Olympics-Double lives: athletes split time between work and sport

·3-min read
Equestrian - Jumping - Individual - Qualification

By Shadia Nasralla, Chang-Ran Kim and Richa Naidu

TOKYO (Reuters) - Argentine Olympic equestrian Jose Maria Larocca takes his laptop to competitions. He is on the phone a lot at riding events. He is normally the last competitor to arrive and the first to leave. Between the ages of 24 and 34 he did not ride at all.

Why? Because he has become one of the most influential oil traders in the world as well as a show jumper at the Tokyo Games and he claims to get at least seven hours' sleep at night.

"You need to shift between one and the other and make sure that you're properly focused on what you're doing, on the task at hand. You cannot be riding a horse and thinking, what's happening with a trade in the office," the 52-year-old said, speaking from the Swiss offices of commodities giant Trafigura.

"When you're riding, you have to be fully focused otherwise it can be quite dangerous and there's no chance. Zero. Everybody else trains harder than me and is more experienced."

The father of three runs for more than an hour during his lunch break every day. "The one thing that settles me and calms me down and helps me to think is running," he had said ahead of the Olympics.

Larocca is in no way the only Olympian splitting their lives and passions while trying to juggle a private life.

Kellie Ann Harrington, Ireland's flag-bearer in Tokyo and world champion lightweight boxer, works part-time as a cleaner at a psychiatric hospital in Dublin.

"I am more than just a boxer. I am Kellie Anne Harrington. I’m a living person," she said.


U.S. gymnastics superstar Simone Biles' decision to pull out of several events at the Games, saying she felt the weight of the world on her shoulders, threw a sharp focus on athletes' mental health.

"You need to have something outside boxing. You need to have another life. There is more to life than sport and anything can happen in sport, so you need something to fall back on," Harrington said.

While the Olympics are officially a politics-free zone, that is not true for the lives of Egyptian badminton player Hadia Hosny and Indian flyweight boxer Mary Kom who are members of parliament back home. Kom, 38, is also a businesswoman.

"I’m a mother, I have four kids and have been fighting continuously... It’s very easy to say 'world champion'... It’s not easy (to do it)," said six-times world champion Kom, who won a bronze at London 2012, adding she had made many sacrifices.

Hosny, 32, is studying for a pharmacology PhD. Her badminton partner Doha Hany, also a student, said fitting so much into their lives was hard but something she had to do from day one.

"And I'm happy to do that. So it's very hard but I'm here so I'm very proud," said 23-year-old Hany.

For some athletes, the COVID-19 pandemic bringing remote working meant straddling the two worlds got easier.

Israel's 42-year-old baseball pitcher Shlomo Lipetz organises thousands of musical and other acts for U.S. venues and has never played in one of the professional leagues. But with remote working he could train more with his team.

"I wish I could say if you’re persistent enough this can happen. But you need to be able to do what you love, love what you do and be in the right place at the right time," he said.

(Additional reporting by Amlan Chakraborty, Paresh Dave; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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