Gold Durst - without a cherry blossom dream 202ONE
"Anyone who knows my fighter's heart and my passion for the fascination of tricycle sport can guess how difficult this decision is for me - my personal decision not to participate in the Summer Paralympics in Tokyo 2021."
As the reigning world champion, this is not a retirement from active competitive sport - it is my conscious path.
In many conversations, phone calls and meetings, my ParaSportSupport team and I worked out the pros and cons, weighed them up and have now made a decision based on inner conviction.
Since the ‘Golden Moments’ at the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016, we have been working hard towards our 3rd time participating, with a few health-related setbacks, 3 operations, in 2018 and 2019 - but we never lost sight of our goal. It hurt to sit out of the 2018 Paracycling World Championships due to health reasons - but as an interested spectator watching in person in Maniago, Italy, it gave me a completely different insight into our sport for the first time - the joy at the performances of my fellow athletes from all over the world was a balm on my athlete's soul, and at the same time, motivation for the 2019 World Cup in Emmen, the Netherlands - the 9th Paracycling World Championship title showed everyone who hesitated that our team is on the right track.
For me, the team spirit criteria also proved to be the highest hurdles in the decision-making process.
5 intense years together in the ParaSportSupport Team around success coach Robert Pawlowsky, with graduate psychologist and mental coach Grit Moschke, fitness coach Andrej Dejn, the holistic physiotherapy plan at Tesfaldet Zemichael, balanced nutritional advice from Sabine Andreas and last but not least, with my mobility hero and wife, Ulrike Durst, at my side for 36 years.
5 years of predominantly joy-oriented cycling work - ultimately without the reward we hoped for - and I mean that in monetary terms too - no coaching bonuses - no shared participant bonuses.
5 years of sports-specific partnership at, with and through the two Olympic Training Centres of North Rhine-Westphalia in Cologne and in Dortmund - an open ear at all times, goal-oriented diagnostics, sports medical support - always the right answers and team spirit in the best sense of the word - ultimately without the reward we hoped for.
5 years in Team Germany Paralympics - goal-oriented association work - comprehensive organisation - active media support by the central offices and their motivating staff: inside the German Disabled Sports Association - ultimately without the reward we hoped for.
5 years of goal-oriented support and always very personal support from Deutsche Sporthilfe and the Federal Ministry of Defence - top-class sport in the Germany army - ultimately without the reward we hoped for.
5 years in Paracycling Team Germany - the national cycling team for athletes with disabilities - trust and all-round support from national coach Patrick Kromer until the end of 2018, and Tobias Bachsteffel from 1 January 2019 and their teams - in the middle of it my discoverer and noble helper, Hermann Frey - always great physiotherapeutic and medical care in the training camps, courses and at competitions - and ultimately without the reward we hoped for.
5 years in a team with my partners and sponsors - without whom I would not have been able to pursue the sport as a pure amateur at any time - cycling-specific material, mobility, training camps, cycling clothes, cycling helmets and the best material for a successful review - ultimately without the reward we hoped for.
5 years of cheering on, motivating and yet always ‘neglected’ friends, family and companions - ultimately without the joy and reward we all hoped for on site at the Fuji Circuit.
I ask everyone for understanding in personal conversations, and where this has already happened, I thank them for their compassion
The cancellation of my participation in the Tokyo Paralymics 2021 - the end of the Dortmund project ‘Konnichiwa Tokyo 2020 - Machikirenai!!!’ with patron Ullrich Sierau, former mayor of Dortmund, is based on my firm belief - World Sports Games, Olympic or Paralympic, live on the cooperation of athletes, on the international fair measurement of performance, on the interactive exchange of fans, athletes on site with the hosts.
It should be happy days spent together, it is not just about "faster, higher, stronger" - the credo should be the words of the Olympic spirit: "the important thing is not to win, but to take part".
I will try to explain my personal refusal with 3 reasons
FIRST OF ALL, HEALTH, OUR GREATEST ASSET.
A large part of Japan has been living for months under emergency regulations, sustained increases in the number of infections, overcrowded intensive care units, hospitals overburdened beyond their limits.
Despite this more than tight situation, the IOC and the OC require more than 10,000 medical staff - nurses - sports doctors - medical professionals to stage the games. Plus valuable resources such as medical equipment and facilities.
The in-depth petition "Cancel the Olympics (and Paralympics) to protect our lives" was signed by nearly 500,000 people in just a few days.
Local hospital doctors complain that people have died at home while waiting for hospital beds, and that the health system is currently completely overloaded.
In addition, only 2% of the Japanese population has been vaccinated against the coronavirus so far.
The lockdown, originally scheduled to end on 11 May, was first extended to 31 May 2021, and Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stated for the first time this week that he had never prioritised the Summer Games; the priority was always to protect the health and lives of the Japanese people.
The peace symbol presented before the Games, the historic torch relay, has been cancelled to a large extent due to fear and responsibility in the respective cities.
In addition, there are the real catastrophes in countries like India, Nepal, Africa - more and more new mutations make it difficult to sustainably reduce the number of infections and thus the high number of deaths as well.
