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Isabella Puddu Blog

Thoughts of a coach

Learnings from Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have just ended with a year of delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic which unfortunately affected us all.

For the athletes it was a year of difficult training sessions, of cancelled competitions and for everyone also of great solitude; they were different Olympics, held without spectators, behind closed doors, but definitely much more human.

There was no cheering from thousands of people in the stands but social media allowed us to discover the backstories of athletes like never before and perhaps this pandemic made us feel even closer to them.

Personally, they were Games that I followed, waking up very early to do so.

As an Italian, it was a pure and absolute joy to watch our athletes win 40 medals, a record never achieved before.

As a Coach, I had the opportunity to get to know athletes from a new perspective, beyond physical performance: we were given the opportunity to see their human side.

These Olympics brought out not only physical tests but also mental ones and were a great example of inclusiveness and heterogeneity.

Olympics in which the athletes told their stories and repeatedly quoted the word "heart"; in their words emotions that we have felt from all over the world have been released; they made us feel, if only for a moment, much more like them than we ever dared to hope for.

Their stories could be ours: stories of love, of passions, of renunciations, of failures, of tears and joy, of sacrifices and determination.

Some have impressed me more than others and I am sharing them with you.

Simone Biles, an American athlete of Artistic Gymnastics who had an emotional breakdown right at the beginning of the competition. She gave up many races and was awarded a unique and precious silver medal that is worth much more than gold. Her team supported her in her choices and did not hold back to be able to convey an important message about mental health: there are moments in life when one is in a state of imbalance; it is not enough to have a performing body if the mental part is missing.

Tom Daley, British diver, gold medallist in Tokyo and also a great lover of knitting. It was unexpected to see him knitting between dives to relax. A passion born during the lockdown that also allows him to do some charity.

A clear sign that diversity always wins and a great example for us all.

Gianmarco Tamberi, Italian, gold medal in high jump shared in agreement with his friend and rival Mutaz Essa Barshim, Qatari. This also happened at the Olympics: two athletes who stop the competition and climb the Olympic podium together: there is much more than the gold medal, there is the path to get there. Tamberi had been seriously injured shortly before the Rio Olympics and was unable to take part in those Games; in Tokyo he brought with him his old plaster with the inscription he had made in 2016 "Road to Tokyo 2020", a symbol of his fortitude and his rematch upon himself.

Marcell Jacobs, Italian, gold medal in 100 meters, the fastest man in the world. He told of having had several difficulties and having overcome them thanks to a Mental Coach.

You also win thanks to mental preparation.

Vanessa Ferrari, Italian, individual free body silver medal in Artistic Gymnastic; after several injuries she won and declared: "if a gymnast has no pain somewhere it means that he has not trained well." After reading this sentence I am sure that we will all look at that twirl and jump on the platform in a different way.

Federica Pellegrini, Italian, 20 years of swimming, 5th Olympic finalist, said that during her final of the 200m Freestyle she smiled as she swam: she kept us in suspense until the end and then declared with great serenity that she closed a period of her life to open another.

Finally, on the last day of the Games, the last Italian medal also arrived, number 40 with our Rhythmic Gymnastics’ "farfalle": Martina Centofanti, Agnese Duranti, Alessia Maurelli, Daniela Mogurean, Martina Santandrea.

I am very fond of them because my daughter has been doing rhythmic gymnastics for a few years and I know the number of hours dedicated to trying and retrying even just one jump.

These gymnasts train 8 hours a day almost 365 days a year and live far from home.

The first interview they released is dedicated to thanking all the people who revolve around them and this gave us a glimpse of the world behind every medal: coaches, sports doctors, friends, family and even the public.

There would still be many other stories to hear and share from great athletes but also from ordinary people. There are many paths, unique and unrepeatable like the lives of each of us.

It is always worth listening to others because it allows us to reflect on ourselves as well.

And let us face it once and for all: we are all in the same boat, athletes and non-athletes, and sometimes we run our own 100 meters.

Knowing that someone makes it motivates us to keep going. Always.


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