Sprinter on becoming a playwright in the middle of the Tokyo Games, winning Olympic relay bronze and how Peckham shaped her as an athlete
Imagine travelling to your first Olympics and two hours after sitting down in your hotel room you are told you’ve come into contact with someone who has Covid on the plane and you have to isolate for two weeks.
Can you compete? Will you be able to train? What’s the protocol?
These are the questions that Imani-Lara Lansiquot, one of Britain’s shining sprinting lights, was asking herself as she was still unpacking in Tokyo in July.
Lansiquot – a European champion and world silver medallist in the 4x100m – was one of six athletes who had to isolate in the Japanese capital after being in close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid on the plane over to the Olympics.
With so much spare time in a confined space, she sat down and started writing a play that she was commissioned to write, after an invite earlier in the year to be a part of Knock Down, a series of theatre performances in her childhood home of Peckham.
The result? A 10-minute piece featuring Lansiquot the childhood dreamer and Lansiquot the athlete. It was almost fitting – a blessing in disguise perhaps – that she wrote it while in Tokyo. However, it’s not a surprise that was the course of action the 23-year-old took when facing isolation.
Sooo.. I might have written a play whilst out at the Olympics ☺️. It’s always been a dream of mine to write and “Armour Of Gaza” explores my identity, career and culture, as well as celebrating being from Peckham. Final tickets are out tomorrow on @DroppedTea. Don’t miss them! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/MwTdcjDYs8
— Imani-Lara Lansiquot (@ImaniLara) August 17, 2021
“I’m one those people who do better with my running performances when I’ve got something going on away from the track,” Lansiquot says.
“I wanted to have training alongside something that was really important to me, where I’d be able to express myself in a more creative way during my down time. Those first few days were really difficult as there wasn’t really a protocol for it because they weren’t expecting it to happen.
“One thing I did learn from my degree is that when sports people have their backs up against the wall they’re usually quite calm because we’re used to high pressure situations. It was so completely out of my control and I had 20 hours at a time in my room with my own thoughts so I had the space to focus on the writing. That was an amazing way for me to let all of that [stress] go.”
The inspiration for such a play originates from Lansiquot’s childhood. During the first lockdown she and her dad cleared her garage and there the three-time major medallist found a note that she wrote as an 11-year-old, stating: “One day I want to be Olympic champion and one day I want to be an author.”
She’s now done half of that and you wouldn’t put it past her to become Olympic champion as well.
Her play, Armour of Gaza, is based on the fact that people in Peckham’s sometimes call it Gaza with the armour aspect relating to the fact that Lansiquot was not given things on a silver spoon during her upbringing on a council estate.
“I’ve always had this thing in me from really young age that whatever I do, I’m going to be the best version of myself with it,” Lansiquot adds. “That’s always my aim. I want to shine in whatever realm or space that I’m in and it’s because I didn’t have that luxury when I was younger so you had to make a big effort to stand out.
“It was an immersive piece of theatre. I was talking about my experiences in Peckham while the audience was living and breathing everything that I was describing. It was a marriage of where I’m from and what I do now and although they are in different postcodes, it brings it together and I was so proud it was sold out.
“I didn’t tell anyone that I was writing it. I was really nervous it wasn’t going to be good and even though I really enjoyed it, you’re always apprehensive about people seeing you in a new light. Obviously, I’m the athlete and to be the writer I was so nervous. I read it to my boyfriend and when he said it was really good I was like ‘okay, now I’ll tell everyone’.
“If you’re born into a disadvantaged situation it’s not a choice to be bad, we live in an unfair society. You do have to make that extra effort or get lucky like I was to have an amazing family that was constantly pushing me and never let me feel like I could be in one box.”
During her two weeks of isolation in Tokyo Lansqiuot wasn’t allowed to train with the main British contingent and only allowed to meet up with the ‘main’ team if it was for relay practice.
The 23-year-old bursts into laughter when she describes how they had a WhatsApp group called “quaranteam”, where the isolated six sent memes to each other to help get everyone in good spirits during the period.
Fortunately for Lansiquot, the relays were towards the latter end of the championships so she had the adequate time to mentally, emotionally and physically prepare to take to the track in Tokyo.
During that time, Dina Asher-Smith failed to reach the 100m final and subsequently pulled out the 200m, after having ruptured her hamstring in Manchester a few weeks earlier at the Olympic Trials.
Daryll Neita meanwhile reached her first ever Olympic 100m final and while she only finished eighth, she had clocked 10.96 in the heats to go sub-11 for the first time in her career.
Little me from Peckham. ❤️🥉💫 pic.twitter.com/rK9Zqou1I5
— Imani-Lara Lansiquot (@ImaniLara) August 6, 2021
As Lansiquot joined up with the rest of the GB squad at the Olympic village, it was safe to say emotions were flying going into the relays.
“It was really hard watching Dina’s interview as you want to be a supportive team-mate,” Lansiquot says. “We didn’t know the full situation about her injury and we didn’t want to step on any toes in terms of practice. She’s a fighter and she’ll turn up if she can. She’s one of those people who will never pull out if she didn’t want to.”
“It was more so mental as you empathise with that situation. When we were doing our last practice before going out and doing the heat, I didn’t want her [Dina] to feel like she had to overcompensate. I wanted her to feel confident and happy around us and we wanted to be a team.
“In my heart we were going for gold and we knew it was going to be tough because Jamaica were in such incredible shape, having gone 1-2-3 in the individual 100m, so we knew we could get silver. I was so delighted to come away with a medal but our changeovers were not good in the moment.”
The relay team of Lansiquot, Asher-Smith, Neita and Asha Philip raced through their heats as the quartet set a national record of 41.55.
Jamaica, with Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson and Briana Williams, were too good in the final, as they themselves set a national record of their own with 41.02, the third quickest time in history.
Lansiquot respectfully adds that while Jamaica were too strong, silver was the realistic aim and so it proved to be, with the GB quartet falling less than four tenths behind the US in the final, clocking 41.88 to the States’ 41.45.
Now in the off-season, the 23-year-old is reflective and can appreciate the bronze medal.
“When you’re in that moment you’re not thinking it’s the Olympics, you just want to get across that finish line first, the same way if I was in a Diamond League or even a sports day,” she says. “You just want to win. It didn’t really sink in for me until I was on holiday and I realised that I had an Olympic medal, this momentous thing in our sport and it’s never going to lose value.
“Testament to us, how much confidence and trust we had as a team, I’m not sure many teams could’ve come back from those changeovers so the fact we got the medal with a less than brilliant technical race shows what we can do in the future. ”
Now Lansiquot looks ahead to 2022 and the myriad of opportunities that present themselves. With world indoor and outdoor championships and a European and Commonwealth Games, medal chances could be plentiful.
The next stage is to do it individually.
“Every athlete has a feeling of how good they can actually be and I really see myself individually pushing myself to be one of the best in the world,” adds Lansiquot, whose personal best in the 100m is 11.09, ranking her fifth on the UK all-time list.
“I know it’s a long journey and I’ve got a lot of respect for that journey but I’ve got a lot to learn and I believe I can make it. Top five, top three in the world is where I really want to see myself going to and times will come with that.”