Three-time Olympian Steph Horner has a renewed love for swimming after the pandemic lockdown disrupted her preparations for the Tokyo Games.
Although the marathon swimmer experienced minor setbacks during her training, she returned to the Victoria High Performance Centre pool “a lot more grateful and appreciative” ahead of qualifications for the event this summer.
The native of Beaconsfield, Que., feels “fortunate” to have used pandemic downtime wisely during a year in which national team swimmers faced unprecedented challenges.
“It just gave me time to focus on different areas,” said Horner. “If you’re not as flexible, you spent more time doing yoga because you were less in the pool. Or if you want to work a bit more cardio, you could get on a spin bike, you just kind of branched out a little bit, which was also kind of nice. It’s still fitness, but a different approach. Your body just learns to adapt.”
Exactly how the July 23-Aug. 8 Games will work remains unclear.
Horner expects whatever form they take to be vastly different from previous Olympics, with athletes missing out on the full experience. For example, the 31-year old predicts that restrictions on gatherings will make it harder to meet new people.
During previous Olympics, Horner has been rewarded after races with support from her family, friends, and new athletes she has met.
Due to ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the chances of having live spectators and interaction between different national teams are low.
”We’ll have to remind ourselves that people are cheering from abroad,” she said. “But they won’t necessarily be in the vicinity.”
Regardless of the potential new format, Horner is still looking forward to her fourth and potentially final Olympics.
She debuted at the Beijing Games in 2008 by finishing 20th in the 200-metre butterfly, 17th in the 200-metre freestyle, 11th in the 400-metre freestyle and 10th in the 4×200-metre freestyle relay. In more recent Games she finished 21st in the individual medley at London in 2012 and then placed 23rd in the 10K Marathon at Rio in 2016 after she switched to distance swimming.
She wants to keep going but also wants to begin using her Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Victoria, too.
“I’m really happy that I graduated, and I have that under my belt,” said Horner. “Once I’m done swimming, I’m definitely looking forward to that. It’s a new challenge.”