Many Olympic athletes were planning to retire in 2020 after the Tokyo Games. However, the pandemic scuppered their plans by pushing the international competition back a year.
Following the news of the postponement, athletes across the world contemplated their futures before sending their ageing bodies back to training for an additional 12 months.
As it stands, around 11,000 athletes are expected to compete in the Olympics – which is set to start on July 23 – but for many, the postponed Games will be their last.
Many Olympic athletes have pushed back their retirement plans because of the postponement
Several Team GB stars have made their intentions clear, with the likes of Alistair Brownlee admitting he is ‘100 per cent’ ready to call time on his Olympic career after Tokyo.
While others, including gymnast Becky Downie and diver Tom Daley, have hinted at retirement following the 2020 setback.
However, when it comes to sport you can never be too sure as for every Usain Bolt – who announced his retirement in 2017 and stuck to it – there is a Sir Mo Farah who reversed his decision to retire from the track to defend his 10,000 metres title at Tokyo.
Nevertheless, Sportsmail have rounded up the GB stars who are likely to appear in their final Olympic Games this summer.
Sportsmail has rounded up the GB stars which are likely to appear in their last Olympic Games
Alistair Brownlee – Triathlon
Brownlee extended his Olympic career by 12 months following the announcement that the Tokyo Games had been postponed.
However, the reigning triathlon champion admitted he was ‘100 per cent’ ready to call it quits on his Olympic career after Tokyo and focus on the ‘Ironman’ circuit instead.
When the postponement was announced, Brownlee said: ‘Tokyo 2020 would have 100 per cent been my last short distance race, and I am now going to have to extend it for another year.
‘The logical conclusion is that it will be more difficult because I will be another year older. But you never know what is going to happen in a year in endurance sport.’
Alistair Brownlee extended his Olympic career by 12 months following the Covid-19 pandemic
Brownlee contemplated transitioning into marathon running or turning to the 10,000 metres, but has opted to take on the ‘Ironman’ circuit instead.
The 33-year-old made his full ‘Ironman’ debut in June 2019 and won in seven hours, 49 minutes and 20 seconds after the 2.4 mile swim was pulled for safety reasons.
Brownlee is now looking to break the ‘Ironman’ record by finishing the race in less than seven hours in spring 2022.
Speaking of his transition to the ‘Ironman’ circuit, Brownlee said: ‘It is still my intention to move on after Tokyo.
‘I want to go back to racing over the longer distances and in the future, I will be concentrating solely on Ironman.’
The champion admitted he is ‘100 per cent’ ready to quit his Olympic career after Tokyo
Becky Downie – Gymnastics
Downie – who won a silver medal at the World Championships in 2019 – was also planning to retire after this Olympic cycle.
At the time of the postponement, Downie told Sportsmail: ‘Another 16 months is a significant time to stay fit and healthy for, but it’s not impossible. I am an old gymnast anyway, so it’s just one more year.
‘My body is definitely ready for retirement but I still love what I do so it will not be a chore for me to stay.’
Should Downie retire, she can look back on her career with pride as 13 years ago the 16-year-old began her Olympic career at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Gymnast Becky Downie was planning to retire after this Olympic cycle before it was delayed
She had already represented England at the 2006 Commonwealth Games – claiming the silver and bronze medal – but achieved her dream of becoming an Olympian.
Her success continued with the GB star picking up gold on the uneven bars at the 2014 European Championships in Sofia – making her the only British woman to do so after Beth Tweddle – before winning silver in Montpellier in 2015.
Downie will, however, be looking to repair the heartbreak of Rio 2016 after heading into the Games in the form of her life but failing to achieve a medal.
Her routine in the preliminary rounds was excellent except for one minor error – her toe touched the top bar, incurring a huge deduction. Without that, she would have outscored the eventual bronze medallist.
Downie said she ‘was heavily debating retiring’ after the Games but decided to stick it out until Tokyo.
The 29-year-old has said that her ‘body is definitely ready for retirement’ after Tokyo
Tom Daley – Diving
Tom Daley’s Olympic medal-winning mentor Leon Taylor believes the national hero would have retired at Rio had he won gold.
Daley agreed with such remarks, saying the Olympic semi-finals was a bitter pill to swallow and that he ‘wouldn’t still be diving’ if he claimed the top spot.
He said: ‘I had a bad day (in 2016). It can happen to anyone. If I had won a gold medal in Rio then I wouldn’t still be diving today.
Tom Daley would have retired after the Rio Olympics if he had won gold instead of bronze
‘But I knew that wasn’t the end for me and I knew that I had to carry on and prove that I can be the best diver in the world.
‘I said that I would come back and work as hard as I can because I never ever want to feel a pain like that again.’
Daley has added further speculation to his career after Tokyo, claiming he is an ‘old man in the sport now’ despite being just 26-years-old.
Therefore, it seems reasonable to suggest the Tokyo Olympics could be the last time we see Daley on the international stage.
As a result, he has hinted at retiring after Tokyo if he manages to win an Olympic gold medal
Sir Mo Farah – Athletics
Farah retired from track and field in 2017 to focus on the marathon. He subsequently broke the British record in the 2018 London Marathon and set a new European record in the 2018 Chicago Marathon.
However, following a less successful 2019, the GB icon made a U-turn on his decision by announcing his return to track and field to defend his gold medal in the 10,000m at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Unlike others, Farah believed the postponement of the Games could work to his advantage as the Briton had an additional year to train for his title defence.
Farah – who is looking for his third successive Olympic gold medal over 10,000m – does not plan to defend his 5,000m title in Tokyo.
Should Farah successfully defend his title, it seems likely the 38-year-old will step away from the sport once and for all.
