Maribyrnong track cyclist Luke Plapp is in Brisbane preparing to fly to Tokyo for a very different Olympics.
Japan last week declared a state of emergency and announced the Games would be held without spectators.
For Plapp, the long journey to Tokyo started when he first started cycling at age 12.
“I just went out riding with dad – he just went with his local mates to coffee shops and that was what interested me, just going for a ride to get some hot chocolate and cake,” he said.
“From there, I joined the Brunswick Cycling Club.
“That’s where it all started – with Brunswick – and it’s just come in leaps and bounds since then with that club.
“They’ve been pretty amazing to myself and a few others. We’ve got three 20-year-old Olympians going this year from Brunswick, which is pretty crazy to think about.”
But his journey hasn’t been without setbacks.
“I was always mixing cycling with a bit of footy and cricket and never really committed 100 per cent focus to it and that led to me not making junior teams when I was younger,” Plapp said.
“I was always that one that always missed out and that was probably a bit of my fault not focussing on it but at the same time I wasn’t the most talented at it.
“But I fell in love with the sport and I think thanks to Brunswick, that it really did make me love the sport and from there I really wanted to take it seriously.
“When I was 18, I had my first national title win and I moved straight to Adelaide to join the Olympic squad.”
Plapp said the biggest sacrifice he’d made in pursuit of his sport was moving away from his home, family and friends.
“I left school halfway through Year 12 to go to Europe to compete at the Worlds and then from there I flew straight from Europe to Adelaide to begin training with the team, so I didn’t finish Year 12,” he said.
He said the team would depart Australia on July 24 and race on August 2, 3 and, hopefully, the fourth for the gold-medal ride.
“I think these Olympics are going to be the most hotly contested ever,” Plapp said.
“Usually, we’re going into the Games and Australia and Great Britain are the two favourites and apart from there’s not really anyone else.
“But I honestly think there’s five teams that could win this year and I think that’s quite weird to think about – it’s never happened before.
“Right now, Denmark are the world champs; [then there’s] Italy, New Zealand, ourselves, Great Britain.
“It’s pretty amazing to be able to go to the Olympics.
“We just saw … Tokyo announced another state of emergency, it’s been trouble right through the Games.
“There’ll be no spectators there, which is quite interesting.
“We’re not going to even be able to watch our teammates after we finish racing.
“You’re going to get the best athletes and whoever wins I think really has worked the hardest throughout everything.
“I think it’s going to be a real testament to those who have stuck through it for the last two years.
“I really think whoever gets to that start line and then wins is out and out the best team and probably deserves it, which probably means they dealt with the whole COVID situation the best out of anyone.”