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March 24 last year was a big day in the life of Shauna Coxsey.
In the space of a few minutes, first came the announcement that Tokyo 2020 had been delayed then an email dropped with the news her wedding had been cancelled.
“That’s a lot to process and quite a change of pace,” she says 15 months on from that seismic date. “I went from full-time training and planning a wedding to very much not.”
Instead of 2020 being the biggest of her life – with the climbing making its Olympic debut and Coxsey tying the knot – now it’s 2021.
Her husband-to-be is fellow climber Ned Feehally, although both shy away from the trappings of their respective careers.
Inside the home they share, there is little indication of their joint passion bar a climbing wall hidden away in the basement which became a necessity of lockdown to stay in shape. And the only mountain-themed element of their wedding day was the location – the Peak District for their wedding last month.
The year’s delay looks certain to have helped her in a competitive sense, enabling her to have double surgery in the space of a week.
In June, she had an operation on her knee – “a tidy-up of some cartilage” – and thought, “I’m having the knee done, why not the wrist too” to remove some inflammation. Both surgeries have been a success, Coxsey back climbing, in her own words, “super fast”.
Does it make her a stronger competitor at a revised Tokyo 2020? “For sure,” she said. “We were working around them and it was still possible to get to the Games in good shape. Now I’ve trained without worrying about them, I don’t notice them. It’s out of my head now so that’s a huge benefit.”
Unsurprisingly, Covid is still having an impact. The Kent variant led to her being ineligible to travel to some competitions. And there is a frustration that some athletes have benefitted from more training access and competition simulations.
But at 27 she is one of the more experienced competitors in the field. She said: “I’ve been competing for so long the competition experience is not something I need to gain more of. For younger climbers, that’s really difficult but this is how the world is right now.”
On paper, Coxsey will be among the medal contenders but prefers to focus on the process. “If that’s worthy of a medal, that would be amazing,” she said. “But who knows? When I qualified for the Olympics at the World Championships, I wasn’t in the best shape and had the flu. I finished third so that was an eye-opener as I have so much more to give.”
The current pinnacle in the female world of Olympic climbing is Janja Garnbret. The pair are close friends and as for being rivals, Coxsey said: “It’s funny talking about the girls as competitors as we’re all friends. We’re not competing against each other – it’s just us and the wall.”
The Olympics has long been seen as climbing’s break-out moment. “Hopefully the more people who see it and try it, that makes the Games beyond important. It’s essential for climbing to be there, actually it’s pretty magical as I’d never thought I’d see it in my professional career.
It might be a year delayed but Coxsey is on the precipice of realising that dream for her and her sport.