Athletes’ Rest and Recovery in Pandemic Enhances Performance


Ryan Crouser, the 2016 Olympic shot-put champion, expected to defend his gold medal in Tokyo this summer. He did not expect to enter bass-fishing tournaments to stoke competitive fires doused by a coronavirus pandemic.

“Finished in the money three of the last four tournaments,” Crouser, 27, who lives in Fayetteville, Ark., said in a telephone interview. “Been on a bit of a hot streak. It’s helped me from going a little crazy.”

Track and field, like many other Olympic sports, lost its primary showcase with the postponement of this year’s Tokyo Games. But for many athletes, that wasn’t the worst of it. The annual international circuit for dozens of sports also were disrupted, with travel restricted and meets and competitions delayed or canceled. Some athletes, their motivation sagging, decided to throw in the towel and resume serious training again in the fall in preparation for the Games next summer, if they happen.

But not everyone.

On July 18, after driving 10 hours to compete in one of the rare track meets held this summer, Crouser unleashed the best throw of his life — 75 feet 2 inches, or 22.91 meters — which tied for the fourth-best throw of all time.

In a normal year, Crouser, who is 6 feet 7 inches and weighs 310 pounds, would have been on the road from January to September, traveling to compete nationally and internationally. With his ability to travel all but halted by the pandemic, gyms closed, track facilities off limits and rehab therapists unavailable, Crouser mostly remained at home, ad-libbing. He said he has not missed a day of scheduled training, expanding his foundational workouts to six months from the usual six to eight weeks.

He kept waking up at the same time, and continued to eat his four meals and snacks totaling about 5,000 calories every day, as usual. He built a throwing ring out of plywood. He lifted weights in his garage. He hurled a medicine ball against the cement base of a bridge. He even did his own physical therapy, using a tennis ball, a lacrosse ball and a foam roller.

“The quarantine has been such a mental battle to stay engaged,” Crouser said. “Training is the highlight of your day to break the monotony. That’s what’s keeping you sane.”

“You just feel so much better,” she said about the extra sleep, “and you don’t get as sore.”

After her record throw, which went viral in track and field circles for its strength, balletic grace and technique, Allman, a former dancer, faced another challenge. She needed to be tested for performance-enhancing drugs within 24 hours for her American record to be ratified — and to pre-empt suspicion at a time when antidoping operations have been reduced during the pandemic.

Racing the clock, Allman and her coach found an accredited doping control officer to administer the test. They drove four hours to Hermiston, Ore., where Allman produced a urine sample in a gas station restroom.

“It felt kind of sketchy,” Allman said with a laugh, “but we wanted to prove that all of our hard work had been legitimate.”



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