‘I would have found Zika scarier than Covid’ – Rio Olympian Lizzie Lee empathetic as Tokyo uncertainty continues

RIO Olympic marathoner Lizzie Lee fears the ongoing controversy over the Tokyo Olympics is sapping the energy of athletes bound for the rescheduled Games next month.

I do feel sorry for them because you just don’t need that level of stress when you are preparing for the Olympics. You will put your head down and pretend it’s not happening. But they have probably done that about five times at this point.

“Every single athlete has had some competition moved, cancelled or postponed this last year and it is just an extra stress. My dad always says to me: everything takes energy. It’s just extra stuff they don’t need.

“It’s not been an easy situation, but nothing has been easy for anyone this last year. Resilience is the key here and the athletes who are now qualified and going, they are resilient. It’s not like it came out of left field, they prepared like they believed this was happening. That’s all they can do right now.”

The Cork woman who celebrated her 40th birthday during the pandemic can empathise with the Tokyo bound athletes as she harboured fears about travelling to Rio for the 2016 Games due to the Zika virus.

“I was very much planning on having a baby as soon as I could after Rio. In fact, I would have found Zika scarier than Covid at that time because I very much wanted to have a child.

“I knew well that if I got Zika I was going to have to wait an extra year to have a baby. I had Alison ten months after the Olympics,” said Lizzie who recalled hearing stories about the terrorist attack during the Munich Olympics from her coach Donie Walsh, who was a competitor at the 1972 Games.

“As an athlete you are so focused that really nothing is going to deter you from that goal. You don’t go to the Olympics for the craic. The craic might happen but that’s not what you go. There are always challenges in life, isn’t there?

“Honestly, as an athlete your head is down, and nothing is going to dissuade you from being an Olympian or medalling or whatever scale you are going for. You will just drive on and go to the Olympics.”

During the first lockdown Lee had a busy household. Her husband was working full-time from home and she was caring for the couple’s three children, Lucy (6), Alison – who celebrates their fourth birthday next week – and Jessica (18 months).

The latter was eight weeks old when the country closed down in the spring of 2020. Lizzie’s dawn runs helped maintain her sanity.

“I got out at dawn, at half 6 or 7 o’clock, every single day because if I didn’t, I found by lunchtime I was cranky because I wasn’t getting the endorphins. It was only really only at the height of the pandemic that I realised how much I need running.”

She no longer considered herself an elite athlete and thought she would never wear the Irish singlet again.

Then suddenly everything came together in training and she admits she bawled her eyes out after nailing her qualification for the European Cup 10,000m team event on Saturday in Birmingham. The British Olympic trials for the 10,000m are also taking place during the meeting with Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah due to run.

“So I am pinching myself, I am grinning from ear to ear. I think it’s the sweetest singlet so far, I really do, because I just didn’t think it was coming,”

“All these people had faith in me, Donie, and my dad and my husband, but I think I wavered in that myself. Now that I have backed myself and Athletics Ireland have backed me, I’m so happy, I’m so excited for Saturday,” said Lee.

Lizzie Lee was speaking as ambassador for the Irish Life Health Family Mile Challenge. Parents are encouraged to go the extra mile and be positive role models for their kids by signing up free of charge at irishlifehealth.ie to run the challenge on 26th/27th June.

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