In her element: Jessica Rothwell reflects on her Tokyo experience

​Jessica Rothwell has been working as a sports dietitian at the Victorian Institute of Sport for over four years, helping to support and educate Victoria’s elite athletes.

Also working at Athletics Australia as their national high performance nutrition lead, Rothwell went to Tokyo to support Australia’s Olympic Athletics Team.  

Rothwell played a key role in ensuring athletes were able to meet their nutritional needs, in what was one of the most hot and humid Games on record.

We caught up with Rothwell to hear about her Tokyo experience:

“You are in your element! In a room full of food and rooming with your idol” said Hugh, as I sent him a selfie after setting up our Sapporo team food/relax room. Pretty spot on!

It was really a privilege to be part of such a unique Games. I have never felt as much responsibility in a role like this before, supporting team management and sports nutrition responsibilities under such unique circumstances. 

I tell you; the first few days of hotel quarantine on return to Australia was absolute heaven – I’m sure the VIS nutrition team could attest to this, it was an overwhelming feeling that everything was okay, had gone okay and we were out the other end!

The preparation and teamwork of everyone involved from Athletics Australia was outstanding and by the time we settled into a week of quarantine, it was really evident the impact and results from our athletes was widespread with an overwhelming sensation of pride, unity, and gratitude. Tokyo 2020 was Athletics Australia’s 3rd best result in half a century and the best result in 20 years…which was really something to celebrate!

Athletics is a giant and diverse beast of many hard working coaches, athlete pairs and practitioners, it’s one of the reasons I love this sport so much.

My work whilst away, largely involved supporting a great food service environment at our staging camp in Cairns, facilitating and refining competition nutrition strategies to help athletes prepare for one of the most hot and humid Games on record, liaising with our sports dietitians SIS-SAS practitioner network to provide updates of their athletes as relevant, supporting research interventions that particular event group athletes were participating in, troubleshooting and understanding all of the specific logistics for Sapporo (where the endurance athletes were competing) and working with our extended sport science and sport medicine team.

Once on the ground in Sapporo, my time was absorbed in lots of learning, troubleshooting, plenty of hand gestures with the local organising committee, and sharing learnings back to the team, as well as the very busy few days supporting athlete preparation across the competition schedule.  

Whilst incredibly grateful that Japan provided a safe, warm, and inviting environment and both Olympic and Paralympic Games successfully went ahead, Sapporo lacked the sparkle of the Tokyo Olympic Village and we were mostly hotel based, in small rooms with limited daily activity that consisted of going to the old 72’ winter Olympic training ground, the course and the dining hall located in the conference space adjacent to the hotel. We were fortunate to spend a night in the village on the way home, which really signified the enormity of the Games and the magic that Japan made happen.

I feel very fortunate to have had the support of the VIS nutrition team, the AOC sports dietitians and network, not to mention reviewing plans with the Godmother of sports nutrition, the one and only Professor Louise Burke. This was personally a very special time, to be working with one of your idols, who designs and implements the research, writes our scientific papers and then who is there on the Olympic stage, implementing the world’s best practice protocols to support our athlete’s performance.

Jess’ three favourite memories

  1. Watching the beads of sweat from the great man, Eloid Kipchoge as he raced through the Men’s Marathon drink station
  2. The emotion and celebrations involved in athletic successes
  3. In her own words, watching Louise create a ‘sophisticated interpretative dance’ on our drinks table

Jess’ three challenging memories

  1. Estimating contingency food without known dates, known numbers of athletes/staff in Sapporo and stupidly worrying I wouldn’t have enough rice in the case of a COVID – outbreak!
  2. Seeing dedicated athletes’ hearts break
  3. Long transits and little time outdoors
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