Either side of the Olympics, we caught up with performance director Jon Austin, Games debutant Toby Penty and head coach Julian Robertson for their Tokyo diaries.
With the focus now switching to the Paralympics, which sees para-badminton making its first appearance at the Games, our latest instalment comes from physio Sinead Chambers.
Sinead talks us through how she will be preparing Jack Shephard, Dan Bethell, Krysten Coombs and Martin Rooke for an exciting few weeks…
MAKING THE TRIP
We fly out to Tokyo on Friday, so we’re in the final week of our countdown. For the athletes, it will involve a lot of matchplay and tactical awareness on the court and for myself, it’s about supporting that and making sure the athletes are in the best physical condition they could be.
Off court, there’s a lot going on regarding Covid testing and we are now in the second week of our isolation bubble. We’re trying to restrict movements before we leave and then it’s just reminding the athletes of the jetlag strategies and heat and humidity strategies we’ll be using out in Japan.
Before the pandemic hit, we did quite a lot of work in heat and humidity tents in the English Institute of Sport (EIS). We exposed them to what the environment could be like out there but most of the advice is fairly routine – things like staying in the shade, putting sun cream on and making sure you are adequately hydrated.
The players are also working very closely with our nutritionist and we’ve done a lot of work with what the boys like in terms of cooling strategies, whether it’s ice packs, misting fans or big slushy drinks. It’s important we cater to their individual needs and over this Paralympic cycle as a whole, we have really focused on individualising the programmes and training loads.
We are very lucky as we only have four athletes so we can do that really well, it’s not like we’re looking after a big squad of 16. With four, we can have really bespoke plans with jetlag, heat and humidity as well as the training itself. It’s a good position to be in.
COPING WITH JETLAG
Because badminton is very popular in Asia, we’ve done a lot of long-haul flights over there, so we’re quite lucky in that we are used to that and mentally prepared for it. We’ve started to bank sleep now and we’ll start adjusting our training times as if you fly tired, you’re exposing yourself to more illness and injury at the other side.
When we get to Tokyo, we have a bit of a plan for when we’ll try and get into the natural light. Sunlight is a great tool for adjusting body clocks to the local time so we’ve been working with some of the EIS experts on the best times to get out into the light.
Nutrition comes into it as well, in terms of trying to match the timing of in-flight meals to Tokyo time, while timing carb-heavy and protein-heavy meals is also important. Before you go to bed, it’ll be carb-heavy to make us feel sleepy and then protein in the morning to make us feel more alert and ready to go.
We have nine days from landing until we have to perform so we are not overly concerned jetlag will be a factor in performance, we just need to make sure we can train well until we can compete.
We’ve put in the hard work here in Sheffield, so the nine days before competition starts will be about giving the guys confidence and getting them used to the environment.
We have never been in a Paralympic village before, we’ve never been around other sports before, so getting used to that will be just as important as anything else. We have to let the squad enjoy the build-up and take it all in so that when they get in to the competition, there are no distractions.
As a physio, it’s a case of monitoring the athletes and being there for any niggles or anything they need support with. There are definitely things I need to keep an eye on for them but all four of them are in good physical nick and my job is to let them enjoy the moment.
That’s also important on a personal level. It’s an experience I want to make sure I soak up rather than worrying about what could go wrong. I can be quite guilty of worrying about injuries or Covid but I don’t want to miss the bigger picture of para-badminton making its Paralympic debut. For the athletes, the head coach and all of us, just to see the boys stepping on court and being able to call them Paralympians gives me goosebumps.
It will be unbelievable, especially after the postponement last year. That was a very difficult situation – I was devastated, so I can only imagine how the athletes felt. But we all stuck together, got creative and kept ourselves busy to get through it.
To now be a week away, it feels like the carrot is dangling in front of you. We just want to go out there, enjoy it and get the job done. We are in a really good position with all our athletes and on their day, they could all medal.