Australian Olympian Luke Mathews was supposed to redeem himself in Tokyo this year. But even if 2020 hadn’t been so 2020, the middle distance runner might not have even made it to Japan.
Mathews had been carrying the nagging foot injury known as Plantar Fasciitis since December when the International Olympic Committee postponed the Games for 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic. While that news rocked the sports world, it was a blessing in disguise for the 800m and 1500m track star.
Not only would he not have to stumble to the start line, now he would have another year to prepare himself for his second Olympic Games after running in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Amid all the gloom and doom of this year, Mathews has counted his blessings and enjoyed living like a normal 25-year-old, albeit during the most abnormal of years.
“I entered 2020 back in pre-COVID times a little uncertain and unsure of how this year was going to play out because I did start the year with a fair amount of injuries and my body wasn’t really acting or performing the way I wanted it to be,” Mathews told Behind The Lens.
“When we found out the Olympics were being cancelled it came as a bit of a blessing in disguise because qualifying and making the Olympics on one foot was going to be a real challenge. It was obviously massively disappointing for a lot of people, but for me it was really a blessing in disguise, purely in terms of athletics.
“Because the tail end of 2019 and the start of 2020 was so stressful I honestly took the lockdown period as a chance to chill out and get my body right and not worry about professional sport for a small period. Lockdown was a bit of a staycation in a way, staying in and eating Uber Eats whenever I wanted to, staying up late, sleeping in, having a few beers. I got to live somewhat of a normal.”
Mathews has been one of the brightest young talents in Australian athletics for some time now. He ran in Rio, competed at the World Championships in 2017 and 2019 and won the bronze medal in the 800m at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
But he still has unfinished business in the biggest business of all – the Olympic Games. He ran out of petrol in Brazil after a long build-up and is focused on bouncing back when Japan eventually arrives.
“When I was a kid growing up I dreamt about making the AFL or running in the Olympic Games. Racing in Australia during the first part of 2016 was awesome for me; it was the first time where you’d pick up the Herald Sun or The Age and you’d read articles on athletics and on yourself or your training partners and it was the first time I could feel and touch athletics being a household topic,” he said.
“I was only 21 in Rio and I was pretty raw and pretty inexperienced in the world of professional athletics. When I got to the Olympics just all the emotional and physical highs of the year just started to take its toll. Pretty much from June onwards I was on a downwards slope. Unfortunately I saw the absolute low point of that at the Olympics.
“For me at the time, the Olympics was a bit of an emotional and sad time for me because I didn’t perform at the level I wanted to. Immediately after I competed I was a bit flat but I was in South America with some of my closest friends and family.
“I didn’t get to enjoy Rio as much as I would have liked, but when I took a step back two or three months later I realised what I actually achieved in getting there. There aren’t many 20-year-olds who qualify for two events in track and field for an Olympics. Now when I look back I think it was an amazing achievement and amazing time and it makes me more determined for Tokyo.”
Not many make it to one Olympic Games, let alone two at such a young age. You get the feeling you will be highlighting the 800m and the 1500m when the schedule comes out next year.
12 THINGS YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT LUKE MATHEWS
Where is the first place you will travel when the world goes back to normal?
If I was in Australia it would be to my girlfriend’s holiday house in Port Douglas. It is awesome. But overseas, the thought of what we were going to do in 2020 makes me upset thinking about it. My girlfriend and I had planned a trip post Olympics in America. LA, San Fran, Vegas and New York. If I had three weeks spare, I think that’s where I would be heading for sure.
What is on your bucket list?
One thing would have to be watching a playoffs game with LeBron James in it. Another one would be going to Vegas and watching a Conor McGregor fight. Another one would be the Shanghai or Monaco Grand Prix. All my bucket list things are related to travel and sport.
If you could invite three people to dinner – dead or alive – who would you invite?
Leonardo DiCaprio definitely. He has always been my favourite actor and I just think he would have the most amazing stories. The idea of American politics is pretty interesting to me, so I would have to say Barack Obama and I just think he is a pretty cool guy. And then Lebron James.
Where are you eating your last meal on earth?
I would have a long, long lunch with immediate family, girlfriend and all my close mates into a very late night at France Soir in Melbourne.
How do you drink your coffee?
I’m always one that fluctuates with my weight, so if I’m feeling a little bit chunky and I’ve got to lose a couple of kegs a long black. But if I’m at race weight and ready to go I’ll have a skinny flat white.
What is your signature drink?
Depends where I’m at, but if it’s an Italian joint I usually go a Peroni Red. But if I’m at a stock standard pub, a Carlton Draught off the tap. Sometimes an Espresso Martini
What was your dream job growing up?
Being a professional athlete just like everyone. If you can be Dustin Martin or Usain Bolt that’s a dream job, isn’t it? I always loved Benny Cousins growing up and then Craig Mottram.
Who is your favourite sports star?
I’m a big NBA fan but I don’t have a team. My mates have always given it to me about this. I’ve always followed whatever team LeBron James plays for, so my favourite athlete would be him.
Favourite day on the calendar is….
Christmas Eve or Christmas Day
What is your favourite song?
212 by Azealia Banks
What is your favourite movie?
What is your favourite book?
I didn’t even read my Year 12 English books so I would go with any of the Specky Magee books.