The 12-month postponement of Tokyo 2020 has enabled one of Australia’s favourite track athletes to be “read hot race ready” for her shot at gold.
Sprint champion Isis Holt, who became a world record holder at 14, turned 20 last month.
Her winding path back to competition after time away from the sport has culminated in her return to top form, recently clocking world best times over 100m and 200m.
She’s aiming to stand atop the Paralympic podium for the first time in Tokyo, a feat that seemed unlikely 18 months ago.
Her journey from Rio to Tokyo
Holt took up athletics at her Melbourne school in 2014; a year later she won two gold medals and broke two world records at the Doha World Championships.
The T-35 classification had a new superstar in long socks.
Rio came next, and there was some disappointment in her first Paralympics.
She won silver in both her individual events, beaten by China’s Xia Zhou, as well as a bronze in the T35-38 4x100m relay.
The Australian celebrated two more world championship gold medals in London in 2017, beating Zhou and another teenager Maria Lyle from Great Britain.
Holt cried with elation and relief after her 200m performance, as she was embraced by her countrywomen competitors Brianna Coop and Carly Salmon.
“Tears of joy for the young Aussie,” the television commentator said.
In 2018, Holt went to another level on the Gold Coast, breaking the 100m world record at national titles and Commonwealth Games gold in the same event. Lyle (representing Scotland) won silver, Coop bronze.
Still only 17 and studying Year 11, she decided to take a break from competition.
It was unclear when she would race again.
Coming back to the track
Two years later, on completion of her secondary education, Holt wondered whether she could make it to Tokyo 2020 – about six months away.
Up until then she’d been coached by Nick Wall, who’d introduced her to the sport at Melbourne Girls Grammar.
Now she reached out to the Australian sprints coach from the Commonwealth Games, Paul Pearce.
Pearce started off giving Holt advice over live video as the sprinter ran around Princes Park during Melbourne’s first COVID lockdowns.
Initially, she had to rebuild her base fitness, careful not to do too much.
Her father Peter was by her side, holding his phone on the Zoom call, while Pearce gave instructions from Brisbane.
After the Games were postponed, Holt relished the extra preparation time; she moved to Brisbane, transferred her university psychology course to Queensland University of Technology, and began increasing her training.
Her athletics group at Queensland Academy of Sport included young Olympian Riley Day, who smashed her 200m personal best in Tokyo last month.
“They’ve formed a great relationship,” Pearce said. “Riley’s been able to share (advice about) what happens on the ground in Tokyo.”
Holt’s preparations for the Paralympics concluded with a camp in Cairns, where she ran about 0.8 of a second under the 200m world record.
The champion was stronger than ever.
Paralympics pressure is the next challenge for Holt, who has cerebral palsy.
She’ll run a heat and final of the 100m on Friday and the 200m final on Sunday.
Once again, her fastest rivals will be Paralympic champion Xia Zhou and Maria Lyle, who became the most recent world champion in 2019.
Holt’s dad, who moved to Brisbane to support her during the pandemic, will be watching from Australia.
“All her family and friends are so proud of her,” he said. “And so excited to see her race again on the big stage.”