“I Think about when you’re in that huge bubble, when you’re in the village, sometimes you don’t look at people’s disabilities. You only view them as human beings and who they are. You forget that they have a disability and you won’t realize the stories they have until you step back and talk to them. This is an incredible thing about Paralympic Games. “
Elle Symonds talks about the global sporting event she has become synonymous with. She has been the Paralympic star since her debut at the age of 13, when she won two double golds in the pool in Beijing, by the time they came to London four years later, Symonds was the face of the Games. After winning two more home golds, Symonds – like it or not – has been emphasized as an icon of disabled sport as she broke through the mainstream of society. Rio 2016 brought more gold, but pain too, and now, finally, comes Tokyo.
“I think it’s right to move forward with the Games,” Symonds says of a question that’s been on everyone’s lips for the past 18 months, and which has only been partially answered, by the successful organization of the Olympics this summer. The risks that athletes with disabilities face from Covid are greater than those faced by Olympians, for example. “There will be a lot of mods, they will try to make it as safe as possible. But we know that [the Games] It brings people together. We got it in 2012 in London with an entire country and this competition, this year, will bring everyone together [worldwide]. So many people have lost their lives, people have lost loved ones, and a little sport can bring passion and solidarity. It is important [Tokyo] Happen or occur “.
Symonds’ invitation to the Paralympics, and what she could achieve at her best, was not enforced. It certainly couldn’t have been any other way, given that her personal story is so intertwined with the event she took part in every four years over the course of half her life. But that doesn’t mean she’s ready to cover up the tricky parts.
“I found it more difficult as I got older,” she says of dealing with the expectation of being a Paralympics icon. “Going to London I was still very young, yes, I felt the pressure but it was in a different way. Now the sport is moving forward, I am more competitive and I am older. It is difficult to stay at the top. There is a cheesy saying that does not exist: it is easy to reach To the top but once you get there it’s hard to stay there and I’m well aware of that.
“I think there are definitely times when I feel expectations on my shoulder and I think it’s because even before I race, people expect me to get a gold medal and that’s not the case. When [athletes] Well done the British people behind them and [then] They want them to do it well again, right? But it is a sport after all. You go out and compete against seven other people in the final and you never know what they’re going to do. There might be someone like me who comes in when he’s 13, unknown, and walks out with two gold medals. So it’s fine, but sometimes it can get to me and I definitely find it hard. But I have a great support system around me to help me.”
These predictions will be just one of a particularly difficult set of challenges set by these Pandemic Paralympics. As a result, Symonds says she has not set herself any goals for Tokyo. “I’m just going to go out there and compete and give it my all because we had four months in 2020 when we were out of the pool and couldn’t train,” she says. The fact that “everything is unknown” is something that you find “very difficult because I like to usually be in control.”
2016 was a low point in Symonds’ career, and Rio was a grim boost to give her everything. Real damage has been done to the culture of bullying among some members of England’s coaching staff swimmingEvidence that only emerged in the ensuing years. But those agonizing 12 months also provided a starting point. In 2017, Symonds took a break from sports and traveled the world. Along the way, she says, she developed a new kind of confidence, one in herself as a person.
“I think the most proud thing about myself away from the pool is being fine on my own,” she says. “What 2017 has brought me is confidence. I’m fine to travel, meet people, and see the world with my own eyes. The world is an incredible place and it gives me a buzz to travel but also to see how many wonderful people are out there. Having the maturity to talk to people, and the confidence to talk to Different people, that’s what I love and what I hope to do this summer.”
There have been some lessons from her time away, such as the ability to “step back,” a lesson only reinforced by the pandemic. “Undoing people-watching for a while and just taking that time is what I learned this year. Sometimes when I was a kid I would get FOMO [fear of missing out] Whereas now I know it’s okay to just sit for 10 minutes and read a book or have that time. decent.”
Doubts remain there won’t be much time to calm down and think in Tokyo for the next two weeks or so as Symonds seeks to retain her S6 200m individual medley title and reclaim one in the 400m freestyle. Her parents, who have been a constant support in her career thus far, will be deprived of their place in the games due to Covid. Symonds says her luxury item on this desert island would be a Polaroid.
“They were always there even at the local competitions they always came to and they were somewhere in the crowd and they are like my somewhat comfy blanket,” she says of her parents, Val and Steve. “I will miss them dearly in these games. I have now been in the sport for a long time though, I am fine.”
Elle Symonds is a member of Speedo Team.