The Covid-19 pandemic posed challenges to athletes across the world, but just before the 2020 Tokyo Games shooter Amber Rutter (née Hill) experienced a particularly acute, and unique, pain.
The day before she was scheduled to fly out, Rutter became the first and only member of the British Olympic team to withdraw from competition because of a positive Covid-19 result. Ranked world number one at the time, she has now opened up to BBC Sport’s Nick Hope about the experience.
With a story that shows the difficulties athletes face, and how they can balance them, Rutter explains the struggle she initially endured and how in the time since she has worked with a psychologist, returned to competition, and reassessed her priorities in life.
“My bags were packed, it was my last Covid test before I could get the flight to the Olympics – and then the faintest of lines came up,” she told BBC Sport. “My heart just sank and I knew my dream was over.
“I dropped to my knees and cried for what felt like weeks… In the following months my mental health really started to take a dive.”
Rutter says she “turned off the TV for most of the Games” as she struggled with anxiety. “At night I couldn’t sleep because I got myself into quite a bad place where I hated and resented everything to do with the sport.
“There were real waves of depths and highs that I went through because I didn’t know what the future looked like, because shooting was my life but I’d got myself into such a dark place with a lot of sadness and depression.”
Having been introduced to shooting by her grandfather, Bill, who passed away in 2019, Rutter used his inspiration to work her way back to sport. She returned to competition in 2022.
“My grandad would have said: ‘Look to the future and don’t give up just yet,’ so I kept pushing but a lot of it [competing again] was initially for financial reasons.
“[After winning World Championship medals, three European titles and a berth with Great Britain for Paris, 2022] was my most successful year to date… But still, when I was there, I was in tears a lot and wanted to pull out of the competitions a day before because I didn’t want to be travelling the world.
“As the competitions went forward, I started to get a bit of momentum and direction and with the support of an amazing team, success slowly started to feel more meaningful.”
Today Amber takes a different approach to elite sport. She married in February this year and has started to revaluate her perspective on competition.
She ends by saying: “Tokyo has really given me a real reality check and made me realise that you’re a person before you’re an athlete.
“I felt like I was planning life for eight years in advance working around an Olympics, which is really just two days of my life and I’d put so much on hold.
“Right now, I’m really happy with marriage and with the idea of starting a family because these are really important things to me.
“The idea of winning an Olympic medal has slightly changed for me and I would be lying to say that it was everything I wanted to achieve now.
“Yes, it would be life-changing, but I’m really prioritising happiness and the things that I want to do with my life first.”
Athletes struggling with their mental health or the impact of a sporting event can access support via the British Elite Athletes Association.
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