Lighthouse interview: challenges for athletes at an Olympics with no spectators (and five billion other Covid-related factors)

One of the big questions people are asking in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics is how athletes are going to react to competing in an empty stadium – or alternate venue – without a spectator in sight. I was interviewed about this by Fran Molloy back in April, for Macquarie University’s Lighthouse. This was back when it looked like domestic spectators would be allowed.

My take, in pull quotes:

The audience is just one of the many different factors that can positively or negatively influence performance. [โ€ฆ] This yearโ€™s athletes are also dealing with COVID-related stressors, whether from living in a bubble or from the massive disruptions to training including the year-long postponement and the lack of competition over the last year and a half.

Every athlete will respond differently, and thatโ€™s what makes watching sport so exciting โ€“ we never know who is going to win the race when that start gun fires.

Athletes who succeed at the top levels go through an ongoing process of dealing with change, challenge and fluctuation.

You can read the full Lighthouse article here (and marvel at how Fran pulls info from various sources together to create it).

For a recent peer-reviewed journal article on how athletes deal with change, challenge and fluctuation, check this one out: Embodied intelligence and self-regulation in skilled performance: or, two anxious moments on the static trapeze (Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 2021).

For earlier peer-reviewed journal articles on the overlapping experiences of athletes and spectators, explored through case studies on mountain bike racing, seek out these two. Incidentally, this topic is what got me into research as a long-term career choice:

Feeling them ride: corporeal exchange in cross-country mountain biking (About Performance, 2010).

Sport, entertainment and the live(d) experience of cheering (Popular Entertainment Studies, 2011).

Hosting the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic is certainly a controversial choice. I hope, above all, that people are able to stay safe, and those athletes who are unable to compete due to thes – and related – circumstances are able to find alternate avenues to do what they do best.

Header photo: Ryunosuke Kikuno via Unsplash.

Body photo: supplied (Lighthouse article).

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