 800 meters at the 2019 World Athletics Championships, is doing her best to prepare under the restrictions imposed by COVID-19.
With the games postponed and Uganda’s gyms and stadiums closed since March to curb the spread of COVID-19, her only option is Kampala’s open roads.
But the 25-year-old runner said training at home is the least of her worries.
“Around January, February, we’d got an opportunity to participate in the indoor games (World Athletics indoor, Nanjing), of which the main target was Tokyo. So, due to COVID, all the races were cancelled. And the worry mostly, being a lady, my time in sports is so short. So, I have to use my body — if it’s in position — to deliver good results.”
Stuck in Uganda and without international competitions, Nakaayi trains with other runners who are also preparing for the Tokyo Games.
They are only allowed to train in small groups to abide by measures to curb the spread of the virus.
Another Ugandan runner, Winnie Nanyondo, said the lockdown and delayed Olympics has also been mentally challenging.
“We have to focus; we have to remain in training. Because, next year is (the) Olympics,” Nanyondo said. “This year, there’s nothing. Just only diamond leagues. And the other year is world championships.”
The Diamond League is a series of top-tier athletic competitions for elite athletes. Most of the competitions have been canceled, although there is hope one might take place in Monaco this August.
Uganda’s National Council of Sports admits the pandemic has posed challenges for athletes to stay fit and motivated.
Ismail Dhakaba is the National Council of Sports spokesperson.
“It’s been very challenging. Because in an Olympic year is when the athletes are most fit,” Dhakaba said. “I’ve got to say, that’s when their bodies, their minds, are in the best shapes of their lives. Because they are trying to do everything to win Olympic gold or to raise their status. Now, without the Diamond League happening, it’s a very unfortunate situation, for one reason, that, that’s where they make most of their money.”
These Ugandan athletes hope that restrictions on international competitions can be lifted as soon as possible.
Nakaaayi wants to race at the Diamond League in Monaco in August, assuming that COVID-19 is by then under control.