Now they wait. That’s what they do. That’s all that’s left for the Olympians-to-be until the circus kicks off with a bang in a few days time. Yes there’s training, but not the volume or intensity of the last few years. You’re not going to get stronger or faster in the last couple of weeks, it’s just a case of not going mad with the pressure in the interim.
The endurance athletes, like distance runners and rowers, are now back down from their last (bleak) altitude training camps at the tops of mountains across Europe. Olympic training is tough, Olympic training without oxygen doubly so, but it’s a great (and legal) way of super charging the red blood cell count to enhance your aerobic system.
Mo Farah, fresh down from the Pyrenees, showed his class at Crystal Palace over the weekend dominating the 5,000m – specifically the last 250m of the 5,000m, when he kicked away from his Australian challenger. Peaking at the right time is everything and Mo appears to have done just that. What’s more, he’s in his competitors heads’ – they’ll be worrying about his sudden acceleration in the last lap, rather than planning their own.
For Farah and his fellow Olympians the pre-Games competitions are over (with the notable exception of Wiggins, Cavendish et al, who are doing something very special over in France). Aside from Tour cyclists, there are no more chances for Olympians to test themselves or competitors on the field of play. For most it's off to the monk like seclusion of ‘holding camp’ for a few more days of quiet training before heading to the Games.
For first time Olympians, who’ve just made the team and have no realistic expectation of a medal, holding camp is an exciting time, trying out new Olympic kit and feeling a buzz of anticipation. But for those where expectations are higher and training isn’t going as well as it might, holding camp is a dark place. Too much time to think and stress but not enough time to change your speed or performance. The pressure feels like a smothering blanket, one you can’t escape and can’t breathe under, and bumping into red-eyed athletes, emerging from their rooms after a quiet cry isn’t uncommon. In the spare time between eating, training, video analysis and sessions with sports psychologists, the athletes will try and lose themselves in DVDs and books, anything to distract from the wondering and the worry. Will it be my turn at these Games? Are we doing enough? What are the Australians or the Americans or Germans up to? How are their injuries recovering? You’re told to ‘control the controllables’ by coaches and psychologists but in the dark watches of the night it’s impossible not to wonder what the future will hold.
Four years of waiting is almost over. Thousands of athletes are about to hit the pinnacle of their sporting careers, for some the pinnacle of their whole lives. A few will achieve their aspirations, a handful will exceed them, but many will fall short.
But at least the waiting will be over.