11:00AM, Thursday 04 June 2020
Shelayna Oskan-Clarke has said she takes inspiration from athletes like Dame Kelly Holmes, who enjoyed her greatest successes later in her career, as she looks ahead to competing for medals at next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
For many athletes the postponement of this summer’s games due to coronavirus may have come as a big blow, but for Shelayna, who has been nursing herself back to full fitness following injury and is getting used to a new training set up on the other side of the pond in Philadelphia, the news wasn't dreadful and gives her the best possible chance of being in prime form for 2021.
The 800m specialist has recently returned to the UK from her training base in America, and said it wasn’t a nice experience to walk through an almost deserted Heathrow Airport last week.
She was in Philadelphia when the States went into lockdown in late March and has since been training alone, without the guidance of new coach Derek Thompson.
Shelayna, 30, remains a resilient character and says this period of social isolation won’t put her off her stride when she returns to the track to compete against the very best, hopefully later this year.
“Winning an Olympic medal is still the dream,” she said.
“I still think I can be competitive and win medals.
“I don’t just go into competitions to turn up. I go there trying to be in the best condition I can be in to compete in the finals for medals.
“Of course, I have to draw upon these amazing role models and people who have done things at a later age.
“They’ve had that inconsistency and they’ve had those ups and downs but have come through to perform. After all the blood, sweat and tears they’ve managed to get the results they wanted. I have to draw on that and sometimes, reading some of the things that they’ve been through, it just inspires and motivates me to continue, because sometimes it can be tough.”
Last season brought the Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow (WSEH) athlete many highs and lows, something she’s become accustomed to over the course of her career. She won the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow, clocking a decent time of 2.01.16 to finish top of the rostrum, but her performances outside have been disappointing and she failed to reach the final of the World Championships in Doha, finishing well down the pecking order in 24th after coming up short in her semi-final. In fact her times at outdoor events haven’t managed to match the personal best she set back in 2015, when she clocked 1.58.86 at the Beijing World Championships.
But, under a new coaching regime and the tutelage of Thompson, she’s hopeful that things can come together when it matters the most, on the track at an Olympic games.
Just as they did for Dame Kelly Holmes when she won double gold at Athens in 2004.
“I’ve had quite a lot of highs and lows over the past five years. But even though I’ve won lots of medals on the face of it, I still haven’t fulfilled my potential in terms of my running time. I haven’t improved on my running time since 2015, but I’ve managed to win medals because I executed races well, but the time reflection, particularly outdoors, hasn’t come to fruition.
“I’m not really verbal with these sorts of things, but I’ve had injuries every year since 2017 and at the times when I’ve needed to be in peak conditions I’ve had to work through injuries. The timing of those hasn’t been so great.
“But, hopefully it will all come together and I’ll get the results that I desire.”
The summer athletics season is likely to be severely disrupted by COVID-19, and it’s not yet known whether national or international meets will take place later this year.
However, Shelayna will train for them as if they were because she knows it will be difficult to get back up to speed next season if she lets things lag now. She also believes she’s mentally resilient and able to cope with the uncertainty of this period, and can draw on experiences that perhaps her opponents can’t.
“You can’t just stop training because your goals have changed,” she said. “There’s talk of competition or our (British) championships being in August. That’s the talk but there’s no definite date for those things to happen.
“We’re just working towards that and fine tuning the training. Putting in more speed and getting ready for that time. We would need to do that anyway or it would be more difficult going into next year. Your body still has to get used to those different types of training throughout the year.
“It’s a real mental thing this. Not a lot of people can tolerate it. You have to stay focused and strong in a tough time.
“My mental resilience is good. And I can draw upon all of my experiences and come out of this situation fine. I just have to keep my training, mind, diet in the right place, the things that I’m in control of. I’m just going with the flow and when it’s time to focus on competition I can put that heightened energy in.
“It was really strange coming home this week. I’ve been in this closed bubble doing my training and then going back to the house. Going to the airport wasn’t nice, coming out of Heathrow Airport there was literally no one there, it wasn’t very nice to see. But this is bigger than sport. I’ll keep focusing on my sport, but I realise this is a bigger issue.
“We want the world to get back on track and hopefully sport can help with that. When it all comes together It will be great, but I’ll just go with the flow and do my best.
“I will continue my training with social distancing until there comes a time when we have more clarity. The guidelines might change but every household is different.
“Some people are quite strict about how they do things.”
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