Ta Lou: 'Life is more important than competitions'

By Babacar DiarraBBC Sport Africa
Marie-Joseé Ta Lou
Ta Lou is one of Africa's most successful female sprinters

With the postponement of both Olympics and African Championship, 2020 could well end up being a blank for athletes like Ivory Coast’s Marie Josée Ta Lou - winner of the 100m bronze at last year’s World Championship in Doha.

The first three Diamond League meetings in Eugene, Oslo and Paris have been postponed, but the season has not been cancelled yet by World Athletics.

Still, athletes could face a year without races.

But despite the lack of competition - and the allied loss of income facing athletes - Ta Lou does not think athletics should be rushed back into action.

"As athletes, will we be mentally ready to travel everywhere?" she says.

"We really need to have all the guarantees. Not at 100%, but 1000% - to be ready to travel.

"I don’t want to rush my way back to competitions because if I take any risk, it could be at the expense of my life. And my life is more important than all this."

Ta Lou says she will not travel at all until the situation is "settled".

“Most of the races are in Europe and after September it’s cold. Right now, we have June, July coming up but it’s hard to imagine the virus dying in two or three months. It needs time.

“So right now, we would like to save the season even for a couple of races but we desperately hope to have all the rights conditions for this first.”

'Age is just a number'

For every athlete, the Olympics year ends a cycle of four years.

But with the delay caused by coronavirus pandemic, there is an extra year.

With the new schedule, Ta Lou will be chasing an Olympic gold in Tokyo at the age of 32, and the year after will at the World Championships in Eugene aged 33.

But - spurred on by the career of Jamaican 100m runner Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who won last year’s World Championship gold medal aged 32 - Ta Lou says that for her, "age is only a number."

"I am still young in my mind,” she says.

“I am not worried and I don’t have any limit. As long as I keep the same energy and the same mindset, I will try to run.”

After the disappointment of Rio 2016, with two fourth places in the 100m and 200m events, the target stays the same for the 31-year old Ivorian - even with one extra year of work.

“I am convinced the postponement was the right decision.

"If I am dying would I be able to compete again? I don’t think so.

“The target stays the same for me - it will be the Olympics next year. Nothing has changed.”