Bouncing back from Rio, building up for Tokyo

Samir Ait Said of France celebrates after his routine in Men's Rings Final during the 49th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in 2019 (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Samir Ait Said of France celebrates after his routine in Men's Rings Final during the 49th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in 2019 (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Athletes who suffered injuries and missed out big time at the Rio Games are looking for redemption. Will they be able to regain their glory in Tokyo 2020?

When it comes to the pursuit of that coveted gold medal, athletes push themselves in great lengths to win. Some triumph and are victorious, but others face the agony of defeat.

At Rio 2016, some athletes suffered accidents and injuries, ending up in heartbreaking losses and their Olympic dreams being derailed.

But these athletes have now bounced back in the name of sport, with one focus: to bring their A-game at next year's Olympic Games.

Richie Porte (Cycling Road)

It was his Olympic debut in Rio 2016 and road cyclist Richie Porte from Australia had genuine hopes of winning a medal, following a strong performance that year.

But on the first day of competition, Porte crashed with several riders during the descent at the Vista Chinesa. He broke his scapula and had to be taken to a Rio hospital. Porte saw his Olympic bid end when he missed out on the time trial too.

A year after his disappointing Rio experience, Porte regained his bearing by finishing 12th in the World Tour individual classification. In 2019, he placed 10th in the Tour de France.

Now Porte has put his focus on Tokyo 2020 Games even though he hasn't made it to the national squad yet.

“This is an Olympic year and I want to be on the start line in Tokyo,” he told The Examiner earlier this year. “That’s a pretty big motivation for me."

With the Games postponement and COVID-19, Porte had spending time at this European base in Monaco and has started to map out his 10th Tour de France assignment, which has been rescheduled for this August.

Other cyclists also fell victim to the same stretch of road in Rio 2016. Vincenzo Nibali from Italy ended up with broken collar bones whilst Sergio Henao of Colombia fractured part of his pelvis and had a chest trauma. Great Britain's Geraint Thomas also crashed in the final descent but with no severe injuries, he was able to remount his bike to finish the race but unfortunately failed to medal.

Javier Gomez Noya (Triathlon)

Five-time world champion Javier Gomez Noya from Spain had to pull out of Rio 2016 after fracturing his left arm in a cycling accident.

With Noya out of the running, Great Britain's Brownlee brothers - who are the main rivals of Noya - split the medals between them. Alistair won the gold medal while Jonny followed with a silver medal.

Missing the Rio 2016 Games had been "one of the most difficult moments in his sporting career", according to Noya. The European champion and London 2012 silver medallist was one of the favourites to clinch gold in Rio.

By 2019, Noya was back in full form. He won the World Triathlon Long Distance World Championship in his hometown Pontevedra followed by winning the Ironman Malaysia where he announced his intention to focus on Tokyo 2020.

Even when Spain was in lockdown, Noya had been taking it all in stride.

"The last few weeks of the lockdown were pretty much like an off season for me. I let the body recover, recharge and lose the fitness in order to start again fresh and build up towards the end of the year," he said on Instagram.

He also announced his competition calendar for 2020 and will leave Ironman to focus on Tokyo 2020.

Speaking to La Voz de Galicia, Noya said: "To go for two competitions (Tokyo 2020 and Ironman) is complicated. I would like to concentrate on the Games. I want to do long-distance because it's what I like but now, I am only thinking of Tokyo."

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A lot of uncertainty about races in the near future, but it’s good to keep focused on the process. I heard that it’s hard for the athletes to keep motivated without goals. Well, improve, get better as athletes... It is a simple goal but at the same time a very hard one to achieve. Work on that! And it will pay off when the races eventually happen. . Hay mucha incertidumbre acerca de carreras importantes en un futuro próximo, pero es bueno mantenerse concentrado en el proceso y trabajar para mejorar pequeñas cosas. He oído que a los atletas les cuesta mantener la motivación sin carreras a la vista. Bueno, tratad de mejorar, trabajad para ser mejores atletas. Algo simple pero a la vez muy difícil de conseguir y que requiere mucho trabajo. Se verá reflejado en las carreras, cuando las haya.

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Sarah Menezes (Judo)

Menezes was the first Brazilian judoka to win a gold medal in London 2012. And with the Games were held in her home soil, many in Brazil had high hopes for her to repeat her winning performance in Rio.

