One morning in spring, Ryan Owens found himself pondering where the most sub-optimal place for squat training would be. Outside, with the chance of crashing through the rickety decking with a fully loaded barbell on his shoulders? Or pushing aside the furniture and risking the ire of his girlfriend who was conducting speech therapy sessions and would be, understandably, put off by the sound of his popping knees?
As part of the team that took silver in February’s 2020 UCI Track Cycling World Championships team sprint in Berlin, Owens was right on track to be selected for the Tokyo Olympics. Everything was seemingly going well, but the conundrum of where to do his gym work was making him realize that he had been fighting a serious mental malaise. Track sprinters’ chiseled, muscular physiques exude invulnerability, but Owens makes clear that’s far from reality and he’s now on a dual mission to break records on the track and chip away at the stigma around men’s mental health.
Owens reflects: “Whenever I’ve had doubts about form – or anything – I would obsessively try to perfect everything I could to get back on track. It led to a lot of stress and stopped me from enjoying things when they were going well.”
As Britain entered its first lockdown and the Manchester velodrome closed, he was having to prepare for the Olympics in less than ideal conditions, causing additional strain. “Perfectionism is often misinterpreted as a good thing, but it’s really not,” he explains. “It’s an avoidance tactic to try and eliminate all possible vulnerabilities.”
But that was impossible when, four months out, Owens was forced to squat in his tiny studio flat and practice track starts by himself on a bike path.
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