When the coronavirus pandemic hit, French gymnast Melanie de Jesus dos Santos and her teammates headed out to the countryside. There they trained together as best they could without the apparatus and other equipment required for full-time elite gymnastics training.
It was difficult, but it gave de Jesus dos Santos fresh perspective, she says.
“I think that this year of preparation has allowed me to have a much clearer goal in my head and I also think that I have evolved,” she told Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview.
“I have grown more mature and know exactly what I'm going to do now, unlike last year when I wanted to go to the Games, but I didn't know what I really wanted yet. Now, I know I'm going to get on the podium.”
That journey starts Wednesday at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Basel, Switzerland, where de Jesus dos Santos will not defend her all-around title won back in 2019.
“Yes, I won the title of European all-around champion, but this time, my preparation is different than what I was used to doing. I am taking another path,” she said, confirming her plans to only compete on the uneven bars.
“Now, it's not my title that I'm defending, it's really to prepare for the Olympics. The (all-around) title, I have it, now, if there's someone else who will take it, that's the way it will be.”
A chance to test the competitive waters
The competition will be her first since the 2019 World Championships that October, though the French team has held several internal competitions to prepare their athletes for the Olympic season ahead.
That makes the European Championships an important marker for the 21-year-old.
“I've lost my touch a bit,” admitted de Jesus dos Santos. “I don't know how I will react to a competition environment now because it's been so long, but I have experience, so I know how to manage it.
“Nonetheless, it has been so long so I may not react the same way,” she continued. “I am looking forward to the European Championships to find my place and see how I adapt and react to competition.”
Tokyo, then Paris 2024?
Unfortunately, de Jesus dos Santos is used to long waits.
She missed Rio 2016 to injury, then came Olympic postponement. All that, she says, will make the Games this summer in Tokyo all the sweeter.
“Let's say, I want it even more now because I missed Rio 2016. Then, the Tokyo Games were postponed a year, it's an objective that I've anticipated with impatience, an objective that feels like is pushed back a bit every time, but in the end, I know the Games will come, and they're coming soon and I can't wait to be there,” said de Jesus dos Santos.
It’s hard to focus beyond the goal she’s spent so much time dreaming about, but de Jesus dos Santos has, of course, thought about those 2024 Olympics, set to be held in Paris. Will she be there three years from now? Only time will tell.
“I think about Paris 2024, but I'm focused first on Tokyo 2020,” explained de Jesus dos Santos. “I'm also thinking about taking a break after the Games this year. After that, if I feel capable and ready to come back for the Paris Games in 2024… because we're lucky that it is in Paris, and I believe that the Games will be beautiful in Paris… why not come back?”