5 overlapping rings on the within of Elinor Barker’s left wrist rapidly give away what the Olympic champion ought to have been as much as this yr.
The Welsh monitor and street bike owner, 26, had been mulling over a tattoo since successful gold on the Rio 2016 Olympics within the crew pursuit.
“I’ve been eager about getting it actually since Rio, and had simply chickened out”, the Cardiff-born athlete explains.
“Then I obtained it this yr on the day that the Tokyo ceremony was alleged to be on. One thing to do!”
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Video games have been postponed till 2021 due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic – a “crushing” blow to Barker, who had been focusing on her second match.
“I simply couldn’t consider it as a result of the Olympics in my thoughts is likely one of the inevitabilities of life. I didn’t assume I’d ever dwell by way of one thing in my lifetime that may imply it could get moved, by no means thoughts an Olympics I’d truly been focusing on myself.
“It made every part appear very very far sooner or later.”
Barker normally is aware of what she’ll be doing a yr upfront – whether or not that is a match or a coaching camp – so an entire 12 months taken out of the diary is a very long time to play with.
However persevering with coaching through the first lockdown proved to be one thing of a pleasing shock, with nearly no visitors offering ample situations.
“It’s what we journey all over the world for principally – quiet roads and good climate, which is what we had.
“I labored so much on loads of weaknesses that possibly I didn’t actually have a lot time to work on in regular life round competitors and coaching camps and travelling and people sorts of issues. I used to be truly capable of undergo these processes of being actually, actually garbage at one thing for a month or so, after which out of the blue it’s so much higher.
“I really feel like I’m a greater athlete now than I might have been had Tokyo gone on as regular.”
So is it a constructive?
“I in all probability would have most popular it to be on this yr!” she laughs, however it’s a silver lining.
Rising up within the Welsh capital, Barker may very well be discovered enjoying a distinct sport each night and weekend, however her journey with biking membership Maindy Flyers – whose previous members additionally embody Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas – was born out of her sentiment for one more sport.
“You get pleasure from what you’re good at, and I’m extremely dangerous at swimming!” she recollects.
“Me and my sister [Megan, also a successful cyclist] labored out that we might persuade my mum we weren’t not going to swimming as a result of we have been lazy and we didn’t wish to, we have been going to cease going to swimming as a result of biking was on on the identical time and we couldn’t be in two locations without delay!”
Aged 10 on the time of the change, Barker admits she did not truly know something about biking as a sport – she simply knew she preferred driving her bike.
“I didn’t know concerning the Tour de France, I could not have named any bike owner aside from Lance Armstrong till I used to be about 12, in all probability.”
An Olympic dream was intermittently in her sights, though not one thing Barker started to take critically till her late teenagers.
“I believe I obtained very impressed as a child. I positively bear in mind sooner or later saying ‘I wish to go to the Olympics’, however I believe I might have been eight or 9.
“It feels actually hypocritical to say this now – however I truly mentioned that I needed to go to the Olympics and be a swimmer! I believe I will need to have simply seen Michael Phelps on TV or one thing and thought ‘that’s cool, I’ll do this’.
“Then my dad defined to me what that concerned, and ‘we’d have to begin now, we’ll have to begin getting up at 5am and going to swimming earlier than and after faculty, and also you in all probability gained’t actually have a social life, and also you’re going to be drained on a regular basis’.
“I used to be like ‘oh yeah, I don’t actually fancy that truly’.”
Wanting again, Barker is obvious that she had ambitions of a profession in sport, however admits she by no means actually thought being an athlete may very well be her job. When requested how she broke into Workforce GB, she replied: “Type of unintentionally, to some extent!”
“It was by no means actually one thing that I believed might presumably be a profession for me once I was youthful. I solely ever had my eyes on Underneath-14 nationals, or a purpose of that form of dimension.
“Then yearly I suppose it simply obtained greater and larger, after which once I obtained to junior stage, my purpose was to get picked for a world championships, and the following yr it was to win the world championship. After that was the Olympics, actually.
“It was a gradual development of targets, principally, from desirous to win monitor week to desirous to win the Olympics.
“I thought of it [the Olympics] fleetingly so much in the best way that children do however I used to be by no means a type of youngsters that obtained on a motorbike at 5 years previous and mentioned ‘I’m going to go to the Olympics, I’m going to be a world champion’ or something like that. I simply loved frequently chasing targets.”
Since Rio 4 years in the past, she’s develop into far more forward-thinking together with her plans – organising her schedule in 4 (or 5) yr cycles, filling the time between the Olympics with different targets to assist preparations for the final word sporting enviornment.
As for enhancing and even lengthening her biking profession, Barker credit the main focus now being placed on psychological well being and the extent of help she receives from a sports activities psychologist being so excessive that it is nearly a part of her coaching programme.
Talking in her function as an envoy for Sporting Minds UK – a charity which seeks to lift consciousness and supply help to allow constructive psychological well being in younger sports activities folks – Barker believes psychological well being is sort of being seen in the identical means as bodily well being.
