It is not a surprising thing to say that the next few years will probably see a huge amount of research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sport. It will be interesting to see what the consensus will be. I’m sure most will find the impact has been negative, particularly on the business side of things with the postponement of many sporting events and when events are staged, the lack of supporters in attendance. The impact on individual or team sporting performance might also be negative overall, with possible differences in the scale of the effect depending on the sport and whether it is team or individual based.
But could there be positive impacts too? It is on this topic that I was struck by the performance of some of our Irish running athletes since the start of the year. An indoor meeting was staged in Ireland in February 2021 to allow (mostly) Irish athletes attain qualification standards for the upcoming European Indoor Championships and world ranking points for qualification for the Tokyo Olympics. On the back of a severely disrupted 2020 season, including the postponement of the Olympics, some rustiness on their part might have been expected.
However, a number of personal bests (PBs) were posted and a national record (NR) were also broken in the 800 metres for men (see results here). In fact, the NR was broken by the first two men past the winning line, Mark English and Cian McPhillips, and the time by McPhillips was also the second fastest 800m run indoors by an 18-year-old in European athletics history. Several fast times were also posted in other races including the 2nd and 4th fastest runs by Irish athletes in the 60m for men, the 4th best Irish time in the 200m for men, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fastest Irish times in the 400m for women and the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fastest Irish times in the 800m for women.
Fast times by Irish athletes have also been recorded in other indoor race meetings since the start of this year. Síofra Cléirigh Büttner ran the 2nd fastest indoor 1,500m by an Irish woman on the 13th February. She also broke the national record for the 800m in an indoor race meeting on the 21st February. This was after Nadia Power has twice broken this record at indoor race meetings in January and February. While the subsequent performance of our Irish athletes at the recent European Indoor Championships did not continue on their good season form displayed in January and February, Phil Healy did post the 2nd fastest time by an Irish women in the 400m final and Sarah Lavin posted the 2nd fastest time by an Irish women in the 60m hurdles at the championships.
The purpose of presenting all the above is to pose the question that the COVID pandemic and associated disruption could have some positive impact on the performance of Irish athletes (or at least it hasn’t had a negative impact). Taking time away from the track to concentrate on improving training techniques and/or allowing time for rest and recuperation from injuries could have been a good thing for some Irish athletes. Of course, there are a myriad of other reasons for the recent excellent performances by Irish runners and this is just a hypothesis which is worth testing. As I said at the beginning of this piece, it will be interesting to see research develop in this area and a proper examination of the potential negative and positive impacts of the disruption to elite sports people, such as running athletes, due to the COVID pandemic.