There is no doubt that lockdown can look very different from one athlete to the next, but for ASICS World Triathlon team member Ognjen Stojanovic, the prospect of ten weeks in Mauritus was about as far from his early season plans as it was possible to get.
The Serbian followed February’s gold in Chennai with a hastily organised trip to race the African Cup after several cancellations in China and the Rabat African Cup in Morocco. A good performance saw Stojanovic finish third in Mauritius on 15 March, then things took an almighty turn.
“There was little talk of virus or quarantine at the time because there were zero cases on the island and no threat to the race. Actually, there had been floods and that was the big problem, not the virus. I felt lucky to be able to knowing that my training friends had just had Abu Dhabi cancelled. Then everything changed.”
Having planned to fly home the following day and then head to Brasilia to join the ASICS World Triathlon Team, that night he heard that Serbia had gone into full lockdown: no chance to train, swimming pools would be shut and, most importantly, a 14-day quarantine was imposed on anyone going into the country. With no cases on the island, the decision looked black and white: stay put and keep training. But they did not stay that way for long.
“Just after I chose to stay, the first cases were reported on the island too. The government declared a state of emergency and closed everything. It was 24/7 shutdown, even tighter than it was back home. I still think it was the right decision to stay, but only because, quite by accident, the building where my apartment is had a small pool. Back home I know I wouldn’t have been able to swim. Now, though, with Spring in Serbia training would be perfect.”
Dealing with a global crisis so far from home was made considerably easier by the arrival of his wife the day before the island airport closed. When the shops were ordered to close without warning for a week and a half, things took another turn, but Stojanovic had at least managed to find a turbo trainer and one small market that was able to sell some essentials.
“It was a surprise how serious things got with only a few cases of infection. It made a big difference that my wife was able to get here and that we are together. I think I would have gone crazy on my own for two months. It was a really tricky ten days or so when the police were patrolling and fining people. Then when the shops did reopen, the queues were huge and you could only go on certain days. It was complicated”
Fortunately, the police were flexible when Stojanovic asked for permission to train in the cane fields nearby, where there were no people. That escape helped keep him in shape both mentally and physically.
“The thing with training is you can train 30% less and only lose 5% overall fitness. The tricky thing is that extra 1% you need to be in really top shape. But you don’t lose training just like that, and it really helps I could keep some swimming going.”
The swim was an aspect of his racing that the Serbian had been concentrating on in recent years, and at the start of 2020 he felt as confident as he ever had in his condition. For eight winters in succession he has relocated to Alicante to join a group that this year included Fernando Alarza, Roberto Sanchez Mantecon and Lasse Luhrs and he is all too aware that for everyone, lockdown has been tough.
“It was sad because I had a great winter and I think Fernando was in really top shape, so all the guys were really ready for some big races. We have been in daily contact on the Whatsapp group and I know that the Spanish guys had it really tough mentally, but they did well not to obsess with training. They have live Zoom sessions, do core work, so they stayed in good shape mentally which is important when you have 50 days at home. I can’t imagine how that must have been for them.”
As for the delay to the Olympic Games, Stojanovic knows that the extra year can only help his chances of qualifying in the New Flag position. Currently second in that slot behind Felix Duchampt, if Duchampt gets into the Olympic ranking places then the New Flag place could go to the Serbian.
“Felix also has a great chance for the New Flag but my only chance is if he qualifies through the Olympic ranking list with some good results, which he is very capable of. I think there’s a 50-50 chance to qualify if I stay in shape and depending on Felix. So this has been another chance to get points, otherwise I would have missed out this time around.”
All of which means Stojanovic understandably cannot wait to get home after more than two months away. Mauritius to Novi Sad isn’t the easiest of routes, however, and with tourism at an all-time low, planes in and out were few and far between.
“We are really looking forward to going home and to be able to train without fear of being stopped. Going outdoors on my bike will make me very happy.”