Before 24 March 2020, pro triathlete Henri Schoeman was quietly yet determinedly preparing for the Tokyo games. It was a carefully planned build-up, a watchful mix of training and racing, a fine balance of extreme load and periodic rest, a meticulous nutrition road map to achieving the perfect race weight. Until it wasn’t. We caught up with the Olympic and Commonwealth Games medalist, and WTS Grand Finale and Super League Triathlon winner and found out how he’s refocused his mind and rejigged his training to get ready for the biggest raceday of his life, in 2021, we hope.

Do you think Tokyo will happen in 2021? Any inside info?
I’m not entirely sure, I haven’t heard any inside info, but from what I have read in the news and heard is that if there is no vaccine available before the Olympics it’s likely that it won’t go ahead. But, we have a date for next year and that is what I will be focusing on for now and that’s the best I can do.

What does the road look like, for you to get to Tokyo (qualifying etc.)?
The qualification process for the Olympics is over a period of two years between May 2018 and May 2020. In a given year, ten of your best results count towards your Olympic ranking and its only from races in a World Triathlon Series race and World Cup races that count. I’ve got to be placed in the top 25 to qualify.

Will your build up to the Olympics change?
The race will take place next year on a similar date as it was going to this year. And my plan is to just replicate next year the same as what I would have in the beginning of this year nothing too much would change. The only thing is if there are travel restrictions I might have to think of another way to do heat preparation camp, maybe here at home simulate heat training, but other than that I will try and keep it as similar as possible.

How have I changed your mental approach with the date change?
I realized this year that there was a lot of pressure in an Olympic year that I didn’t realise before, until the Olympics were officially postponed. That’s when I felt how much pressure I had on my shoulders leading into an event like this. Suddenly I felt a lot more relaxed and at ease knowing I could take a step back to regroup and focus again. For now I am building up slowly. I don’t want to be pushing too hard or really overexerting right now. Once I have set goals in sight then I will start working towards that but for now I am just trying to make the most of downtime and just keeping the fitness ticking over but I am not at a super high elite level right now.

What does the 2020 ITU and the Super League calendar look like?
All I know for now is that the Super League season still has plans to go ahead towards the end of the year. I think it is in the months of October, November maybe, I am not sure about September but the ITU recently released some news that the Hamburg WTS event will be happening on the 4th and 5th of September, that is the first race that has confirmed dates going ahead. So, I am sure we will see some more news in the coming weeks with new events being rescheduled.

How did you stay in shape during the lockdown?
I have been focusing quite a bit on my running. And during the hard 3-week lockdown I was able to put down quite a good set of mileage on a treadmill while I was still trying to maintain just a little bit of the swimming and biking. This will really help me when some races get confirmed and we have some set dates and I am able to start to add intensity into my training. So I will be ready for that and it is also an area where I haven’t been able to load myself with because I’ve got to juggle three disciplines: swimming and biking on top of that. It’s given me a little bit of motivation to focus on one thing and get it right and it properly and I am already feeling the benefits of it.

What have been your training go-to items?
I have been quite fortunate to have a pool in my back yard. So what I do for swimming is I tie a tether chord around my waist and I swim in the pool stationary. It is not ideal training but at least I can still use my swimming muscles and keep some sort of feel for the water. It is going into winter here in South Africa so the water is getting really cold and I do struggle a bit now. Cycling, I have been cycling on Zwift which has been quite cool in the virtual world. Running, I have been running on a treadmill. I’m fortunate enough to have a treadmill as well so I have been very lucky to carry on with as close to a routine that I am used to. Been also doing a lot of like dryland training in terms of some core and medicine ball work for strength in the upper body.

Tell us about your bike set up.
Currently I’m still riding the Hypervox disc in my special paint colours which has been really awesome but I should be getting my hands on the new Racevox pretty soon - it’s been stuck in customs for months with the pandemic… I think I should have enough time to feel it out and be ready for the racing coming up, which I’m quite excited about.

How have you been keeping an eye on your competitors?
A lot of them have been caught up in the virtual cycling world on Zwift, taking part in some races that have been happening online. Putting a lot of focus into that so they have been getting their biking strong. I don’t know if they have also been making sure that they can still run and swim but there have also been some athletes who have taken some downtime, taking a rest mentally and physically and then building up for the rest to the end of the year if there is some racing happening.

What’s your favorite workout?
Definitely running on the track. Especially when I am at my fittest. And running 5x 1km intervals with a 2-minute rest. I really enjoy this kind of set when I’m really fit I will be pushing some 1km times in about 2:40 and 2:45 and I love that kind of session.

What’s the workout you dread the most?
I think it’s when I have to do a 20km intermediate run, so this means I run 20km between 3:15 and 3:30 minutes per km and it’s such a hard session, it’s almost like you are having a half marathon race in training - I always dread that session.

What’s on your home-trainer playlist?
That would be anything from dance, club music, the latest pop songs that are re-mixed with a good beat. I think those are some good ones to train to.

How has the pandemic affected your private life?
It’s been quite tough to be honest, there have been quite a few days when I have felt down and a lack of motivation to get going. Financially we have taken a bit of a knock. But the plus side it that it’s nice to be home. As an elite athlete travelling the world, constantly on an annual basis it’s actually been quite nice just to be based in one place for an amount of time and just to be at home and enjoy the company of my wife and my dogs and rabbits. So that has been quite peaceful.

Learn any new skills during the lockdown?
I am becoming a braai (barbeque) master, making some real good meat on the braai. Also I am making pancakes and flapjacks as well as learning the XBox again, how to play Call of Duty.

Best TV programmes you’ve seen during lockdown?
I have been watching a bit of “The Kitchen” most days on the food network channel. I think it’s a really cool program, the guys are really funny and they make some really cool food. We’ve actually replicated a pizza and a burger meal, which has been really cool to try out. And I started watching “The Outsider” on DSTV it looks like a pretty good crime, thriller series, which I am enjoying.