Sophie Hitchon happy to put her Olympic hopes on hold for a year

Sophie Hitchon celebrates winning bronze at the Rio Olympics in 2016Sophie Hitchon celebrates winning bronze at the Rio Olympics in 2016
Sophie Hitchon celebrates winning bronze at the Rio Olympics in 2016 | jpimedia
While she accepts athletes are still in a state of limbo, Sophie Hitchon is in “a good place” after the postponement of Tokyo 2020.

The Burnley athlete was aiming to reach a third-successive Olympic Games, having reached the final at London 2012 aged 21, before landing Team GB’s first hammer medal in Rio four years ago, setting a new British record to claim bronze.

She will have to go back to the drawing board with her plans to peak again next summer, but she would like more clarity as to whether this year’s European Championships in Paris and British Championships will also be cancelled or postponed.

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The World Athletics Championships, originally scheduled for 2021, have already been pushed back to 2022 to accommodate the Olympics, which also creates potential issues for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which will be held in Birmingham.

The British Championships now looks set to take place on August 8th and 9th in Manchester, having been moved from June 20th-21st, and could incorporate trials for the European Championships, currently scheduled for August 25-30th.

Speaking from her home in the Bay Area in San Francisco, where she is also in lockdown, Hitchon spoke of her relief at the Olympics being postponed: “I think everyone was expecting it, but when they released the news, I think everyone thought they could take a step back and look at the plan again.

“Before, we didn’t know what was going on - are we still going to push to train because they’re saying it might be on, but we really know it’s not going to be?

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“We can take a breath now and figure out what we’re going to do, which is nice.”

And she felt it was certainly the correct course of action: “It was definitely the right decision, there were a lot of legal and technical things involved with moving the Games, but them sticking by their guns as long as they did was an odd choice.

“They’ve obviously made the right decision, the right thing to do for everyone involved, including with athletes’ preparation.

“I think the decision made sense for a lot of people, but the only thing now is the rest of the season, they haven’t really said too much.

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“Athletics isn’t a league situation, like football, the Olympics is one part of what was the season, the biggest part, but there are the British Championships, the European Championships, still kind of saying it could be possible.

“I think athletes are still a little bit in some kind of limbo.”

European Athletics were still hopeful last week of hosting their championships at the end of August, and Hitchon added: “It’s really difficult, I think the Europeans said last week there was still a chance of going ahead, and I feel it’s unfair on the athletes to say that, because you can’t prepare for anything at the moment.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen next week, nevermind two months.

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“The only way I feel people can compete this year is if by the end of the season there are a few small competitions around a local area where you are, just if you wanted to compete.

“But something like a Europeans or British Championships, it’s really difficult to say they can still go ahead.

“Everyone is just waiting on decisions to be made.

“The big one has been moved, but other things haven’t yet.”

Hitchon is coming to her peak years in her sport, but admits a packed schedule over the next couple of years could see athletes picking and choosing with championships to attend: “With athletics, they’ve had to move the 2021 World Championships to 2022, which impacts on the Commonwealth Games in 2022 in Birmingham...

“It’s all mushing into one, but I think it will be interesting in the next few years to see how a lot of athletes deal with the compiling of events.

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“You can’t do all of them, especially for some events, they won’t want to do too many major championships in one year.

“It will be interesting what people choose to do.”

But for Hitchon, who hasn’t been able to compete this season, having ended her 2019 campaign prematurely after teething problems following the switch to a twist heel turn technique, before an emergency appendectomy, is happy for some extra preparation time: “For me, I’m in a good position, I can take a bit of time and figure things out and come back and train for next year.

“Hopefully I’ll be done with my degree by this time next year, which is something positive that’s come out of it.

“I’m studying business and sports management, a course through the University of Hertfordshire, they have a specialist online degree programme for sports professionals.

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“I do all my studying online, so that has stayed the same during this, but it will be nice to get that finished and crack on.

“I would have paused the course for the rest of this year if the Olympics was on, so that’s one positive, to get that finished.”

Some athletes would have been primed to be at their best this summer, knowing they were going to retire, start a family or move into a different job, but Hitchon isn’t at that stage just yet, with Paris 2024 potentially a target: “Honestly, I’m taking things year by year at the moment.

“I think 2022 Commonwealth Games will definitely be a goal, and after that, I’ll kind of see how things are, how my body is, how my mind is.

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“Ultimately I feel I’ve had a great career if I had to finish next year – I’d be happy and satisfied to kind of walk away from the sport in a way.

“But there’s still an inkling that I want to keep going, so I’ll keep going for a while!”

“It’s a big change for athletes, the Olympics being pushed back, I know a lot of people were looking at retiring afterwards, and for it to be moved is mentally very difficult.

“It’s another year you have to push through, but with all this now, you can’t really do too much now anyway, so it’s a nice time to just take a minute and reevaluate things.”

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However, without the Greatest Show on Earth to showcase themselves, some athletes' sponsorships and grants may suffer.

Hitchon feels that is another issue which requires clarification: "Honestly, with funding we still have no idea, they are going to work that out. It's really difficult to say, I wouldn't like to be making the decision.

"A lot of athletes aren't going to compete at all this year, what is the purpose of that? You don't want to be competing into September when the Olympics is in July, so I don't know what UK Sport will do with funding.

"It's another thing to think about.

"My income, in a way, is from funding. I'm in a good position where I'm not relying on outside income, but a lot of athletes are, a lot do a lot more school things, different things to build their income, and that isn't happening now, so it's really difficult for them.

"I don't know how UK Sport will work it."

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For a hammer thrower in lockdown, training is severely restricted, but Hitchon is keeping herself fit in the meantime: “It’s really difficult because you need a facility to throw, unless you find an open field somewhere within walking distance from your house, so it’s kind of impossible to get any throwing done.

“You can go through drills and there are things you can do, but you can’t do the full throw, which a lot of throwers are struggling with.

“I think it’s a little bit easier for some other events, running, but even that, you can only go out once a day and there are big challenges.

“I’m keeping things ticking over, you can do quite a bit, we’re in a good place here, just kind of relaxing, my husband is working from home so it’s nice to spend some time with him.

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“It’s not too much different to what we would have been doing.

“For athletes, downtime is downtime, sedentary, so it’s not too much different.

“When you go to a championships, the training becomes less and less, and your time becomes more and more, and you don’t want to be out walking around.

“Athletes are in a good place with this, they know what to do.

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“When you go to big championships, it’s all about staying healthy, using hand sanitiser, washing your hands, so i think we were already prepared for this!

“We’ve been in similar situations.

“If you were at a major championships, you’d probably be sharing a room with somebody, but other than that, athletics is so individual, everyone has their own training times and sessions, then you eat and relax, watch TV or whatever.

“I’ve always quite liked cooking, but I would go the shops three times a week on the way home from training, and pick up stuff for dinner for a couple of days.

“Now you’re trying to do a big shop for a couple of weeks and youre ‘I don’t know how to do this!’ That’s a learning curve, but we’re doing good.

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“We’re in the Bay area around San Francisco. We're in the part of the States where they're doing quite well, more East Coast, some different states have struggled, but around here there's not too many cases, which is nice.

"For California, there's not a lot of public transport, things are spread out, a lot of people drive.

"I know LA has quite a few cases further south, but that's a lot more compact, but here it's a bit more spread out."