Kenyan taekwondo athlete Faith Ogallo has been training for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo for almost a year and a half now. Despite the uncertainty that still surrounds the event, she continues to work hard and continues to dream.
The Games appear certain to take place, and a limited number of domestic spectators will even be allowed in, but there have already been positive Covid-19 tests among visiting teams. For all athletes, it won’t just be about showing up, competing, having fun and possibly coming home to glory.
Taekwondo training is tough and relentless
Ogallo qualified for the Tokyo Games in February 2020 at the African Taekwondo Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that requires extraordinary strength, flexibility, agility and courage, and coaches are rarely remorseful. Although athletes are well protected, knockouts are common.
The 26-year-old is just one of thousands of athletes who have qualified for the Olympics, but whose preparations have been marred by doubts about their achievement. The event was postponed for a year, and until recently Tokyo was still in a state of emergency due to Covid-19.
But Ogallo persists and wants to fulfill his dream of representing Kenya. “It has always been my prayer to carry my nation’s flag,” she tells Quartz.
Covid-19 test protocols
Since March, Ogallo has been spending most of his time with other athletes at a “bubble” training camp at the Moi International Sports Center in Nairobi. Everyone is tested for Covid-19 before entering the camp. They have breaks to get home, and they need to be tested again before they get home.
She feels confident with the security preparations and assurances provided by the Kenya National Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee. In the bubble, she said, different sports teams are not allowed to visit each other, people are not allowed to have unnecessary interactions, and they are advised to avoid gatherings.
In Tokyo, Ogolla adds, athletes will be tested upon arrival and they will use an app called Cocoa for contact tracing. “These measures, I think they are good and that they will help keep the team safe,” she said. “I think it’s a great insurance.”
The sporting dream remains alive
Ogallo, a fourth-year social work student at Kibabii University in western Kenya, admits the uncertainty caused by the pandemic is wreaking havoc on athletes, but they still hope.
“It’s not an easy time. It’s really draining. It has exhausted all the athletes – so many athletes – and in fact we did not give up because we were given hope that they [will] not cancel, ”she said. She says her participation in her first Olympic Games in Tokyo will give her the momentum to train more and reach her goal of reaching Grand Prix level.
“All my life, I had wanted to be a sportswoman, because I loved sports,” she says, as she finally prepares to leave for Japan.
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