At the age of 32 and with two Olympics behind them, most athletes would be thinking about the ‘R’ word.
And when you also consider that Mithqal Al Abbadi finished a high profile last in the Rio de Janeiro marathon, it would be understandable if he was taking a lower profile approach to his future participation.
But minutes after bringing up the rear in that tough Olympic marathon, the Jordanian soldier was telling the awaiting media what he wanted to achieve next.
“I want to finish in the top 10 at the next Olympics in Tokyo,” he broadcasted. It was admirable stuff.
Rio wasn’t his best race, he is the first to admit that he just wanted to get round after seeing the weather forecast wasn’t in his favour. But can the best years really be ahead for a runner approaching his mid-30’s?
“Definitely,” he said. “I have a clear four-year plan and know what I need to do to achieve it.”
Mithqal remembers the moment that HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein, President of the Jordan Olympic Committee (JOC), spoke with Team Jordan in Rio de Janeiro at the Athletes Village and immediately he realised there was plenty of gas left in his tank.
“He really inspired us,” he said. “My preparation for Rio wasn’t the best and I knew a fast time was not possible so I wanted to focus on finishing and not letting anyone down. A lot of good runners dropped out. But I also knew then that my last chance would be Tokyo in four years and I made my mind up to carry on.”
The unassuming family man is a likable character. The hours of solitude, running hundreds of miles every month in training means he has a lot of time to think. And Tokyo has been on his mind for a long time.
He has been running for the national team since 2001 and admits that “sport is my life” and describes running at the London Olympic Games in 2012 as “a dream come true”.
It was also the year that he rose to prominence with a sensational win at the Stockholm Marathon, beating a quality field of international runners.
“It was one of the strongest marathons in the world, with many elite athletes taking part. Winning was an unforgettable moment for me, as it was my ticket to reach the Olympics.”
A wrangle at the athletics federation, only recently resolved with JOC intervention, has not made life easy for anyone in athletics so Mithqal believes Tokyo provides him with his best chance to leave a lasting legacy.
“People might think that I will be old then but I will prove the opposite. In two years’ time I will be a new athlete with a change in training and preparation. I will make my mark on the Asian Games and then two more years of solid training will prepare me right for Tokyo.”
Mithqal, a father to young children, also knows of the role he needs to play to ensure that the next generation of athletes can fill his shoes.
“We have a lot of talent here in Jordan. The climate helps and our geographic location is also beneficial so we just need the right training to bring the best out of us all. I want to help build the next heroes in sport by doing well at the Olympics and other events.”
Mithqal was in the arena when Ahmad Abu Ghaush claimed his historic gold medal in taekwondo in Rio. It was a first of any colour for Jordan at the Olympics.
“Every Jordanian will remember this exceptional achievement,” he said. “It should inspire and encourage us all to reach the top no matter what you do. We will witness more like him in the future for sure.”
For now, though, Mithqal is focusing on his endurance before stepping up his speed once the marathon season opens in the New Year. His best time of of two hours 17 minutes is still some way off the world record but he remains focused.
While his last place in Rio will be remembered with some sympathy by those that clapped him across the line, Mithqal himself fondly recalls a moment in the race that epitomises his sportsmanship.
“One of the runners collapsed so I stopped to help and support him. He went on to finish the race ahead of me though!”
Looking ahead, he has determination in his eyes.
“Just watch me in the coming years,” he said. “I have never been so hungry to achieve and I will make Jordan proud of me.”
In other words…. Retirement can wait!