‘Proud to be Canadian’: Forgoing 2020 Olympics bittersweet, but the right thing to do, Man. athletes say

By | March 23, 2020

Manitoba athletes bound for the Olympics say they stand with Team Canada’s decision to pull out of the Tokyo 2020 Games in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, even if it means putting their dreams on hold.

“‘I’m proud to be Canadian,” said Tyler Mislawchuk, who was set to compete for Canada in triathlon at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo in July, before Canada became the first country to announce it wouldn’t send its athletes.

“Obviously, it’s a tough decision but definitely the right one.”

The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee announced Sunday they won’t send athletes to compete at the Tokyo Games in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The committees called on the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Games until 2021, to ensure safety of athletes and the public.

As of Monday afternoon, the International Olympic Committee had not officially announced its plans for the Tokyo Games. But veteran committee member Dick Pound told The Canadian Press he believes the 2020 Tokyo Games will be postponed.

We’ve been dreaming of this moment our entire lives. And then yesterday, we figured out that it was all going to be changing.– Skylar Park, Winnipegger set to compete in taekwondo at 2020 Olympics

Delays to the Tokyo Games means the postponement of competitions athletes have been training for for years.

But Mislawchuk, who is currently self-isolating at home in Oak Bluff, Man., after training in Portugal, said it’s crucial all Canadians do their part to slow the spread of the deadly new coronavirus.

“What we’re dealing with is obviously serious and not to be taken lightly,” he said.

“I’m currently in self-isolation, after coming back from a training camp, so I’m doing my part to flatten the curve. And I hope … the rest of Canada does the same.”

‘Unquestionably the right decision’

The Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees have said the move is about public health as well as athlete health.

“With COVID-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes, and the health and safety of their families and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training towards these Games,” the committees said in a statement Sunday night.

Jeff Powell, executive director of the Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba, estimates there are roughly six to eight Manitobans who have qualified or were likely to qualify for the Games.

“It’s a tremendously heavy moment,” he said of the Canadian committees’ decision.

The Canadian Sport Centre offers training services and programs to athletes, including future Olympians. Powell himself competed in the 2004 Olympics in rowing.

“I think it’s unquestionably the right decision. And Canada, I’m proud that the country led the way,” he said. 

Local taekwondo fighter Skylar Park worked for years to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. She says she supports the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic commitees’ decision not to go. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

For Skylar Park, qualifying to compete in the Olympics was the achievement of a family legacy. The Winnipegger found out in December she’d qualified for her first Olympic Games, carrying the torch for three generations of taekwondo masters in her family.

Getting there means years of work and sacrifices for any athlete who wants to qualify, she said.

“We’ve been dreaming of this one day, of this one moment — or I have, at least, along with many other Canadian athletes and other athletes around the world — we’ve been dreaming of this moment our entire lives,” Park said on Monday.

“And then yesterday, we figured out that it was all going to be changing.”

But she supports the committee’s move to protect public health. Park was about to complete a 14-day self-isolation period Monday, after travelling to see her cousin compete in taekwondo.

When our thoughts turn to dwelling and despair, we need to think of others and their plight during this time.– Jon Montgomery, Manitoba-born Olympic champion in skeleton

Once that lifts, she’ll be able to continue training at the gym her family runs, which is now closed to the public. But she said athletes across the world are having to pull back their regimens due to restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — and she wants to face off against opponents at the top of their game.

“When I compete at the Olympic Games, I want to stand on top of the podium. But I want my opponents to be at their best,” she said. “And right now, I don’t think athletes are training the way that they’re supposed to be [to] be at their best come time for Tokyo,” she said.

‘Focus on what you can control’

She said  Canadian athletes are staying positive. “We’re used to adapting and used to being able to kind of thrive in these situations,” she said. “We’re going to keep working hard and keep sticking together and supporting each other to continue working for our dreams.”

Mislawchuk said athletes grieving the loss of the Games should continue to train where they can.

“I try to focus on what I can control. And right now, one of the things that I can control is what I’m doing right here in this basement, whether it’s being on my bike or being on the treadmill,” he said.

“Those are things that I can do. And I would urge other athletes who have similar hopes and dreams to focus on what you can control.”

Jon Montgomery, a Manitoba-born Olympic medallist in skeleton racing, said he feels for athletes impacted by the move. It’s OK and ony human for athletes to feel a sense of loss, or struggle with ‘what if’ thoughts concerning the Games. 

But if they start feeling down, “we need to think of others and their plight during this time,” he wrote in an email.

“Thinking about others helps with perspective, and that feeds our other human instinct, the one that comes after self-preservation — helping our brothers and sisters.”

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