Lina Nielsen on yoga, rivals and Olympic goals – Update Sport Today

athletics, Lina Nielsen on yoga, rivals and Olympic goals, sport

The sun peeks over the horizon. The cows chew fine grass. The rush of the Ganges river is the only sound.

It’s early. It’s not 06:00 yet.

But through the doors of an ashram, in a large open courtyard, Lina Nielsen is pouring salt water from a small jug into one of her nostrils.

“It clears the nose to prepare it for the breathing exercises,” she explains to BBC Sport.

“After that, we’d walk into the foothills of the Himalayas in silence, concentrating on our breath. We’d reach the top, come back down, have some tea. Then there was a two-hour ashtanga yoga class before a coconut breakfast, oatmeal and fruit at 10:00.

“Then it was a philosophy class or an anatomy class, a light lunch, a 30-minute break where you could nap or study, another two-hour yoga class, a short break, and then another yoga class.

“It was really intense. 13-hour days for 28 days. It was also one of the best experiences of my life. I miss him so much.”

Fifty years earlier, the Beatles had made the same journey as Nielsen, from London to the northern Indian city of Rishikesh.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s quest for enlightenment came with a circus. His fame attracted photographers and reporters to the holy Hindu city.

But Nielsen found the anonymity she wanted.

Five weeks earlier, she had finished seventh at the British Championships in Birmingham, missing out on qualifying for the 2019 World Championships in Doha.

“She was very, very sad about it and wanted something to distract me,” she recalls.

“I didn’t want to tell anyone that I was an athlete, because I would have to explain that I didn’t make it to the World Championships. I wanted a break from being an athlete.”

Nielsen’s cover was that she was a receptionist.

However, as she and her teammates stretched their minds and bodies on the mat, she slowly unraveled.

While others struggled with the physical tension, Nielsen soaked it up suspiciously well.

One night, her anatomy teacher looked at the arch of Nielsen’s feet, the impact of her on her soles, and pointed her out to the class as some kind of runner.

Finally, she came clean.

“When you spend 28 days living so close, you become this raw, vulnerable person. Everyone sees your true colors because you’re away from home, where everything is so new, you end up being so close.”

Shortly after Nielsen left India with a circle of new friends and a degree as a yoga teacher, Covid hit.

The Olympics were postponed and Nielsen reassessed. After confessing to her classmates, she had to be true to herself.

“The important thing was to be honest about what I want from this sport and how to go forward with it,” she said.

“I’ve made massive improvements to my mindset, going into practice and racing.

“I want to go to all three events this year [Worlds, Commonwealths, Europeans]. I want to get as much experience as I can to get to Paris.

“That is the goal: to do the Olympic Games and get an Olympic medal.”

It is a bullish target. Nielsen is 26 years old. Although she was named in England’s Commonwealth Games squad on Wednesday, she has yet to make her debut at a major championship.

However, her form is fast and she improves quickly.

She shaved more than a second off her personal best in the 400m hurdles in 2021, before shaving another half a second with a 54.73-second run in Rome earlier this month.

She placed her eighth on the British all-time list and twelfth fastest in the world this year.

Nielsen believes there is more to come. And so.

“She was in lane nine in Rome,” she recalled. “Most tracks are eight lanes, I can’t remember the last time I was in the ninth.

“I felt so out of it, I couldn’t hear anyone, I thought I was about to hit one of the sponsor screens, and I had sent obstacle five flying.”

“A lot of things went wrong. None of my races have gone to plan so far this year.”

“If I do that race well, we’re looking at a much faster time.”

She will need it too.

On a global stage, American world record holder Sydney McLaughlin is in a class of her own. In Europe, Femke Bol from the Netherlands is the dominant force. Nationally, Jessie Knight is still the one to beat.

This weekend, Nielsen and Knight will square off at the British Championships in Manchester. With the qualifying standard now assured, a top-two finish will secure Nielsen a spot at the World Championships in July in Oregon as well.

There is pressure. But, after Rishikesh, Nielsen knows how to free him.

“Through meditation, I can find that quiet place before a race,” she said. “To breathe, lower emotions and find that zen”.

If all goes according to plan, that flow will carry her all the way to the podium in Paris.

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