First South African to win an Olympic triathlon medal, Henri Schoeman has defeated the strain of COVID-19. The Rio de Janeiro Olympics bronze medallist is now focusing on Tokyo 2020 Olympics to better the colour of his precious metal piece.
Schoeman was preparing to leave for his first World Triathlon Series race of the season, in Abu Dhabi, when the event was postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Then came the global shutdown as the novel coronavirus started spreading worldwide. If staying away from action was not enough for an athlete, Schoeman was among the millions of unfortunate people to have the first-hand experience of the debilitating power of a novel coronavirus.
“It was no joke. I remember googling coronavirus and there was hardly anything about the illness at the time. Now, you can’t escape the word. I was hospitalised and out for a month; then it took another month to try to regain full strength. You have to be so careful. As an athlete, you push yourself to the limit and your immune system is on the edge,” the official Olympic website Olympic.org has quoted the 28-year-old as saying.
The episode came just after the end of the 2019 season and led the South African to take some extended downtime, which included getting married and the less exciting prospect of treating an ongoing Achilles issue. The Abu Dhabi race was supposed to be the first step in a season-long build-up towards the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – an assessment of where he was after a rollercoaster few months. While that first step has yet to materialise, Schoeman is philosophical about the 12-month Olympic delay.
“Personally, it makes little difference whether the Games are this year or next,” he said. “I was happy with where I was, but we have another year to maybe get wiser and perhaps think of things that you wouldn’t have. I took some time to regroup. The Olympic postponement took some pressure off, and then I was able to start formulating some goals. You just have to take a couple of steps back and build up again.”
Schoeman is hoping to improve on his bronze-medal finish at Rio 2016, where he took to the podium alongside British brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee to collect his nation’s only Olympic triathlon medal since the sport was added to the Games programme in Sydney two decades ago.
However, he will have to wait for several months for returning to the competitions. The International Triathlon Union has recently announced that its first rearranged WTS event will be held in Hamburg, Germany, in September. That is some good news for Schoeman and his fellow triathletes, as they await some longed-for competition. His participation, however, is far from guaranteed.
“There’s so much uncertainty around international travel, so there’ll be a lot of logistics to sort out,” he said. “Will we have to quarantine, for example? But it’s exciting to have a race on the schedule. It’ll be great to be back on that start line. If I can get there, I’ll be there, whatever level my training allows me to get to.”