There are some words you would expect to hear when interviewing athletes less than six months before an Olympic Games.
‘Determined’, ‘motivated’ and ‘excited’ usually all come up.
But in 2021 ‘grateful’ seems to be the overriding feeling.
Olympic hopefuls Georgia Davies, Dan Jervis and Alys Thomas are part of a small group of elite swimmers training at Wales National Pool in Swansea,
In fact, they are among the only people allowed to swim in the whole of Wales at the moment. That, combined with having to spend almost four months out of the water during last year’s first lockdown, explains their gratitude.
“I told myself I wouldn’t take it for granted again,” Davies tells BBC Sport Wales.
“I’ve never had that much time out of the water since I started my swimming career. So last year was a shock.
“But it definitely gave you that perspective and I felt so grateful to be back in the water.”
Davies is training back home in Swansea after opting not to return to her training base in Turkey because of the ongoing uncertainty over travel in and out of the UK.
Although she admits she is missing training outside in the Turkish sun, she says she has been welcomed back into the Welsh elite group.
The backstroke specialist is preparing to compete at this weekend’s Manchester International Swim Meet – the first domestic competition to take place since the coronavirus pandemic began.
‘It’s hard to picture Tokyo’
Davies, who swam at London 2012 and Rio 2016, says it will be “really important to see where I am” before the Tokyo Olympic trials in April.
The 30-year-old has had a taste of competing at a major competition during a pandemic. In the autumn she spent six weeks living in a hotel on an island in Budapest while representing Energy Standard in the International Swimming League.
But while the bubbles and testing procedures made that event a success, Davies says the Olympics are on a completely different scale.
“It’s hard to picture [Tokyo] because usually Olympic villages are so busy,” she continues.
“There are so many people everywhere and it’s such a vibrant, exciting atmosphere. I can’t imagine the dining hall being socially distanced [and] the amount of space they’d need.
“But every Games is different. I’ve been to two and I can definitely say London and Rio were so different.
“So no matter which Games you go to, you’re going to have a completely different experience to any other one. This will just be even more different.”
Jervis is also competing in Manchester this weekend.
The 24-year-old is equally grateful to be given dispensation to train as the two-time Commonwealth Games medallist chases a first Olympic appearance.
For Jervis, last year’s enforced break was a blessing in disguise.
“I think I’m in a better position now than I’ve ever been,” the 2019 British 400m and 1500m freestyle champion says.
“I was tired. I don’t like the word. But I was actually mentally tired.
“Because I’ve been swimming since I was a child and you never really have a break as an athlete. And I needed it.
“All these big competitions I was going to – like the World Championships – I wasn’t performing.
“This year has given me the opportunity to step back and get back to the drawing board and see where I’m going wrong. I think I’ve figured it out.”
Jervis has been working hard at improving his mentality when it comes to racing and believes, while there remains some apprehension, he is ready to perform at this weekend’s Manchester competition.
Then his focus is firmly set on Tokyo this summer, whatever the Games ultimately look like.
“Last year I think Canada and Australia were the first countries to pull their athletes out of the Games and straightaway I was like ‘postpone the Olympics’,” he says.
“I’ve waited such a long time to go that when I go I want the full experience.
“Now I will literally walk to Tokyo. I do not care who’s there. I just want to be an Olympian. That’s all I want to be able to say.
“If that opportunity gets taken away from me I’ll be heartbroken.”
Happy as the underdog
Another swimmer in Swansea eyeing her first Olympics is 2018 Commonwealth Games champion Thomas.
Her gold in the 200m butterfly in Gold Coast raised expectations of what she could achieve in Tokyo. But a combination of minor injuries and the pandemic means she has not raced since the 2019 World Championships – and is not quite ready to race again this weekend.
Yet the 30-year-old is happy to stay under the radar.
“I like people not necessarily knowing what I’m doing or how I’m training and then I turn up at a competition and hopefully swim amazingly,” Thomas says. “I like being an underdog.
“The postponement wasn’t anything negative. It’s another year to hone the skills and get stronger.
“For me I think [Tokyo] is going to pull a lot of people together. Everyone always crowds round the telly to watch any kind of sport.
“They get to support their country and support their athletes. That’s what I really want to see.”
It has been a long wait for competitive action for many British swimmers. This weekend’s competition could be an interesting insight into how each has coped with training during a pandemic.
But the real goal is still 161 days away. If 23 July 2021 sees an Olympic opening ceremony, these three swimmers in Swansea will be desperate to be there too.