We caught up with Natalie Powell after Welsh Government gave elite athletes the green light to resume training at Sport Wales.

Natalie Powell returned to training at the Sport Wales National Centre in a prime position following the Welsh Government announcement that elites could resume. The Olympic judoka never actually stopped training, saying, “I was really fortunate that Welsh Judo created the opportunity for me to isolate with my training partner, and sourced a private dojo with weights that I could train at.” This meant Natalie could continue technical work alongside strength and conditioning. 

“My biggest restriction was not being able to do randori, and my first randori session was about 2 months ago now in Holland.” The Glasgow Commonwealth Games Gold medallist told us that it felt amazing to be back on the mat, expressing her excitement to get back into it and practice what she’d been working on through lockdown.

It’s only normal to feel the effects of lockdown, Olympic athlete or not.  Natalie said, “Mentally it’s had its ups and downs. Postponing the Games initially felt like my world was collapsing around me, everything I’d been training for felt like it was snatched from me.” Not one to stay down for long, she threw herself back into training and just kept focussing on goals that she could work towards. With no competitions to gauge her progress, she switched her focus to making the best version of herself. “Being in the best shape of my life and knowing there’s a possibility of the Games not going ahead is a daily challenge for me at the moment. But on the whole I’m keeping incredibly positive. It’s also been a great opportunity to focus on family, friends, life outside of judo, with less travelling and stress around qualifying and competing, I’ve had a lot more time for this, which has been nice.”

While mentally it has been a little tough, Natalie says that hasn’t stopped her from making physical gains. “Physically I’ve improved massively, I’ve had PB’s in all my major lifts and my conditioning scores have continued to improve throughout the period. To have a sustained block of training for so long is very rare in judo, we compete so often we rarely get the chance to make physical gains unless we’re injured.”

Returning to Sport Wales involves specific processes and protocols athletes have to follow prior to training to ensure both their own safety and the safety of others. “We have to fill in a PDMS wellness app every morning which asks us about how we’re feeling, along with COVID related questions. We then get our temperature checked every morning.” 

Like all athletes, Natalie has to complete both of these before she can train, and these procedures do impacts an athlete’s routine. So what does a typical day look like now? Breakfast is followed by a temperature check and extra time is needed to clean equipment. “We all have to wear masks when not training and have to clean equipment before and after use. We have set dinner times now and are not allowed to sit in the café as a group to eat.”

With social distancing and strict hygiene measures in place, we were curious to hear how this had impacted training sessions. Natalie said, “Weights and conditioning haven’t changed, we just have to disinfect all equipment before and after use and maintain distance when in the weights area.”

To help her adjust and adapt to this ‘new normal’, Natalie has relied on the values of judo. “I think adaptability has been key, along with resilience, having the ability to take any situation and make the best of it. I think I’ve developed a very positive outlook over the years and this has also really helped.” This applied the same mentality following the announcement that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games had been postponed. “I’m feeling really positive and know I’m doing the best I can with the situation. When the Games begin I’m confident I will be ready.”

Like any driven athlete, competing will always be at the forefront of their minds. “I cannot wait to get back on the mat in that competition arena again.”

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