By: Harry J. Gibson
2020 should have been the greatest year of my life. My international hockey career was due to crescendo at the Olympic Games. It's been a lifelong dream to represent Great Britain at the greatest show on earth, let alone in a country I adore, at what was tipped to be the most spectacular Olympics to date. After touching back down in blighty, medal around my neck no doubt, I was due to marry the woman I love, after which we were boarding a plane to literally ride off into the sunset, travel the world until we found somewhere we liked, and stay there for the foreseeable future. If I was forced to predict one thing that could maybe disrupt all these plans in one fell swoop, it would have been a worldwide pandemic.
But here we are. We all know things rarely turn out as we had planned, although this is still a rather extreme deviation from the script. Of course, people have had it much worse, and a slight disruption to my schedule is nothing compared to the loss and suffering many have endured this year.
So what does this mean for my fellow Olympic hopefuls and me? For a long time, I struggled to imagine a world beyond the year 2020. When you have this singular ambition, an overarching goal that takes precedence over everything else in your life, whether you like it or not, it can be hard to even imagine a future where that no longer exists.
I, like many athletes heading to Tokyo, had come to terms with the fact this could be my last dance, my final push for an Olympics before starting a new chapter. For many, I believe the hardest part of the postponement is the thought that we must now repeat the effort, the grind, and the dedication we had so whole-heartedly poured into the last 12 months of our preparation. Luckily, this is something I've been trained to do.
At various occasions during my career, when we have been put through gruelling running sessions, our strength and conditioning coaches have employed a tactic called 'dislocated expectations'. Rather than telling us the entire session and then making us execute it according to the plan, they would just tell us to run. Then to stop. Then to run again. Zero expectations, never knowing when it was going to end. Sometimes they'd tell us it was the last rep, then make us go again, and again. Removing the expectation was meant to encourage us to give our all physically, not leave anything in the tank or try to out-tactic the session. The idea is that when you thought you had nothing left to give, you were forced to go one more. This is exactly what this year feels like.
Many athletes across the globe will have seen this as their last rep, the final push, and will have put their entire being into making sure this performance was the pinnacle of their careers. The intensity this requires, the sacrifice, the mental resilience every single day, is exceptional. When we returned to training in January of this year you could feel it in the air, something was different. It was 2020, the year. That intensity comes at a cost and is not something that you can easily just repeat.
And what an opportunity this could prove to be. Nobody will have prepared perfectly, mistakes were undoubtedly made, and now we get a chance to learn and implement change as never before. Mistakes that could have haunted athletes for the rest of their lives will now become focus points. The weaknesses of 2020 will be the strengths of 2021.
Ultimately, this year has shown us there are far more important matters in life than sport: our health, our family, our rights, our freedoms. But as a testament to human endeavour, to the perseverance and overcoming, we all need to resist these troublesome times, athletes provide a shining example of what grit and dedication can achieve. We have a duty to prove we all have fuel left in the tank, that we have the strength to go one more, to come through this wiser and more resilient. We have a duty to put on the greatest show on earth.