Tokyo 2020 postponement: Irish Olympic and Paralympic contenders react

Nine athletes tell us what it means to them that the summer Games have been postponed

Thomas Barr (athletics)

The 27-year-old from Waterford finished fourth in the 400m hurdles in Rio in 2016, and was already well on track for Tokyo 2020

“Relief, to be honest, was my first reaction. I didn’t get overly emotional about it. On Monday, there was the first real talk of postponing, then Canada and Australia pulled out. When I saw the news on Tuesday, I was just glad they didn’t drag it on any longer. There was a lot of uncertainty, did I need to peak for later this year? Now we all have a better idea of what we need to do.

“Of course it’s extremely disappointing too, every athlete had already upped the ante this year, put in more work. At the same time when you see what’s going on around the world, any disappointment is overtaking by what’s going on with the coronavirus.

“It would nearly be more disappointing if it had gone ahead with no crowds, no fans. My parents had already paid to come over, and it would have been a shame if they weren’t there. In the grand scheme of things it’s the best decision, even if all the work done so far this year is almost null and void now.


“But we can just work towards next year. Training has been going well, that’s still a position, and at 27 maybe I’ll be stronger again in 2021. But I’m not feeling sorry for myself, the health and safety of everyone around is the most important thing right now.

“There’s a bit of uncertainty now around qualifying, what happens next, and while postponing is obviously the first big decision, there are lots of questions around what happens now with qualification, which I’m glad I don’t have to answer. But whatever decision is made, I’m hoping once I’m in form I should be okay to qualify in 2021.”

Shane Lowry (golf)

British Open champion

“I can’t say the decision comes as a surprise. There’s so many people coming from so many places, and it is such a big event, the call had to be made sooner rather than later and it is the right thing to do. It is disappointing but it will be on next year and hopefully I will be going then.

“Actually, I feel sorry for all the other athletes who have been training for this for three or four years, it’s their whole lives, and now just a few months out they’ve to stop training and think of next year. Golf is different, we have a lot more tournaments.

“The Olympics was going to be a big part of my year. I’d flights booked from a long time ago and mapped out going over there for a few weeks and to take in the whole experience and obviously play as well. Come December when I sit down to map out my schedule for 2021, the Olympics will hopefully be part of it. For now, there’s a lot bigger things happening than just sport.

Rhys McClenaghan (gymnastics)

The 21-year-old from Belfast and 2019 bronze medallist at the World Gymnastics Championships, was a medal contender in the pommel horse in Tokyo

“I definitely think postponing is the right and best decision, given all the circumstances, not just for the athletes but supporters, fans, everyone. It is crazy time for everyone in the world right now, so it didn’t come as too much as a shock. At the same time before the official announcement I was still training towards this July. I didn’t want any doubt creeping into my mind, or upset my focus.

“Now the mindset will change for now, because I don’t think there will be any competitions for a quite a while. I think everything should be postponed to 2021 now, the rest of the qualifying, but if I need to qualify again, I know I will be prepared for that.

“I’m going to bring my A-game into 2021, use this time as a positive, not dwell on it. I’m sure people are upset, but I’m a very optimistic person, can take a positive out of anything, and I see this as the chance, an extra year, to improve my gymnastics again, and that will just bring me closer to winning that gold medal.

“Nothing will change my hunger. I’m in a very privileged position, being able to train away on my own. I know as well that Japan is a very strong nation, and won’t let something like this crumble their plans, and I believe Tokyo will be even better in 2021.

Annalise Murphy (sailing)

Silver medallist from the Rio Olympics in 2016

“ To be honest I’ve been preparing for this for two to three weeks. You do have to be realistic about what’s happening. It’s sport. There are a lot more important things so I guess it is a good decision. I’m one of the lucky ones, I’ve been training by myself in Dublin Bay and cycling and doing the gym stuff in Dún Laoghaire.

“The thing I found about the Rio cycle was that I put so much emphasis on winning after London 2012, the four years were a struggle, seemed so long and I found training hard. I am able to take a step back now and say it was just a bad day.

“In sport, especially sailing, you get thrown random variables that you have to deal with all the time and that could be the wheel falling off your trailer. Now it’s one more year to do preparation. It’s about having the right attitude.”

