When Dan Jervis arrived at the British Swimming selection trials for the Tokyo Olympics last month, he had spent much of the previous year reduced to swimming in a cold, dark lake near Resolven.
By the time he climbed out of the pool, he had left all his rivals trailing in his wake – comfortably winning the 1500m freestyle, over four seconds inside the Olympic consideration time.
Fellow Welsh swimmer Harriet Jones – another who had been out of the pool for months – even managed a personal best in the 100m butterfly as she, too, booked her spot for Tokyo.
Those are just two of the achievements that have got staff at the Sport Wales Institute reflecting on the lessons from a year of lockdown.
In many instances, the blueprints have been ripped up, the time-honoured certainties thrown out of the window.
It may have been forced upon them, but Welsh elite athletes are just coming to the end of the biggest human experiment of their sporting lives – and of the lives of the sports scientists employed to support them, for that matter.
What happens when you take away their competition, compel them to rest, and then restrict their access to training and therapies so that elite sports men and women are forced to imagine new ways of doing things?
The answer, it seems, are exciting new possibilities, based on the qualities of resilience, single-mindedness and a freed sense of imagination.
Who would have thought in those first strange weeks of lockdown that athletes running under streetlamps, lifting heavy shopping bags filled with books, or challenging each other to bike rides over Strava, would look back at this time as the making of them?
But they just might.
When the pandemic first struck, the Sport Wales institute team, comprising of; physiotherapists, performance advisors, analysts, nutritionists, psychologists and conditioning coaches had to move quickly.
They were handing out weights and training equipment like survivalist pockets of resistance in an Armageddon disaster movie.
Felicity Hares, Sport Wales Institute people and services lead, recalls: “In those first few weeks, we had strength and conditioning coaches dividing up weights to give to people to take home to wherever they might be based.
“I think we have most of it back now, but there are still a few bits and pieces scattered across the country.
“We had a very risk-mitigated approach where it was essential delivery only. We only had intervention if it couldn’t be done remotely.”
The athletes, then, were supported remotely via virtual platforms..
Some found this liberating, especially as communication technologies like Zoom meant they were now able to save time on travel.
For others – who perhaps enjoyed pouring their hearts out and talking about their issues while a physio massaged their quad muscles for an hour or two – this new world left them feeling isolated.
“It was crisis management in the first instance,” says physiotherapist Dan Grimstead, clinical and delivery lead.
“We shut the institute down and then we had to attend to people’s expectations. There was an Olympic Games coming up and we no longer had an institute to deliver services.
“We had to do a lot of work to stabilise the situation. Then, we had to say we are going to deliver things in a different way.”
But what has emerged, though, across many sports, has been not a decline in fitness and conditioning levels, but often a marked improvement.
“One sports scientist has presented some work around female cyclists,” says Hares.
“Prior to the lockdown period they would never have thought that without access to gyms, or specialised coaching, or weights, that they could actually improve their lower body strength.
“But the testing has shown that there is so much they can do at home in their garage or their garden, so maybe the specialised environment is not as critical as we thought.
“It has led to a change in how some of the cyclists run their sessions. They don’t actually need to go to Cardiff all the time for specialist services. For instance, they can use the gym in Newport. There has been a shift in mindset.”
As well as swimmers using lakes or improving their core muscles on land, or cyclists working out in their garages, there have been hockey players and netballers working on their technical skills in their garden, or squash players upping their game on their mental strategies.
There have been practical forms of adaptability, such as the throwing cage Paralympic champion Aled Davies constructed in his back garden.
Others have felt the lift of a supportive local community, such as Paralympic table tennis champion Rob Davies, whose friends and neighbours in Brecon fixed up a table for him in his local village hall when he was denied his training trips to Cardiff.
Wales’ No.1 judoka Natalie Powell turned her living room into a makeshift gym and practice arena, complete with mats, while F44 discus thrower Harrison Walsh used a local footpath to throw into a nearby field.
The innovation wasn’t entirely without bumps and bruises. Olympic silver medalist rower Vicky Thornley swapped her boat for a bike and ended up breaking her arm, but Sport Wales Institute performance advisor Dan Farmer believes the 12 months have been transformative.