Athletics

'When Tokyo Was Postponed, It Was A Blessing In Disguise'

'When Tokyo Was Postponed, It Was A Blessing In Disguise'

The last year has been tough for all of us and the uncertainty surrounding Tokyo 2020 has been the defining aspect for Ireland’s Paralympians and Olympians. Middle-distance runner and Paralympian Greta Streimikyte, however, has seen the bright side of a year of lockdowns and changes of routine.

Streimikyte was speaking at a media event to promote Paralympics Ireland’s new fundraising campaign ‘The Next Level’. Ireland’s para-athletes are using the campaign to call on the public to support current and future Paralympic efforts. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to have cost Paralympics Ireland almost €500,000, if not more, so funding is critical for the future of para-sport in the country. You can donate to the campaign at Paralympics.ie.

The fundraiser was the first topic of discussion, with Streimikyte emphasising how important funding is to Paralympics Ireland and how far any donation will go:

“We as athletes, we work so hard to achieve the best possible performance and do the best we can possibly do. With this fundraiser, we’re asking for the public’s help. The public have been supportive throughout the years and that means so much to me and every athlete. It pushes us us to perform even better, that support means so much.

But with this campaign, we would ask the public to show their support with the fundraising. It’s not even for Tokyo 2021 but it’s more for the future Paralympic Games. That fund would allow us to reach the next level, to perform the best we can possibly perform.”

Tokyo will be Streimikyte’s second games representing Ireland. She was diagnosed with retinopathy at birth and suffers from impaired vision, so she competes in the T13 category. The Rio Paralympics saw a successful result for the Lithuanian-born Streimikyte, as she came home in fourth in the 1500m final. She followed that result up with a European Championship gold medal in 2018 and is determined to continue her good results in Tokyo.

In a time filled with such dread and fear, Streimikyte’s optimism and positivity is a breath of fresh air – even when asked about the impact of the last year on her mentality and her training, she jumped immediately to the positive impact that lockdown and all that entails has had on her training regime and fitness.

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“Around March time when it all started, we were in a 2km/5km radius. From one perspective, I was very lucky that I live beside the park and as a middle-distance athlete, I run and the only thing is I had to do more laps to cover the distance!

As a middle-distance athlete, as I said, I’m lucky because I can go out and run and it’s only more laps basically! But the gym is open for us to use and that is incredible. In general, I wouldn’t say that training has been affected that much for me. I only benefited from lockdown, I was able to do more mileage and become a stronger athlete.”

Many athletes have spoken of the challenges posed by waiting for Tokyo. The games have been shrouded in uncertainty and speculation since their postponement in March 2020, with rumours circulating as recently as last month that the Japanese government had made the decision to cancel the games. Once again, Streimikyte only sees positives, saying she was grateful for the extra time the delay has afforded athletes to train.

“Last year when Tokyo was postponed, it was a bit disappointing but at the same time it was a blessing in disguise, like oh my God, this is great, I have an extra year which I’ve never had before so I feel much stronger than I was last year.

For me, I thought it was great, I could explore and do more mileage which I’ve never done before and that for me was very, very useful as an athlete. I’ve taken every opportunity I can to train and when the opportunity presents itself to compete, you go and compete.”

Streimikyte sounds confident and happy going into the Paralympics – as a defending European champion with successful World Championship and Paralympic runs under her belt she has every reason to be – but she refuses to be drawn into talk of medals before the games have even kicked off.

“When it comes to talking about medals, I don’t really like to speculate. As an athlete we’re thinking about the Paralympic gold medal. At the same time, I want to go out there and do as best as I can and have no regrets. You leave everything on the track and what happens, happens.

No regrets for me, and if that means bringing a medal, that would be great, but if that means me running a personal best and leaving everything on the track and knowing that I did everything I could, that is rewarding as well. I think that's the most important thing.”

The experience of representing Ireland is clearly one that means a lot to Streimikyte. When asked about the experience of standing on the podium at the 2018 European Championships, where she won gold, she said that it was the raising of the Irish flag and playing of Amhrán na bhFiann that got her emotional, not the material medal.

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“That’s one thing I remember, because winning a gold medal you kind of think that that’s the material thing of winning the medal. That’s, for me personally – yes, it is, because it represents that you came first, but that’s not it, that’s not the feeling that you get standing there. It is the national anthem playing and that is…it’s just something else!

Because you know the reason why the national anthem is playing and the flag is raised – it’s because…you’re kind of like…I can’t even describe it! Incredible euphoria, incredible feeling, which I suppose when I experienced that, that’s why I’d want to win. It is something else and something incredible that I really hope to experience more in the future.”

The enthusiasm and optimism of Streimikyte is surely the energy all Irish fans will be bringing into their viewing of the Paralympics this summer and we’ll certainly be watching closely in the hope she can go even further than her brilliant performance in Rio.

Irish Paralympic athlete, Greta Streimikyte, pictured following the announcement of Paralympics Ireland’s new fundraising campaign ‘The Next Level’. Ireland’s elite para-athletes are constantly striving to achieve the next level of their sport through dedication, commitment, and perseverance. The new campaign aims to raise vital funds for para-athletes in Ireland and help to support Team Ireland’s journey to Tokyo 2021 and beyond. You can get behind the team now at: https://paralympics.ie/ (Photo: Simon Burch)

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Eoin Harrington

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