Mo Farah retired from track and field before Tokyo but later changed his mind and returned
Adam Peaty – Swimming
Britain’s Olympic 100m breaststroke champion says he would retire from the sport if he set a record under 55 seconds at the Games.
Peaty set a new world record in the 100m breaststroke in 2015 – completing a time of 57.92 seconds at the age of 20. That made him the first man to go under 58 seconds.
However, he went on to better that – achieving a new world record of 56.88 in the long course in July 2019.
Peaty has admitted that he would turn to retirement if he ever broke 55 seconds on the long course (having already achieved 55.41 on the short course).
Peaty said: ‘I do believe we can go fast and whether I can put a limit on that, I don’t know.
Adam Peaty says he would retire if he set a record under 55 secs in breaststroke at the Games
‘But you’re looking at 56 low. I think there’s another half second in there you can respectfully take off. I’d absolutely go crazy if I went 55, if I saw 55 anything. I’d be like “that’s it, I’ve got to retire because that ain’t going to happen again”.
‘To go anywhere near that you have got to have a perfect race, a perfect preparation. And not a single doubt in your mind that you can go fast.
‘It’s not about anyone else in the pool, it is about how fast and how far can you push yourself but you know, that’s exciting.’
Although Peaty has not yet confirmed his plans to retire, swimmers typically tap out in their mid-20’s with double Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington finishing her career in 2013 and Fran Halsall calling time on a career at the age of 26.
Peaty is also a new father – having welcomed his son into the world in September 2020 with his partner Eiri Munro.
Therefore, he could take a step back from the sport to spend more quality time with his family.
Peaty has not yet confirmed his retirement, swimmers typically call it a day in their mid-20’s
Susannah Townsend – Hockey
Susannah Townsend was a member of the GB hockey team that took the world by storm when they won Olympic gold at Rio 2016.
Townsend had planned to retire from International hockey after the Tokyo Games in 2020, but was forced to push her plans back following the pandemic.
At the time of the postponement the GB hockey player told BBC: ‘I’d always said I was definitely going to retire in August, but my plan now is to retire after the Olympics next summer.’
Townsend also opened up on the impact the postponed Games would have on her body and her preparation.
Susannah Townsend had planned to retire in August 2020 but pushed that back for Tokyo
She said: ‘There are no assurances about selection and certainly no sentiment in elite sport. I know what I can do on a good day but I haven’t had enough good days in the past couple of years.
‘For me it’s going to be a little bit more of an uphill battle due to my age and injuries. I’m going to have to manage my body going forward, resting and stretching in particular.
‘Hockey is getting faster. It’s relentless. It’s all about speed and change of direction. It’s continuing to evolve. It’s good having these 21-year-olds coming in because you learn a lot. I know my strengths and I tend to try to stick to them.’
As a result of the postponement, Townsend says simply lining up for Great Britain at the Olympics in Tokyo would represent the greatest achievement of her career.
‘It might sound silly (as an Olympic gold medallist) but if I am selected for Tokyo next year I am certain it would be the best achievement of my career.’
Townsend was a member of the hockey team that took the world by storm at Rio 2016
Other GB athletes set to retire after the Tokyo Games
Naomi Folkard – Age 37
Naomi Folkard has pushed back her retirement plans to compete at her fifth Olympics after being named in Great Britain’s archery squad.
It is believed Folkard will retire after the postponed Games.
Naomi Folkard has pushed back her retirement plans to compete at her fifth Olympics
Liam Heath – Age: 36
Sprint canoeist Liam Heath – reigning Olympic champion and record holder in the men’s K1 200m – previously told Sportsmail that he had planned to call it a day after the Tokyo Games.
During lockdown Heath has used a gazebo to create an outdoor gym consisting of a Dansprint ergometer (a canoe simulator with an authentic water feeling), Olympic barbells and weights, dumbbells, benches and boxes.
Heath had planned to defend his title at Tokyo and then walk away from the sport, however, he could now change event instead.
Liam Heath planned to call it a day after the Tokyo but could now change event instead
Hannah Mills – Age: 33
GB sailing champion Hannah Mills had planned to retire after the original Tokyo Games last summer and even considered going ahead with her retirement after hearing about the postponement.
However, she decided to hold out for the rearranged date to pursue her Olympic goal.
Speaking of the decision at the time, she told Wales Online: ‘As a slightly older athlete, you do question it. Physically, another year can be quite a big deal.
‘There’s also the mental process you have to go through to get yourself in the right place to perform. It’s really challenging and draining and takes a lot out of me. You put everything else in your life on the back burner in those six to eight months before an Olympic Games.’
As a result, she is expected to call time on her Olympic career after the postponed Games.
Sailor Hannah Mills says she had to put her life on the back buner following the postponement
Aimee Willmott – Age: 28
Willmott was another athlete who had planned to retire last year after Tokyo only for the Games to be postponed.
Willmott had planned to move into the new phase of life with a full-time job on the horizon and a potential family with partner Harry Booker.
When she decided to continue training for the postponed Games she said: ‘Once I’d made the decision to carry on it was strange at first: I was thinking I shouldn’t really be here now, I should be at the next step whatever that might look like but I’m still doing what I was doing before.
‘So it’s been a very different 12 months in terms of my thought processes.’
Aimee Willmott was another athlete who had planned to retire last year after Tokyo
Lizzie Deignan – Age: 32
Lizzie Deignan made the decision to postpone her retirement to pursue her ambition to win Olympic gold and the 2021 Road Cycling World Championships in September.
If Deignan were to win both titles, it would be the first time such a feat has happened since Marianne Vos won the world title in Valkenburg and the Olympic gold medal in London in 2012.
Such an achievement could see her tap out of her professional career on a high.
Lizzie Deignan (above) made the decision to postpone her retirement with ambitions to win both the Tokyo Olympic Games and the Flanders World Championships in 2021