Marcus Lawler OLY: My experience at the Tokyo Olympic Games

Qualification Process & Selection

The qualification process for Tokyo 2020 had originally begun at the end of summer 2019. This process was delayed because of the global pandemic due to Covid 19. During this time the training was difficult, but the goal never changed and anyone that was targeting Tokyo 2020 was glad it was postponed to 2021 and not completely cancelled!

In order to qualify for Tokyo 2020(1), the selection criteria was straightforward – Be within the top 56 athletes on the World Rankings list for the 200m.

To better my World Ranking I had to race extremely well at home and abroad in the best meets possible against some of the best athletes in the World.

Thankfully I had enough good performances and was able to be within the Top 56 to secure my place! It wasn’t easy but with the help of a good coaching team around me and high-quality training partners helped to keep me at the top of my game.

The Holding Camp

We were based in the city of Fukuroi, about 3 hours south of Tokyo for three weeks before my race. The Irish team prepared together from all the various sports. It was a case of eat, sleep, train and socialise for these three weeks which was ideal preparation for me.  

We stayed in an incredible 5-star resort during our time there. We could not leave this resort due to Covid. Similarly, to my own road at home, the city of Fukuroi was covered in Irish flags flying from local houses as we went to and from training every day. The only time we could leave the resort was to go to the training venue at the superb Ecopa Stadium.

My mam, Patricia was my coach and guided me to the Games but unfortunately couldn’t be there due to travel restrictions. We devised a training plan before I left which I followed out there with the Irish support staff. Reporting back home to coaches, Physiotherapy appointments daily, some check ins with my Sport Psychologist and Nutritionist were the pillars in helping me along throughout the programme. While there, I had some good pre competition sessions with the likes of Tom Barr keeping me on my toes!

The Preparation

The training within the holding camp needed to be carefully planned and touch in on all the important aspects of 200m running. Before training commenced properly, I needed to let the body settle after a long flight so there was a few “shake out” sessions before the real work began. There were technical sessions that focused in on my form where it was key to run relaxed with a controlled aggression at top speed. Often running relaxed sounds like a contradiction in such an explosive event but all the greatest 200m runners all have that “Jelly jaw” and relaxed shoulders.

There were sessions where we worked on the start and the bend. These sessions were a great opportunity to work on my visualisation and how I was going to attack that first 60m of the race and run the curve well before transitioning into the home straight. Speed Endurance and Strength Endurance sessions had been key all year and it was no different in the holding camp.

The gym work during the holding the camp became minimal. Partly because I picked up a niggle out there so the programme needed to be adjusted and partly because within our 10-day taper before the race gym work is minimal anyway. It’s mainly light, fast, and explosive. The focus was on reactive plyometrics and complex training (heavy lifts followed closely by explosive jumps). It was important I was keeping on top of my prehab work, mobility, and physio sessions outside of being on the track.

I believe “less is more” during the 10-day taper before the race however you need to be brave to rest up and do less volume in training. It was vital that I trusted that all the hard work was complete.

The Olympic Village

Three days before my race it was time to make the journey up the Olympic Village with the remainder of the Athletics Team. The village had some nice attractions. The accommodation honestly was basic compared to the beautiful resort in Fukuroi. Our beds were made of cardboard and there was 4 to an apartment! A massive food hall was across from our apartments where we could have all types of food from around the world.

The final few days of my training were carried out at the warmup track at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium about 30 minutes from the Village. It also gave me an opportunity to visit the stadium and get a feel for the place.

The Race

Given the extreme heat in Tokyo there was some adjustments to my warm up and some cooling strategies were put in place that were practiced in the holding camp. I had a tough heat draw and knew it was going to be a tough ask to get into the semi-final. The top 24 athletes after the heats advanced to the semis. Once my warm up was complete we made the long five minute walk to the call room where I was joined by my opposition.

As we entered the track, we walked up into a massive stadium to set our blocks before the off. I was greeted by some cheers from my Irish teammates who were up in the stadium at the start of the 200m.

I finished 6th in my heat and 29th overall running 20.73 which was the fastest I produced all season, but I needed a 20.5 to advance to the semis. I stayed on the track for as long as possible after the race to take it all in. In one way I was happy to produce a seasons best in the biggest race of my life but in truth I wanted more and felt I needed to get to a semi-final. It was truly an amazing occasion and an honour to represent my country at the Olympic Games.

Since returning home, I have been asked how I handled the whole experience and was I nervous. Honestly, I knew the task at hand, and I was focused in on trying to do the best job I could. I wanted to approach the race with a sense of enjoyment. I wanted to take it all in and run with a smile on my face. It was extraordinary standing in the Tokyo Olympic stadium ready to compete. Mentally, I had done preparation with my Sports Psychologist before the race, and I was prepared for any scenario. The big thing was – will the nerves hit me on the start line? The way I was going to overcome this was to realise that I was standing at the start of the 200m line on a track. This is a very familiar place to me and a place I had stood hundreds of times before. This time was going to be no different. I was going out to express myself as best I could.

The Support

From the moment I was selected to go to the Olympics the messages of support came flooding through via phone calls, texts, social media, people calling to the door, it was extraordinary. Training before my departure for Japan was a little bit more exciting during this time and we prepared well from my main training base, the Institute of Technology Carlow. The support I’ve received from the Institute of Technology Carlow over the years has been really key in my development as an athlete.

I will never forget the Irish flags and messages of support that were outside lots of houses along my road. The day I departed for the airport there were so many people lined along the road to see me off which was amazing and hugely uplifting.

After my race, messages came flooding in once again to congratulate me on my performance and I couldn’t believe the amount of people who got up in the middle of the night to watch me compete.

My family and girlfriend Muireann have always been very supportive of me throughout my career. The support off the track was immense and I believe it played a big part in my Seasons Best performance at the Olympic Games.

– Marcus