...as English-based J'can athletes express concerns with new COVID restrictionsFriday, December 25, 2020
BY SHERDON COWAN
AS Great Britain struggles to contain a surge in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases caused by an apparently more transmissible variant, Jamaican athletes based in countries in that region are keeping a close eye on the situation as they head into the Yuletide break.
Though their preparations have not yet been affected by the new protocols in place, gymnast Danusia Francis and diver Yona Knight-Wisdom are virtually on edge about the development which could eventually result in another break in their momentum due to tightened restrictions.
The spread of the new strain of the coronavirus across southern England — believed to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible — has forced border closures, with Jamaica being among a number of countries that have banned inbound flights from that nation.
Great Britain has one of the highest death tolls from the virus in Europe, with more than 68,000 deaths. On Tuesday it recorded 36,804 new infections, a record since the beginning of the pandemic, bringing the total to more than 2.1 million positive cases.
Still, Francis and Knight-Wisdom remain optimistic about the way forward amidst the rapidly rising cases, as Great Britain began a mass vaccination programme this month which will hopefully help their cause.
For Knight-Wisdom, who resides in Edinburgh, the only deterrent he faces at present is the fact that he is unable to celebrate the holidays with his parents — Trevor Wisdom, who is Jamaican and Grace Knight, who hails from Barbados.
“Well, Scotland is going into the highest level of lockdown but fortunately, the pool in Edinburgh is staying open, and as elite athletes we can continue to train whilst the rest of the programme is shut down,” Knight-Wisdom told the Jamaica Observer via telephone.
“I guess the main effect on me right now is that I can't now go home for Christmas due to the restrictions, so it'll be the first Christmas I'm spending away from my mum and dad,” he added.
The Jamaican diving flag-bearer, who kept his drive and competitive fire burning with spirited dry land sessions prior to his return to the pool late last month, believes he is currently on point where his preparations are concerned.
“Yep, I feel like I'm on target. It's been a different preparation process compared to normal, due to the delayed return to training, but I feel like I'm on the correct path and looking forward to continuing the work I've been doing,” Knight-Wisdom.
Diving is one of the most technical sports at the Olympics, where competitions are won and lost by the smallest of margins.
With such high stakes over six dives Knight-Wisdom, like others, relies heavily on routines to ensure that he is both mentally and physically prepared to give his best performance at the Diving World Cup, which serves as an Olympic qualifier in April.
The six-foot, two-inch diver believes that the next dive is the only one that matters, and he has applied the same mantra to his preparation to qualify for his second Olympic Games in Tokyo next year and add to his historic accomplishments sporting the black, green, and gold.
The 25-year-old, who started representing Jamaica in 2012, is the first diver from the island to parade his skills on the Olympic stage, when he showed at the 2016 Games in Rio.
He was also Jamaica's first-ever male Commonwealth Games diving competitor in 2014 and last year won the country's first-ever Pan American Games medal — a silver — in the 1m springboard event in July.
“For the new year it's unfortunately looking like I won't be able to officially compete until March, just a month before the World Cup, so I'm going to have to get creative with my coach to prepare for the qualifying event in the best way possible,” the Leeds Beckett University alumnus shared.
Meanwhile Francis, 26, who is Jamaica's second gymnast to qualify for the Olympics after Toni-Ann Williams' appearance at the 2016 Games in Rio, is clinging to the hope that she can resume training after the holiday period.
“I haven't been directly affected but obviously the new rules are very strict, so hopefully I will still be able to train after Christmas,” she told the Observer from her London base.
Going forward, Francis, who was a reserve athlete for Great Britain at the 2012 Summer Olympics, pointed out that she will be taking each day in stride as she looks ahead to her big Olympic debut.
Prior to achieving the qualifying feat last year, Francis became the first Jamaican gymnast to compete in a gymnastics final at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
“I would say I was on track [before the break]; my fitness was at a good level and I have new choreography on floor. So, I plan to stay safe from the coronavirus so I can continue to train hard and refine my skills, as well as see what new ones I can get into my routines,” she said.
Another gymnast, Reiss Beckford who is likewise based in London, is also weary of the new restrictions but says, “I'm all good so far and blessed to be able to continue training.”
Beckford is scheduled to appear at the now-postponed Pan American Cup, which acts as an Olympic qualifier, success during which would have seen him becoming the first Jamaican male gymnast and third overall to achieve qualification.
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