In 2012, Paralympic broadcaster Channel 4 famously ran a campaign thanking the Olympics for being the ‘warm-up’ act for the London Paralympic Games.
It was as good-humoured as it was attention-grabbing, but for Paralympians, there is a genuine dilemma of how much of the ‘warm-up’ action of the Olympics to pay attention to and absorb ahead of their main event: the Paralympics.
Sophie Thornhill, who won track cycling gold and bronze in Rio, explains how she dealt with this five years ago.
“Rio was my debut Paralympic Games, so heading into the summer I was excited and nervous. I wanted to embrace the Games and everything that goes with it, but I was also very aware that I had a job to do, and I couldn’t get too carried away.
“Before Rio, we went into holding camp for a couple of weeks before heading out to Brazil, which meant we had time to watch the last few days of the Olympics.
“However, my clearest memory of watching the Olympics was at home. Jason Kenny was in the keirin final which must have been around 10pm our time. As I was watching I was very aware that I needed to get to bed to ensure a good night’s sleep – something which wasn’t helped by the fact that the race was re-started multiple times over, with Jason eventually winning gold after a race that was almost as exhausting to watch as it was to participate in.
“Both the Paralympic and Olympic squads train together in Manchester, so I was keen to watch as much of the Olympics as I could as it was our team-mates competing.
“I found it to be a very strange experience, watching on but knowing that it would be me out there in two or three weeks. It was exciting from a sports fan’s perspective, but from an athlete’s perspective it was quite draining. Watching the events and knowing I was next was quite a nerve-wracking experience, or at least it was for me.
“In track cycling there are many elements that can affect your performance that you have no control over, such as the subtle differences in the shape of the track, or the atmospheric conditions within the velodrome.
“As we have the Olympics as the warm-up event, we can get a lot of information from our team-mates who have already experienced the venue, which can be helpful to ensure we know as much as possible in advance.
“When we finally got to the velodrome it did feel familiar but not, like when you see a face that you know but can’t place. Thankfully with track cycling it is pretty obvious where the start line is, and then it is just a case of finding the loos!
“For those heading to Tokyo this year I would advise watching as much or as little of the Olympics as you want, as long as it is right for YOU. Don’t copy what your team-mates are doing, don’t watch your team-mates if it makes you nervous – concentrate on what is best for your preparation and your wellbeing.
“It is going to be a whirlwind for a couple of months, but do it your way, and most of all enjoy it!”