Australian javelin thrower Kelsey-Lee Barber (© Getty Images)
In the latest in our mini-series tracking the journey of athletes from the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 through to the Tokyo Olympics, we focus on world javelin champion Kelsey-Lee Barber from Australia.
Looking back to 2019, what does your World Championships success in Doha mean to you?
Kelsey-Lee Barber: Reflecting on that win means so much more to me following the break in competition in 2020. There was so much that went well in Doha that I can draw from. It really gives me fuel in the belly and I can’t wait to be back out there competing for a gold medal in Tokyo later this year.
Your last competition took place in Doha more than 15 months ago. What is the feeling like having not competed for so long?
KLB: It has certainly been unknown territory for me and no one could have predicted the emotional waves I have experienced. I’ve definitely had my ups and downs, but I have to take the positives out of the situation. Covid has given me the chance to train uninterrupted and we’ve been really lucky to be able to have done so in Australia, especially here in Canberra. The AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) has done such a great job at keeping facilities open to athletes to continue daily training as normal. I am very thankful for that.
Having said that, there have been moments in the past 15 months which have been exceptionally challenging. European athletes were able to compete at a few meets here and there and this acted as a reminder that this is what I want to do and where I want to be.
How has your life changed since becoming world champion?
KLB: In many regards not too much has changed, but what has most changed is the belief in my ability to perform at the highest level. I take that attitude into training every day. Before my win (in Doha) I always had a self-belief that I could always one day do it, but now that I have won gold I feel like there is a level (in training) that I don’t let myself go below.
Life in Australia changed very rapidly with lockdown last March. How did your life change in this period?
KLB: I was just a week away from the Brisbane Track Classic – which would have been my first comp of the year – then everything went very quickly into lockdown. Meets were cancelled, then states went into lockdown and then we went into lockdown off site at the AIS. We set up a home gym but the AIS were great in still giving athletes access to the track. I could go twice a week with my coach but with a maximum of only one athlete and one coach at any one time at the track.
The next big question was: what was going to happen with the Tokyo Olympics? It was hard to put in a lot of preparation and planning but when the decision made to postpone the Olympics this gave us a better sense of how we were going to approach the year. The original plan was to travel to Europe to do some comps but because of the pandemic, we made the decision from a health and safety perspective to stay at home.
So what were your emotions with the Tokyo decision?
KLB: Initially, I very much supported that decision. Australia did not want to take a team to the Games by that point, so it was a relief when the decision was made. I then took two weeks off to allow myself to process the information. It was disappointing and frustrating coming off my World Championship success, I wanted to ride that wave and I had big goals. But this two-week period was important because it gave me the time to process that information.
What specific areas did you work on developing in 2020?
KLB: I had quite a significant shoulder niggle going into the World Championships and one of the biggest pluses of 2020 is I did not have to rush the rehab process. I could take the time to get the shoulder right from a strength point of view and to get it ready for the stresses of throwing.
Also, we’d normally be lucky to get in a six-week strength block at the end of the year but in 2020 I was able to get in a 12-week strength block – I’ve never been able to do that before.
Your husband, Mike, is also your coach. What challenges have you faced, particularly in 2020 with a period in lockdown?
KLB: I’m really proud of the way we work together. People are so curious as to how we do it! I so respect Mike as my coach and what he brings to the table. In training mode we very much have an athlete-coach relationship. Then when we come home it is important to keep that for home life and not get too caught up in javelin. When these lines become blurred that’s when it can become difficult. Yet some of our best discussions about javelin are when we go for a walk together in the evening of early morning. That is why we appreciate about our relationship. Athletics and javelin is a shared passion and we have some great conversations on the subject.
2020 was a tough year for many athletes. Who have you leaned upon to help get you through this period?
KLB: I normally rely on a small inner circle of people but this year I’ve expanded it to include some top athletes like Dani Stevens and Brooke Stratton and Matt Denny. We would meet for weekly Zoom chats with the Athletics Australia head coach Craig Hilliard. It was super helpful to hear how other athletes were going. If one of us was struggling with motivation, we were then able to draw motivation from each other.
What are you competitive plans for 2021?
KLB: This is really exciting! I plan to compete in Canberra on 25 February and 11 March and then Brisbane on 27 March ahead of Aussie nationals in April. At the moment we’ve only planned for the Australian season but later this year I would love to be able to compete in Europe ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
What are you aiming for at the domestic meets?
KLB: To get a feel for competition again and to experience the competition routine. I hope to showcase what we have been doing in training and put my stamp on 2021.
Kelsey-Lee Barber in action at the Diamond League meeting in London (© Getty Images)
What are your main aims for 2021?
KLB: A gold medal in Tokyo – that is what I’ve been working towards for my entire career. I’ve also yet to win a Diamond League and I would really like to end that.
Looking back on 2020, what did it teach you as a person?
KLB: It reminded me it is okay to slow down a little! I love my lifestyle as an elite athlete but because I was forced into a year at home, I found enjoyment slowing down and reconnecting with a few hobbies such as cooking. I really enjoyed the chance to spend more time with family and friends. Last year taught me that it is important to have a better balance in life and we don’t have to live out life at such a fast pace all the time.
Steve Landells for World Athletics