Ellen Keane (Paralympic swimmer)

World and European medallist was in training for her fourth Paralympics in Tokyo

“There was so much uncertainty, even around the pools and gym closing, even though Sport Ireland has been great in still allowing us in. It was still hard to train and stay motivated, watching the rest of the world not have the same access, so you’d feel a little frustrated, a little anxious, and guilty too, because obviously this whole thing is far bigger than sport, people dying, losing their jobs, all of that.

“I’ve only raced twice year, everything was getting cancelled, so the news today was actually a relief. The Olympics and Paralympics are about human performance, the best athletes, and it would have been unfair it they weren’t all given the same chance.

“I think 2021 will be an even greater celebration of all that, and even though it might be my fourth Olympics, right now the whole world is united by emotion, which is the motto of these Games. I want to be there. If anything I’m even more motivated now, take a bit of a timeout yes, reflect on things, and then come back stronger for 2021.”

Stephen Scullion (marathon)

The 31-year-old from Belfast, was in line for selection for the men’s Olympic marathon after finishing fifth in Houston in January, running 2:11:52

“It’s mixed emotions, because I was already mentally prepared for this decision, with the New York half-marathon, then the Boston marathon, both postponed already, which I’d hoped to run. I’d left my training base in Flagstaff, Arizona, also with the travel ban in place, and come back to Belfast. The team around me were trying to be persistent, to keep training, that Tokyo might happen, but I didn’t think so.

“But of course it’s the right thing to do. As an athlete, you’re always a bit selfish, but you can’t be angry about an Olympics being postponed when people are losing their jobs, their livelihoods. It’s still a big hit to take, and there are still a lot of questions that need answering, in terms of what they do with the qualification for next year, do they change it? Because I’d make a prediction too there won’t be any races until early next year, or maybe the middle of next year. But it’s happened now, it’s real, and all we can do is stay motivated for 2021 in whatever way we can.”

Katie Mullan (hockey)

Ireland captain, who has been capped 186 times for her country

“As players we are gutted because our excitement had been building, however we totally understand why this decision has been made. What matters most is players’ health and wellbeing, as well as that of our families and friends, and we hope everyone is staying safe and healthy at this difficult time.

“As a team it has been strange doing so much individual training, but everyone has been pushing on with home-gym programmes and trying to increase their fitness with running and cycling. This is a big change for so many people, but everyone is the same situation. We’ll be doing our best to use this as an opportunity.

Leona Maguire (golf)

Rio Olympian and former world amateur number one

“Thankfully the announcement from the committee confirms the Games will be postponed and not cancelled which means our Olympic dreams are still alive. It’s disappointing for everyone involved, not only the athletes but all the support staff who have spent countless hours training, planning and preparing for this summer’s Games.

“That said, as athletes we appreciate that making sacrifices is part and parcel of sport and life. But this is bigger than sport, this is a global pandemic that hopefully we will never have to face again in our lifetime.

“It’s great to see people helping those around them and I’m hopeful we will come out the other end stronger and with a greater appreciation of how lucky we all are.

“My priorities this year were based around July/August where we had two Majors and the Olympics scheduled. For me, the Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world and Rio 2016 has definitely been the highlight of my career so far. I loved every minute of competing alongside the best athletes in the world and cheering on my Irish team-mates.

“Right now, I’m concentrating on the things I can control. I’m at home with my family in Cavan being cautious while still getting in as much practice as I can when in a safe environment. This is like a second off-season for us so I am currently building up strength in the gym, working on my short game and getting ready for whenever we get the green light from the LPGA to compete again.

“Can I say, thank you to everyone who is putting their lives on the line to fight for the lives of others. We will get through this together. Stay safe, stay at home!

Philip Doyle (rowing)

A World Championship silver medallist and a safe bet to compete in one of the four Ireland boats qualified for Tokyo

“We have seen it coming for the last few days. It is good to get the official word on it. We are a bit disappointed, because planning and preparation has been going on until now. There are some new challenges ahead for us. We will need to take some time over the next few days and figure out how to move forward as a team.

“We are a bit gutted, because the team was doing so well – the erg [rowing machine] scores and the speed and the preparation was really starting to ramp up. The commitment from the whole team and the performances have been very impressive.

“But we just need to take a step back now and make a plan [for] going forward. It is what it is and there are more important things: people going through harder things in the world at the moment. A bit of perspective goes a long way.”

- Compiled by Ian O'Riordan, Johnny Watterson, Philip Reid, Mary Hannigan and Liam Gorman