The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have been postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 outbreak but Jesus Angel Garcia still harbours aspirations of concluding his legendary career on the biggest stage of all next summer.
Garcia will be three months shy of his 52nd birthday when the rescheduled Olympic Games begins on 23 July 2021. He won’t quite become the oldest athlete to take part in the Olympic Games - that accolade is still held by Canada’s Percy Wyer who was in his 53rd year when he contested the marathon in Berlin 1936 - although a prospective eighth appearance would surpass Merlene Ottey’s record for the most Olympic Games contested.
Garcia competed in his first Olympic Games on home soil in Barcelona in 1992 when he placed a creditable tenth in the 50km race walk. The Spaniard has been very nearly an ever-present on the global stage since then, taking part in every Olympic Games and only missing one edition of the World Championships since 1992.
The greatest moment of his career came back in 1993 when he strode to the world title in Stuttgart but he is still competitive with the current generation of race walkers, some of whom were even born after he made his Olympic debut, almost three decades later. This was evidenced by his fine performance at the World Athletics Championships in Doha where he drew on all of his stamina, guile and experience to finish eighth on the Corniche.
“Performing well in Doha in such difficult conditions makes me feel optimistic ahead of the Olympic Games. That is pretty much a motivation to start a new career in my 50s. I began my career in Barcelona 1992. And even if I’ll be forced to end it, I want this to happen in Tokyo in the 50km race walk,” commented Garcia after making his record 13th appearance at the World Championships.
His farewell appearance has since been postponed but what is another year for an indefatigable race walker whose international career spans almost 30 years? The motivation to extend his career for another season is also driven by the fact the event which Garcia is synonymous with could be replaced by a shorter event at the following Olympics in Paris 2024.
“I understand that Tokyo 2021 will be the last 50km race walk to take place at the Olympic Games and that is where I have marked myself to continue. I will continue fighting to be able to retire in Tokyo, I do not want the Coronavirus to force me off from that end point,” he told Mundo Deportivo in a recent interview.
And after finishing eighth and ahead of both of his younger compatriots in Doha last autumn, Garcia is already in a strong position to gain selection for his eighth successive Olympics next year. The restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Spain, a country which has been especially afflicted by the virus, are such Garcia's training programme is confined to the walls of his home for the time being but the motivation still does not waver for one of the most popular and respected athletes in the Spanish athletics community.
“These days the important thing is to manage as we can with a mat, gym ball and roller foam to maintain muscle tone,” he said. “So we can be ready for when we can get back on the road again.”
Most Olympic Games appearances
7 Jesus Angel Garcia (ESP)
7 Merlene Ottey (JAM/SLO)
6 Joao N'Tyamba (ANG)
6 Dragutin Topic (YUG/SCG/SRB)
6 Lia Manoliu (ROU)
6 Tessa Sanderson (GBR)
6 Maria Mutola (MOZ)
6 Nicoleta Grasu (ROU)