RESPECT FOR THE HOST COUNTRY
Several reputable surveys in Japan concluded that the vast majority (around 80%) of the population are great sports fans, but are in favour of cancelling the Olympics and Paralympics for fear of further consequences such as a renewed increase in infections, further lockdown and emergency measures and other consequences.
A petition, as mentioned above, is also unequivocally in favour of cancelling the Games; it is not the time for such a major event in Japan.
For these and other reasons, the German and European Ethics Council advises against it.
Professor Dr Buyx explains that we are in the worst wave of the pandemic worldwide; ever new mutations of the virus make even the safety vaccination a dim hope. In addition, the prioritisation of the potential participants of the World Games is more than critical.
Globally, vaccination goals are still clearly health-oriented and focused on the pandemic and sustaining our lives. The fact that there are athletes who have trained all their lives to take part in the Olympic Games or the Paralympics is unfortunately still completely irrelevant in this context.
Because all of the events that stimulate international travel are really difficult.
The situation in Japan is more than worrying - unfortunately there is no end in sight - the virus rages on, unchecked and with full force.
I want to respect the wishes of the Japanese people.
A SMALL SIGN OF SOLIDARITY
I am a human being just as much as I am an athlete.
Many of my friends, good acquaintances, and even international partners and supporters are increasingly struggling with their livelihoods, often built up over generations, in this pandemic.
Restaurateurs, hoteliers, beverage suppliers - artists, cabaret performers, theatre actors - sports event organisers, agencies, trade fair booth builders.
Billions of tax euros are being raised in the form of catch-ups - I don't feel like happily playing without my family, without my friends, without the partners and supporters who always accompany me - the flights, hotels and sightseeing tours we booked have already been completely cancelled.
Churches remain closed, schools and kindergartens open and close again at irregular intervals.
My military sports comrades have been and will continue to be sent to covid hotspots - at the risk of their lives and health - currently in India, and previously in Portugal.
As the most successful paracyclist (cyclist with disabilities) of the past decade (2011 - 2020) and the most successful individual athlete of the Summer Paralympics in Team Germany Paralympics, I lived the dream for Tokyo 2020, and since last March, for Tokyo 202ONE.
After weighing up the arguments for and against my personal participation, after deeo discussions with those responsible in my Paracycling Team Germany and many good conversations with people who are very important to me from the worlds of sport, church, friends, athlete representatives and politics, my family and I came to the decision - I will not actively participate in the Paralympics in Tokyo 2021.
The long-time chairperson of the Sports Committee in the German House of Representatives, member Dagmar Freitag (SPD), stated that it was simply irresponsible to hold on to the Olympic Games (and the Paralympics) in Tokyo this year.
Many active and former athletes express themselves even more clearly, from "athlete sold for show by sponsors", "not willing to risk my health for a commercial medal" to "the Olympics are moving further and further away from the ideals of athletes and sport itself by continuing the Games".
Of course, my ParaSportSupport team and I would have much preferred to have been relieved of this difficult decision - more transparency and honesty in sports politics would certainly have helped a lot.
In the end, the deciding factor is that the health and socio-political situation makes participation impossible for me.
It does not fit into my model of life and my Christian values - other responsibilities are currently needed, locally and for the common good.
Global Athlete spokesperson Rob Koehler said it is time to take a stand.
I don't want to get into irrelevant discussions; even at the Paracycling World Cup in Oostende/Belgium, which has just been officially cancelled by the DBS, voices on the team rose to say that "if you want to be successful in sport, you have to be prepared to take certain risks" - I vehemently disagree with this; the health of the participating athletes, the attendants and responsible persons accompanying us must come first.
Why cancel now, why not wait a little longer for further developments.
As a fair team player, I think that 100 days before our opening ceremony in Tokyo is right - so I give my national coach and the nomination commission in the DBS competitive sports committee the opportunity to fill my starting place with another promising medal candidate - if it's up to me, of course, I would very much want that place to go to my friend and fellow tricycle athlete, Maximilian Jäger - reigning German champion and runner-up at the world championships on the road and in the individual time trial since 2019.
Perhaps, as the oldest active athlete in Team Germany Paralympics at the moment, I can give a little encouragement with this conscious decision not to participate in the World Games for People with Disabilities in Tokyo 2021 - in personal conversations, many athletes and coaches are expressing mounting scepticism, but do not dare to take the difficult step of personal cancellation because of possible consequences.
So I say thank you for an incredibly intense 5 years in the project ‘Konnichiwa Tokyo 2020 - Machikirenai!!!’ - I would have loved to have been a part of Team Germany Paralympics for more golden moments in the land of cherry blossoms, in my fascination with sport for people with disabilities.
It's not a retirement from competitive sport - my preparations for the upcoming European Paracycling Championships in Upper Austria and the World Championships in Portugal in June are designed to be covid-safe, with lots of goal-oriented training at home in and around Dortmund - and who knows, in 3 years the Paralympics will take place in the city of love - Paris 2024 combined with the hope that the world has survived the coronavirus and the pandemic, both in terms of public health and the economy.