The respectful thing to do would be to postpone the Games, says Aoife Cooke

Self-interest is far from the sole reason why Aoife Cooke wants the Olympic Games postponed.
The respectful thing to do would be to postpone the Games, says Aoife Cooke
Aoife Cooke celebrates after the 2019 Dublin Marathon. The refusal of the IOC to push back the Games puts lives at risk, she says. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Aoife Cooke celebrates after the 2019 Dublin Marathon. The refusal of the IOC to push back the Games puts lives at risk, she says. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Self-interest is far from the sole reason why Aoife Cooke wants the Olympic Games postponed.

The Cork native ran herself into Olympic contention last October when improving her personal best by a staggering 14 minutes to be the first Irish woman across the line at the Dublin Marathon.

The qualifying time for the women’s marathon in Tokyo is set at a swift 2.29.30.

Around half of the 80 places up for grabs will be filled by those who better this time. World rankings — calculated by a runner’s two best results — will determine who takes the remaining spots.

Cooke clocked 2.32.34 last October. She was confident of going significantly faster at the Vienna marathon on April 19. It was the basket into which she had thrown all her eggs ahead of the cut-off date for qualification on May 31. It was why she spent Christmas training by herself at high altitude in Kenya.

Then, of course, the sporting world went into lockdown, and with it, Cooke’s chances of wearing the Irish singlet in Japan.

“Vienna being called off was tough to digest, but when you consider everything else that is going on at the moment, it’s absolutely understandable,” she says.

Sonia O’Sullivan and Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy have already called for the Games, scheduled to begin on July 24, to be postponed.

Cooke is another who believes the correct decision is to delay the Games.

Forget for one moment the thousands of athletes across a multitude of disciplines who have had their qualification efforts scuppered by the cancellation of events worldwide.

There are similar numbers already qualified, Cooke points out, who cannot train because the country in which they reside is in Government-enforced shutdown.

The International Olympic Committee “encourages all athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games as best they can”, while, at the same time, governments worldwide have closed tracks, gyms, and public spaces, and told their citizens to stay at home.

The refusal of the IOC to push back the Games to a date either later in 2020 or sometime in 2021 is putting athletes at risk, states the 33-year old.

“It seems risky to think that by the end of July this global health pandemic will be sorted and to let the whole world come together in one place, turning Tokyo into a bit of a petri dish and for this to potentially ignite again.

“Being optimistic, I would love to think the current pandemic will be sorted by July and the Games could proceed, but, at this stage, that looks very ambitious.

“If they go ahead as scheduled, they are probably going to have half the amount of athletes that would be there if they postponed the Games.

“Meanwhile, athletes who are already qualified are stressing out about trying to train in this environment of isolation and lockdown.

“World heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson posted on social media that she can’t get out and train, and she’s qualified. That is a big stress for her, that she cannot train properly for this massive, massive event.

“And so long as they leave the Olympics in its current slot, that stress remains there for all those athletes.

“What the organisers are pretty much saying at the moment is go out and train as best you can, while everyone else is telling us to stay inside and be safe.

“That’s very, very conflicting.

“Is the IOC worried about the media, broadcasting, and stuff like that, I don’t know, but it really seems that they are not taking the athletes wellbeing into account at all.”

She added: “When I think about Italy and their athletes, they have far bigger things to be worrying about than this. The respectful thing to do would be to postpone the Games.”

Cooke knows she is fortunate that her training routine has not been affected by Covid-19.

She’s still pounding the roads around Tower, where she lives, as well as Blarney and the Blackrock to Passage greenway.

Clocking up to 100 miles a week, she’s hoping to get back onto a startline — wherever that may be — later in the year.

And what has heartened her during her daily sessions of late is the amount of people who have taken to running in seeking a release from our new isolated way of living.

“It is great to see so many out. There certainly seems to be a running boom at the moment. People are looking after their health and trying to get out into the fresh air more. Hopefully, it will stick when all this is over. For mental health, it is massively important. It is hard to stay cooped up in the house all day.”

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