Ben Rowlings content to wait for Tokyo

The Tokyo Paralympics may have been postponed by a year – but Shropshire athlete Ben Rowlings is determined to focus on the positives, writes Joe Whiles.

Ben Rowlings has another year to fine tune his preparations for Tokyo  Picture: Ben Booth
Ben Rowlings has another year to fine tune his preparations for Tokyo Picture: Ben Booth

After spending four years fighting back from – by his own admission, a difficult debut at the Rio Games in 2016 – Rowlings was building up nicely for this summer’s competition.

But the T34 wheelchair racer, whose best distance is over 800 metres, is planning to be even better when he touches down in Tokyo next year instead.

“The current situation is so much bigger than sport,” said the Shrewsbury-born athlete. “Although at the time it was slightly frustrating knowing that all the hard work this year wouldn’t culminate in Tokyo, it was the right decision to make.

“All the work I have put in this year will only build a stronger platform going into next summer’s Games.”

With the decision now taken to move the Games, it also relieves any worry there might have been about trying to qualify in the midst of a global crisis.

“With the Tokyo Paralympics being pushed back an entire year, it obviously takes the pressure of trying to qualify during this uncertain period away,” said Rowlings, who has Cerebral Palsy. “I think the right decision was made in postponing the Games, as it makes it a level playing field for everyone and makes sure that athletes’ and spectators’ health is put first.”

And how has Rowlings adapted to living through lockdown?

“I am lucky to have equipment in my house that means I can still get the hours of training I need to maintain a good level of fitness,” he said. “Gym-wise, me and my strength and conditioning coach have come up with a variety of home workouts to do while we’re all having to stay at home.

“I am not able to get out to an athletics track to train in the chair, but I have a turbo trainer that I can use to help replicate the intervals – there are also really good cycle paths nearby to be able to still get on to the road and get the miles in.”

Four years ago, Rowlings should have been a proud debutant at the Rio Games.

It did not quite go to plan, though.

Then 19, Rowlings left his maiden Paralympics without a medal – but he certainly recognises the experience that has given him moving forward in his career,

“The whole Games was a massive learning curve, everything that goes with the grandeur of the Games adds to the pressure and maybe that got to me,” he admits.

But when one Olympic and Paralympic cycle ends, the next one almost immediately begins. After that 2016 disappointment, a new year brought a fresh start for Rowlings, with 2017 proving a pivotal 12 months.

A move to Scotland and the University of Stirling – as well as a new coach in the form of Ian Mirfin – has seen the aspiring medallist lock in to his ultimate goal for Tokyo.

“I needed a new voice after Rio – I needed a change,” admits the 24-year-old. “Ian is someone who I respect and he helps a lot.”

And though the start line has been pushed back a year, Rowlings’ hunger to succeed remains. “I am dreaming of that start line in Tokyo,” he said. “I can’t wait to get out there and give every bit of effort I have.”

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