Having felt deep disappointment following the postponement of the Tokyo Games, two-time Paralympic long jump champion and para world record holder Markus Rehm is looking toward next year with renewed optimism.
The German single-leg amputee had been approaching peak condition in his bid for a third straight long jump gold medal before the coronavirus pandemic forced the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizers to delay the games by a year.
Rehm, who is known as the “Blade Jumper” as he jumps off a carbon-fiber bladed prosthesis, will be aiming to break his T64 world record jump of 8.48 meters at the Aug. 24-Sept. 5 Paralympics next year.
Rehm told Kyodo News he had been at a training camp in South Africa when he was suddenly instructed to return to Germany and go into lockdown as a precaution against the pneumonia-causing virus.
“We were in tough preparation … at the end of the preparation period (for the season). So with the lockdown, we lost this kind of form,” Rehm said.
No longer able to use world-class training facilities, Rehm did the best he could to stay in shape at home. But the period of isolation took a mental and physical toll on the 32-year-old, who also won 4×100-meter relay gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
“I was in really good shape. I was very motivated to come to Tokyo again, but (after) the lockdown, yeah, it was hard to motivate yourself,” said Rehm, who had his right leg amputated below the knee after a wakeboarding accident at age 14.
Despite the frustration of having his Paralympic journey temporarily derailed, Rehm believes there was no other option but to postpone the games.
“There were many feelings, (but) if we think clearly about the subject, and if you really look from every side on the problem we had, it was clear (the organizers had to) postpone it.”
Rehm, who attempted to compete at the Rio Olympic Games but was denied when the world athletics federation said he failed to prove his prosthesis does not provide an advantage, has spoken of one day challenging the mark for athletes without disabilities.
And although he is widely supportive of greater integration of athletes with and without disabilities, he believes the Paralympics “have different values” that warrant keeping them distinct from the Olympic Games.
“I just think when it comes to Olympic and Paralympic Games, it still has to be a little separate. But I think it’s possible to combine Olympic and para competition (so) that we are more together, like a Diamond League meeting,” he said.
Having visited Japan several times, Rehm is excited about being in the country again and hopes to claim his third straight long jump gold in front of a packed stadium next year.
While the possibility of limited crowd numbers or closed-door competitions at the Tokyo Games has been raised, Rehm said such an outcome would be a letdown both for athletes and the host nation.
“For me it’s great to compete in front of an audience. And to be honest, I was very happy to compete in Japan,” he said.
“To think of the stadium without any spectators, it is really sad for me (and) even more sad for the people in Japan,” said Rehm, who believes Japan is “the safest country” to host the games during a pandemic.
“If there is a country I would go to, then it would be Japan. I was there five times already. I know the culture, how people are there. I think they are very careful, very responsible,” he said.
The outlook for the games could remain unclear for some time, but Rehm is confident of taking to the track in Tokyo a year from now.
“I am an optimist. I still hope everything will be clear for next year. I know I am also realistic (but) … I’m still very positive,” he said.
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