But things didn't go according to plan. In the quarterfinals, she lost to 17th ranked Dayaris Mestre Alvarez of Cuba and during the repechage round, she received a fatal blow when Mongolia's Urantsetseg Munkhba caught her in an armbar which resulted in a dislocated elbow. Defeated and injured, Menezes had to be taken to the hospital in the Olympic Village right after.

Even though she came home empty-handed, Menezes has rebounded from the Games with a silver medal at the 2017 Grand Prix in Cancun followed by a bronze at the Grand Prix Tbilisi and Antalya in 2018.

This year, as Brazil has imposed some restrictions on sporting events, Menenzes will be off to Portugal this July and August as part of on the roster of the Brazilian judo squad to prepare for the Olympic Games.

Will we see Menezes come back in Tokyo and regain her crown?

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Finalizando o treino de hoje 😛

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Annemiek van Vleuten (Cycling Road)

Another athlete who fell victim to a horrific crash during Rio 2016 was Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten. She was leading the race when she was suddenly thrown off her bike and hit her head on the road. She was only 10km away from the finish line.

Van Vleuten had to be sent to the hospital after suffering a concussion and three cracks in her spine.

"I am now in the hospital with some injuries and fractures but I will be fine. Most of all super disappointed after [the] best race of my career," van Vleuten posted on Twitter.

Her compatriot Anna van Breggen ended up taking gold.

But just a year later, van Vleuten regained her spot at the top. She became a two-time trial World Champion after winning the 2018 UCI Women's World Tour then continued her winning way at the 2019 UCI Road Race World Championships.

These days, van Vleuten is training with fellow athletes to prepare for the first event this September as the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) have revised its calendar for 2020. The cyclist is planning to ride it out in the Olympics and beyond.

"I know I'll definitely continue for two more years, because I don't want to end in the Olympic year," she said, "so I want to sign somewhere for two years," Van Vleuten told Dutch cycling website De Leiderstrui.

All the pain and disappointment of Rio are now a thing of the past.

"Hopefully we can have a wonderful Olympics next year with no worries about the coronavirus anymore. I wish that for the future. I think that health is the most important thing and I hope to have a wonderful Olympics next year...," she told Cycling news back in March.

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Back at it!

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Ariya Jutanugarn (Golf)

Thailand's superstar Ariya Jutanugarn was fresh from winning the 2016 Women's British Open. The then world no 2 was the only female golfer from her nation to win a major golf title.

So in Rio 2016, expectations were high for Jutanugarn when competing in the first Olympic women's golf tournament since 1900. However, she had to withdraw from Round 3 due to an injury in her left knee.

"Very disappointed, because it's Olympics, and I tell my caddie, I want to finish ... four days," Jutanugarn told ESPN back in 2016. "I don't care how many over I'm going to be, but I'm thinking about my career."

But just a week later, she quickly bounced back and was leading the Canadian Pacific Women's Open. Since 2016, she has consistently proven that she is one of the top players in the world - winning the US Women's Open in 2018 and shooting to world no 1 status in 2017.

Now with the Games postponed to next year, Jutanugarn - who is currently no 14 in the Olympic rankings - hasn't talked about Tokyo 2020 yet, but if this is any indication, she may not be passing up the opportunity to get back to where she has left off in the Games.

"It is such a good time to be part of the women's game," she told Bangkok Post in early January when asked about her plans and for the LPGA Tour.

"My passion for golf is definitely still burning. I'll still try my best this year but won't put too much pressure on myself. I want to play golf happily."

Samir Aït Saïd (Artistic Gymnastics)

French gymnast Samir Aït Saïd missed his chance at London 2012 after breaking his right tibia after a performance in vault at the European Championships. But the gymnast was hopeful that he could give strong performance in Rio 2016.

However, he had another stroke of bad luck when his leg snapped during the qualification round in vault in Rio. Aït Saïd fell to the ground with his shin laid out in the opposite direction of his leg. With his Olympic bid dashed, doctors warned that he may not be walking for four months.

But a year later, Aït Saïd was already back doing somersaults.

Looking back to that fateful day, Aït Saïd told L'equipe: "It was my destiny, that's the way it is."

"There are worse things in life. I'm in good health, that's the main thing. You have to put it into context."

In October 2019, Aït Saïd won bronze in the rings final at the World Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart. This qualified him to represent France once again in Tokyo 2020.

“I need to rest,” he said, “because what is awaiting for me is very, very hard. I’m going to work hard to go get that title at the Olympics."

These days, Ait Said is focussing on family life and is also back in the gym, preparing to come back to the top in Tokyo 2020.