“You wouldn’t be embarrassed by a damaged ankle, you’d fortunately inform people who that’s what you have been going by way of and that’s why you have been having a few months away from competitors or one thing like that.
“Psychological well being is simply a part of your total well being. For athletes, well being is actually our commodity.
“I’d wish to assume we’re on the level the place we will say we’ve got all struggled sooner or later.
“There have been huge pressures and, I suppose, huge – what have felt on the time – like sacrifices.
“I’ve definitely had deadlines the place I’ve questioned whether or not that is one thing I actually, actually wish to do. I believe having the help of a psychologist to assist me by way of that and make me realise that it 100% is what I wish to do was very, very helpful.
“It’s now one thing I can’t think about not having in my life. However that’s simply horrible recommendation to be handing out to individuals who don’t have entry to the identical form of help.
“To be related to Sporting Minds, I believe that is an unimaginable service however folks must find out about it with the intention to use it. My function right here is actually to unfold the phrase.”
As for her bodily well being, Barker final yr bravely took the choice to talk publicly about struggling with endometriosis, a debilitating situation which impacts round one in 10 ladies throughout their reproductive years, whereby tissue just like the liner of the womb begins to develop elsewhere. Signs can embody painful durations, fatigue and power pelvic ache.
Round 18 months earlier than Rio, Barker visited her physician believing one thing wasn’t proper, however it wasn’t till three and a half years later – simply earlier than the World Championships in 2018 – that endometriosis was thought of.
“I’d really feel unwell for six weeks or two months, after which it could steadily raise and I’d be high-quality for slightly bit, however I by no means actually knew how lengthy that was going to occur for.
“Sadly for me, it did kind of break the World Championships for me in 2018. I form of simply managed to scrape myself by way of and never fully break championships, however I used to be feeling fairly unwell.”
At one level, she was in a lot ache she might barely stand, earlier than an operation in 2018, however needed to talk out to lift consciousness of the situation which may take a median of between six and 10 years to diagnose.
Surgical procedure is more likely to be wanted each three to 4 years for Barker to steer a wholesome life whereas coaching and racing. With out surgical intervention, Barker admits it is one thing which might have led to her profession being minimize quick.
“I believe I’d have struggled to have any form of consistency in my profession, had I not had any surgical procedure, as a result of it actually was debilitating. I by no means actually knew when it was going to occur.
“I believe if it had continued like that, then it wouldn’t essentially be that I’d say ‘I’m going to stop as a result of I’m coping with this sickness’. I believe I simply would have struggled to carry out on the identical stage, and so finally in all probability would have misplaced my house to any individual else.”
Barker made positive that wasn’t allowed to occur, and it is clear simply how a lot biking and being an athlete imply to her.
“It didn’t even cross my thoughts that I may very well be making a residing from driving my bike – it is ridiculous! I really feel very, very fortunate to have the ability to do it.”
Concerning what can typically really feel like sacrifices, Barker is agency within the perception that her choices are “selections”, as a substitute.
“I might nonetheless see my household so much and I might nonetheless be happening nights out with my buddies, however I might have a a lot much less profitable and far shorter profession. It’s a selection that I’m very, very fortunate to have the ability to make – I simply see it like that.”
With a smile, although, she admits she is relishing getting acquainted with a ‘correct’ weekend – one thing she’s obtained no actual notion of in comparison with the remainder of us. Sustained down time embody one week off per yr and round a month off each 4 years within the low season.
“I by no means, ever have two days [off] again to again. I suppose lots of people use their Saturday to do their actually enjoyable, exhausting factor – whether or not that’s a hike or a day on the pub or no matter it’s – and your Sundays to prepare for the following day.
“I solely actually have the Sunday. I really feel like I’m moaning so much there – Sundays are nice, Sundays are beautiful!”
As for 2021, Barker heads into the brand new calendar yr, she does so with a number of medals below her belt regardless of the pandemic. She gained gold within the factors race on the Monitor World Championships in Berlin in March, solely returning to the boards once more in November, the place she got here house from the European Monitor Championships in Bulgaria with three medals, together with two golds within the elimination race and the crew pursuit, plus a bronze within the madison.
Tokyo 2021 is the following cease on her journey for extra biking successes, and there isn’t any doubt she is giving it her all.
“I imply, my entire life is predicated round how briskly I’m going to go for 4 minutes on a velodrome subsequent yr in Japan. Once you break it down like that it sounds form of insane however it’s actually our entire complete world.
“It’s what I take into consideration once I get up, when I’ve my breakfast, once I’m selecting what I’m going to have for my dinner, once I’m attempting to remind myself to go to mattress early, it’s a part of each single little choice I make each single day.
“It’s an enormous a part of my id and I simply really feel massively privileged to have the ability to do that as my job.”
- Sporting Minds UK is a registered charity that gives and promotes psychological well being help in younger sports activities folks. For extra data, to donate or to entry one-to-one help, go to www.sportingmindsuk.org