Australian Olympic Committee officials had a spectacular day with a Sydney Harbour backdrop to mark 100 days to go to the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Across the equator and up the Pacific Ocean, Tokyo was humid, rainy and fogged in.
The seven-time Olympian who now runs the Tokyo organising committee, Seiko Hashimoto, was promising safety as a priority despite just over 70 per cent of locals remaining sceptical the Games should go ahead.
Athletes everywhere, except North Korea which has withdrawn from the Games, remain focused on “controlling the controllables”, as they like to say, while the worrying is left to those in suits.
Having relaxed the state of emergency in Tokyo less than a month ago, officials are said to be reluctant to impose another so soon despite the increased rate of infections there.
Modern pentathlete Edward Fernon was one of the first Australians to qualify for Tokyo – in a competition in Wuhan, China in November 2019.
He got back home just before COVID-19 arrived and the borders were closed.
It’s been an interesting ride after competing at the London Games in 2012, retiring before Rio 2016 and deciding to come back just 12 weeks before qualifying.
“The Olympic experience is absolutely fantastic, I’ve had so many fond memories of London and the opportunity to represent my country and be able to share that with family and friends was amazing,” he said.
“So when I got the call three months before my Olympic trial, to have the opportunity to come back and compete again, I thought ‘oh well, nothing to lose, give it a shot’ and was fortunate enough to qualify for my second Olympic Games.”
Since qualifying, though, he’s been unable to travel, compete and check out the competition he’ll be up against at the Games.
“I was about to jump on a plane to go to Budapest just before the lockdowns really started in Sydney, instead we obviously stayed here and prepared the best we could.”
Fernon says he’s fortunate to have a property near Harden, in regional New South Wales, so he moved his family there and built a mini Olympic pentathlon circuit.
“It was amazing, just doing my horse riding and fencing and shooting down there, and my running, so it was great to still be able to train although in different circumstances.
“I’m speaking to a lot of friends who are still trying to qualify for the Olympic Games.
“They’re going to a number of competitions, with a huge risk of getting the virus … so I think we’re incredibly lucky here in Australia to know that I’ve got that position, that I’ve already qualified and I can just prepare here as best I can.
“It’s still not ideal. It’s not getting those international competitions, but I think it’s still a better situation than a lot of other countries and a lot of other athletes have had to face.”
It’s been almost a decade between Olympic drinks for Fernon, but it’s not as though he got bored in the interim.
He’s climbed the largest mountain in the southern hemisphere, Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, and competed in – and won – the most gruelling horse race in the world, the Mongol Derby.
“In 2017, I competed in the Mongol Derby which was a 1000-kilometre horse race across the Mongolian Steppe.
“They select 42 horse riders from around the world and I was one of the Australian riders selected to compete.
“It’s an incredibly gruelling race and you’re sleeping out under the stars a lot of nights with random horses, which is similar to pentathlon.
“So, we ride 28 different [semi-wild] horses and I was able to win that race … and broke the world record at the time.”
In London, Fernon went into the Games ranked 111 in the world. He finished a credible 27th.
His motivation is not winning gold, it’s challenging himself to be his best.
“I think for me, going through that experience of training for the Olympics, you go into that mindset of competing and having those physical and mental challenges.
“So for me, after I retired after the Rio trials, I still wanted to have that – and test myself.
“When I had another opportunity to come back and have another crack at the Olympics I took it and have been giving it 100 per cent.”
Anyone familiar with the Mongol Derby might be tempted to think the Olympic Games is a stroll in the park in comparison.
“Hahaha, I wouldn’t say that,” Fernon said.
“The training is obviously pretty intense at the moment and four months out we’re in a very, very, solid training block but yeah, the Mongol Derby is a different experience.
“But I think all of these things, and all of these different experiences, certainly help you and enable you to deal with the pressure and those big moments.”
Tokyo 2020 will be one of those big moments – not just for the athletes of the world, but particularly the local organisers, who are still battling a public relations challenge at home and myriad questions from abroad.
For Edward Fernon, it’s just the next in a lifetime of challenging moments.
“All of those stepping stones are great to get myself to my second Olympic Games.”