The Olympic 100m hurdles champion on how she is rolling with the punches when it comes to dealing with the changes the coronavirus has caused

Brianna McNeal entered 2020 as the reigning Olympic champion in the 100m hurdles with a target to give herself the best possible chance to make a successful defence of her title.  But her plans for the year have changed radically because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Here the LA-based 28-year-old shares insight into her situation.

“I have just been trying to stay positive”

“We have the same restrictions as you have in the UK,” McNeal explains. “We’re not supposed to go out unless we need groceries or to go to work, which is what I’m doing. I’m still in my usual routine and haven’t been affected too much.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a good place to be but there are positives, like taking care of yourself and spending time with family and being able to do things that you can’t do normally because you wouldn’t have time.

“We are still able to train on the track. That hasn’t been taken away but I have not been able to get any treatment like massage to take care of my body for a while. That is no longer available. The track is still available but one day this week, we were nearly kicked off it and I think my coach is trying to figure out what we would do if we had to leave it.

“It’s important to remember how big the thing is that we are dealing with,” she adds. “I really feel for the community and the world and the place they are in and the toll that it’s all taking on them. I have just been trying to stay positive.”

Games postponement

Like most athletes, McNeal accepts that postponing the Tokyo Games was inevitable and is the right decision but it is still really disappointing for everyone.

“It made me sad for a short time because I’ve been working really, really hard in order to have a great season,” she says. “But then this thing is so big that it’s affecting the entire world.

“Right now, I’m having a difficult time to make that shift mentally, to accept where we are right now and to move forward. But I think as I and others begin to make that shift in the mind, things will begin to get a bit better.

“In my training group it’s kinda tough. It has been hard in training but I’m trying to change my perspective so that I’ll be able to train and be more motivated to do the things that I want to do so that I can achieve my goals. Recently I’ve been staying off social media because I don’t want to fill my mind with negative things and make myself paranoid.”

Roll with the punches

“Thinking about this season, there are so many uncertainties, it is a weird place to be in,” the 2013 world gold medallist says.

“I think the only way to deal with that is to roll with the punches, control what you can control and let everything else pan out and go as it is supposed to go. At the end of the day you have to believe, as the Bible says, that all things work for our good. So you need to find that good and be motivated by it.

“I think you need to remember that this is happening to everybody and you just have to count your blessings and be grateful for what you have. Things could be an awful lot worse. But this is a very hard thing and perhaps it’s going to help people to take care of themselves because that’s all we have control of; we don’t have control of the external things. We need to control our insides and get to a place where we are grounded so that we are less affected by the externals.”

Riding a roller coaster

The last four years have not been straightforward for McNeal. She was banned for a year after missing three drugs tests in 2016 – one when at a function in her honour in her home town and one while at a White House reception. In 2018 she was the Diamond League champion. In 2019 she performed under par in the Diamond Leagues, made the World Championships but false-started in a heat.

“It has been a real roller coaster. It’s been ridiculous,” she says. “2019 was so strange but I was dealing with a lot of stuff – personal stuff – it was a very stressful time of my life. And as I said, I learned the importance of taking care of yourself.

“I was training well and everything was going well in practice but the results were not showing it. I was in a place where I was asking ‘what am I doing, what’s happening to me?’

“Looking back, I can see that I wasn’t taking care of me. It was important to learn from that because you learn through all the tough times. I think it is one of the purposes of life, how you respond to difficulties.”

Click here for more athlete insight on ‘coping with the coronavirus’.

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