For many in the Olympic sporting world, the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic could not have been any more chaotic.

Key points:

  • Matthew Glaezter was diagnosed with, and recovered from, thyroid cancer in 2019
  • A subsequent injury meant he would have struggled to make the Olympics on their original date
  • The Australian track team will compete at the Adelaide Festival of Cycling this week

With the Tokyo Games postponed for 12 months, turning a four-year Olympic cycle into five, some athletes just could not hang on, opting instead to retire.

For others, seemingly at the peak of their powers, their chance to win gold may well have disappeared with the addition of yet another preparation year.

Australian cyclist Matthew Glaetzer, though, has an entirely different view.

While not prepared to say COVID-19 was a blessing, there is no doubt he has benefitted.

“I’m really good,” Glaetzer said, as he approaches the final stages of preparation for what should be his third Olympics.

“I’m fit, I’m healthy and it’s just actually an opportunity to be primed for the Olympics and not just getting to some sort of state that you’re good enough to race.

Matt Glaetzer won gold in the 1,000m time trial during the 2018 Commonwealth Games.(AAP: Dan Peled)

If the Olympics were held last year as planned, Glaetzer admits he would have struggled to compete in his three disciplines — the sprint, team sprint and keirin.

He spent the latter part of 2019 being treated for thyroid cancer.


Fortunately, it was caught early and was treatable, and so he moved into 2020 hopeful of a great outcome in Tokyo, only to have another setback.

“I tore my calf in February and missed the World Championships,” Glaetzer said.

“I saw my competition win all four sprint events at the world championships when I was laying on the couch and couldn’t walk with a torn calf so that was a bit rough.”

He struggled to get back to racing before the epidemic really took hold.

“We were all training at home and then the Olympics get cancelled and that actually allowed me to get my body right after injuring myself and all the health complications and everything,” Glaetzer said with a disarming grin.

“It was a year of resetting and just getting ready for this final push now for Tokyo.”

Australians to prepare for Tokyo at home

Australia’s track endurance coach Tim Decker has watched Glaetzer’s progress while looking after his own athletes at their shared training venue in Adelaide.

“Over a 12-week period towards the end of last year, watching Matt really progress and get back to where he’s been before and just a little bit above that has been pretty exciting,” Decker said.

“I think Matt’s still got room to move and once again, he’s got the ability to be on the podium at the Olympics Games.”

Glaetzer went to the Olympics for the first time in London, arriving as a world champion in the team sprint.

However, he missed a medal, finishing fourth.

Matthew Glaetzer (left) and his Australian team sprint colleagues finished fourth in Rio.(AP: Pavel Golovkin)

In Rio, he again finished fourth in the team sprint, lost the bronze medal race to be relegated to fourth in the sprint and was 10th in the keirin.

The pandemic means this year’s preparation will be a little different.

One of the few opportunities to compete will be at the Festival of Cycling, starting in Adelaide on Tuesday night.

“There’s very minimal, if any, international racing in the lead-up to the Olympics so it’s up to us to manage that and make the most of those few races that we have,” Glaetzer said.

“There are some sort of things that we can manufacture in terms of preparing in that sort of race craft area but again it’s pretty minimal.”

Decker will be preparing his own squad under similar restrictions to the sprinters.

“I think probably the most exciting thing if the Games go ahead, will be there’ll be a great deal of unknown.” he observed.

“As a coach you don’t like it but also it’s unknown for everybody else so you like that side of it.

“You know how you’re going in your backyard but you don’t know how the others are going and it’s a flip the other way too — they don’t know how you’re going.

“We’re going to have to really train the physical side of things well but also take care of the mental side of the athlete and make sure that they’re mentally prepared and have a good vision of what they want to achieve at the Olympics Games.”