‘The pressure eats you up inside’: Reece Prescod eyes redemption after disqualification at Tokyo Olympics
Reece Prescod was living the dream. At least he thought he was while anxiously waiting in the blocks at the Tokyo Olympics. Prescod was less than 10 seconds away from a place in the men’s 100m final when a shock false start led to his disqualification and one of the loneliest walks in sport.
Acknowledging how he had become agitated and desperate to seize the moment, the European silver medalist decided to embrace the cruel lesson and resist the temptation to direct the blame elsewhere. Instead, the Great Britain sprinter hopes to harness his out of body experience throughout an intense year of athletics.
“I was there physically in Tokyo, but I just wasn’t myself,” Prescod, who has lifetime best of 9.94 seconds, recalls. “I wasn’t in the shape I needed to be. It’s such a surreal environment to be in because it’s where you dream of being, but you’re not actually ready for the moment.
“I remember going to bed the night before the semi-final, I was thinking, ‘this is not how I want to feel ever again’, you can’t predict some things. I want to be at a championships and think, ‘you know what Reece, the last year you’ve prepared really hard and no matter what happens tomorrow you can be really proud of it’.
“I can see where I made some bad decisions. I put a persona up in Tokyo, I got to the moment and wasn’t really ready for it. I’ve never false started in my life. In the heat there were similar instances of it, so when I left the competition it was playing on my mind. My start, a whole day fixating on my start.
“I shouldn’t have been worrying about my start if I’m in shape, I should be able to wake up, have breakfast, do what I have to do and enjoy the experience. When you’re not prepared for something you go out on a whim.
“The external pressure from home, the expectations, it eats you up inside. You think, ‘I need to put on a show, it’s the Olympics’. But it’s about the process. Competition should be the easy part and if we don’t build right, I can’t do what I’m capable of doing.”
So a dejected Prescod returned to the locker room that evening and started to piece together a plan to ensure that his dream-turned-nightmare never happens again.
A revamped coaching set-up now sees Prescod closely monitor his weight, track numerous performance indicators and meticulously maintain a high level of accountability, including daily check-ins with teammates on WhatsApp before going to bed.
“The 100m and 200m, somebody will surely take them,” Prescod says when imagining what could happen this year. “If you look at the rankings, some of the athletes have achieved their records in both events, so if they can do it, why can’t I?”
Prescod’s humiliation on the biggest stage signalled what has been a turbulent period for British sprinting. Teammate Zharnel Hughes suffered the same gut-wrenching fate out of the blocks in the 100m final before the ultimate shame arrived when the men’s 4x100m relay team had their silver medal stripped due to CJ Ujah’s failed doping test.
A bitter taste lingers, but Prescod, an alternative for the relay team last summer, has been left in an unenviable position: trapped between showing loyalty to a close friend and seizing the opportunity he has craved for so long.
With a place now available to join Zharnel Hughes, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and Richard Kilty, who maintains he will never forgive Ujah, there is the tantalising prospect of redemption this year at the World Championships, European Championships and Commonwealth Games back home.
“I trained with that team for five or six years and never had the opportunity to run in a team,” Prescod adds with a hint of regret. “They made the decision based on experience, so I have to show them that I can be trusted in that environment and what I’m capable of. I’m close to every single member of the team. It’s not all about me.
“But now, due to circumstances, we have some young guys coming up, there’s a void in that team obviously, it’s time to move forward, run that last leg, I need to show I can be trusted in that situation.
“It’s hard, people think there’s always rivalry among ourselves, but when we come together as a team and we are together. Me and CJ are very close, he’s like a brother, so on a personal level I reach out to make sure he’s OK. Not just in terms of running, I ask about how you are doing.
“He’s doing fine and in good spirits. It was upsetting for everybody, but you have to offer support if you can and go from there.”