WITH the postponement of the Olympics confirmed and everyone in lockdown globally, Stephen Maguire admits his biggest challenge currently is ensuring athletes stay on the straight and narrow during this difficult time.
The Strabane man, who is Scottish Athletics’ Director of Performance and Coaching is also in charge of Team GB and NI’s sprinting and relay programme ahead of next summer’s Tokyo Games, which will now take place in July 2021.
Based mainly in Edinburgh for his main job with Scottish Athletics, Maguire faced a race against time in order to get home to Strabane before lockdown was imposed and it’s from his Tyrone base that he is working hard on both roles.
“I got across on the Thursday before it all broke,” he explained. “I was planning on coming home on the Friday but when I saw the news I said ‘stuff this’. I was in Glasgow, so I went back to Edinburgh, packed my stuff and drove to get the half 11 boat that night.
“I’ve been home for three weeks now and the dog keeps looking at me wondering when I’m leaving!”
That scenario will be played out in the homes of athletes all around the world too. At this time of year, top level track and field athletes are in the midst of their busiest and most financially rewarding time of year.
Unfortunately, due to the Coronavirus that’s not the case in 2020, and that may have a knock-on effect for next year, which is something Maguire is acutely aware.
“Nobody is doing a whole lot of training, they’re just ticking over,” he explained. “We’re putting some things together and starting to plan for the Olympics next year again. We’re trying to figure out what’s going to happen over the winter because if the athletes don’t get to do much competing then the winter will look a bit different. They will
have to do more intense work and stuff like that.
“The lack of competition this summer is going to hurt, particularly my end of things with the sprints because they need to run fast and they need competition.
“So, if they don’t get the opportunity to be as finely tuned as they normally would be and they’re going into winter with that then they have to replicate that through training.
“If we went to this time next year without being able to have nice periods of training and good weather, it means that we’re probably going to have to spend most of the time away from the wind and the rain and the cold in the winter time, but I’m going to have to balance that with my other role in Scotland. That gives me a big challenge
“And then at the elite end, the summer is when they make their money so their earning potential has been severely reduced, that’s been taken away. These people aren’t going to make any money, so there are lots of challenges.”
And it’s the athletes’ ability to adapt to the unique set of current challenges that will pin-point their future success, Maguire believes.
“Everyone’s in the same boat but I often say it’s the people who can adapt more to a crisis are those who will survive,” he added.
“It’s like anything in life, if you can put it into perspective and be calm about it, you’ll come out the other side OK.
“But if you panic now and do something silly – the biggest risk we have is some of them would have the potential to over-train at this time.
“Some might lift too much in the gym, or try to do too much because of boredom. Then you have the other end with the sprinters, who are bigger, and they eat more and they continue to eat more, so they have to keep and eye on nutrition, so it’s a fine balancing act.
“The very, very top ones are calm. The younger ones are a little bit more on edge. The top ones will have had Olympic qualification in the bag, but some people who might have sat last year out with injury are a little nervous at the prospect of a second year, but everyone’s story is different. You just have to help where you can, buy we’re lucky in that most of them have their own coaches and support networks, so they are fine.
“The biggest thing now is to make sure their preparation for Tokyo next year is the best it can be.”