Laviai Nielsen believes the ‘stars aligned’ as she went from being Jessica Ennis-Hill’s volunteer bag carrier at London 2012 to preparing to compete in Tokyo nine years later.
As a 16-year-old, Laviai and her identical twin sister Lina Nielsen, who also competes internationally, volunteered at the 2012 London Olympic Games, carrying heptathlete Ennis-Hill’s bag.
As a 400m runner, who became double British champion in 2020, Nielsen said her volunteer experience of bag-carrying inspired her career.
“(Carrying Ennis-Hill’s bag was an) absolutely incredible experience,” the 25-year-old told the PA news agency.
“My sister and I, we grew up around the area where the Olympics were being held, and we always talk about the stars aligning for us.
“Because I think you had to be 16-18 and we had just turned 16 and we were in sport, we were in athletics, we were really passionate about it, so to stand in the Olympic Stadium, just behind Jessica Ennis, when the crowd was absolutely roaring for her and really gunning for her.
“It really kick-started our passion for it and our career and that’s when we really started to take it seriously and to come full circle.
“My sister just qualified for the Olympic Games a couple of weeks ago, so if we can be in the stadium together that would be a dream come true.”
Growing up in east London, Nielsen’s introduction to athletics came through cross country before she gradually reduced the distance, eventually moving from competing in the 800m to the 400m when she was a teenager.
Currently ranked ninth in the world, and having already won a medal in 2021, with the 4x400m relay team at the World Athletics Relay meet in Poland, Nielsen explained her experience of volunteering at London 2012 gave her an added determination.
She said: “I think there were only a few people who could actually be inside the stadium, I think it was athletes, officials and us, the volunteers, so that felt very special.
“I don’t think I’d actually seen an athletics event first hand, I don’t think I’d ever gone to watch something so large scale, so it really gave us a taste of what’s to come and I think that really made us want to be in the sport a lot more.”
:: Nielsen was speaking to the PA news agency at the Adidas kit launch for the Team GB and Paralympics GB kits for Tokyo 2020