Road To The Olympic Games

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Erica Wiebe overcomes strangest of circumstances to pin Olympic wrestling spot

Long before knowing about the coronavirus pandemic, Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe organized a small celebratory gathering for Saturday night in Ottawa.

Stittsville, Ont., native punches ticket without spectators amid coronavirus pandemic

Canada's Erica Wiebe booked her ticket to the Tokyo Summer Games, eager to defend her gold medal from the 2016 Olympics. COVID-19 postponed the Games until 2021. (Michael P. Hall/Wrestling Canada)

Long before knowing about the coronavirus pandemic, Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe organized a small celebratory gathering for Saturday night in Ottawa.

The game plan – in victory or defeat – was to thank her close family, friends and supporters for being in her corner for so many years.

"I've never heard of someone doing that before," retired Canadian wrestler Jasmine Mian said earlier this week. "I think it shows how much she's come to appreciate the journey of an Olympic pursuit and not just the result.

"When you have your mind in the space of enjoying the journey, the results always come."

The results came Saturday under the strangest of circumstances at the 2020 Pan-American Olympic qualification tournament in Ottawa. With no spectators in the stands, Wiebe soundly defeated Genesis Rosangela Reasco Valdez of Ecuador 6-0 in the 76-kilogram semifinal at the Shaw Centre.

WATCH | Erica Wiebe books ticket for Tokyo Summer Games:

The Stittsville, Ont., secures the right to defend her Olympic title with a semifinal win in the 76-kilogram weight class at the 2020 Pan-American Olympic Wrestling Qualification Tournament.  2:29

The Stittsville, Ont., native needed to finish top-2 in her class to book passage to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.

"It seems a little surreal," says Wiebe, 30. "I've been doing this sport for a long time. I thought I had seen it all. But I have yet to experience a global pandemic.

"I'm just so happy that Wrestling Canada, United World Wrestling and the organizing committee were able to take the necessary precautions so we could wrestle."

Danielle Lappage punches Olympic ticket

 Also thrilled is Wiebe's teammate Danielle Lappage, of Olds, Alta. Lappage, a 2016 Summer Olympian, won her semifinal bout at 68 kg. to qualify for Tokyo.

"Wrestling doesn't really have that many spectators generally, Lappage said. "So I didn't really notice the difference. I was so focused, and we did what we needed to do."

WATCH | Danielle Lappage blanks opponent 10-0: 

The Olds, Alta., native clinches a spot at the summer games with a semifinal win at the Pan-American Olympic Wrestling Qualification Tournament.  1:22

"My mom, my aunt, my boyfriend were still allowed to come and watch, and they were the three people I needed. It was extremely special regardless."

On a day with so much going on, fellow Canadians Jessie MacDonald, of Windsor, Ont., Samantha Stewart, of London, Ont., Linda Morais, of Tecumseh, Ont., and Michelle Fazzari, of Hamilton, Ont., failed to win in their respective semifinals. They can still qualify for Tokyo via a last-chance meet tentatively scheduled for June in Bulgaria.

"I love the process of mastery in this sport. Competition is just the extra cherry on top of the whole performance.- Erica Wiebe

But even for Wiebe and Lappage, uncertainty reins. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Saturday that the Tokyo Olympics will go on as planned from July 24 to Aug. 9.

The chances of that happening seem bleak with the sporting world shutting down to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"To be honest, we're not really thinking about it," said Lappage, a law student at the University of Calgary. "I'm not. We're going to go back and do what we were going to do. We're going to prepare as if the Olympics are going to happen. I'm confident they'll do what's best for the health of the athletes.

"Hopefully, the Olympics will happen."

Facing uncertainty

The uncertainty is something that all of Canada's aspiring Olympians are going to have to learn to live with.

"As athletes, all we can do is control what we can control," Wiebe said. "I'm excited about getting back to training to improve as a wrestler. I've punched my ticket to Tokyo. I have my spot. All that's left is for me to be ready to go.

"And, I'll be ready no matter what."

Erica Wiebe, left, and Danielle Lappage, right, celebrate after securing their Tokyo Olympic spots on Saturday. (Michael P. Hall/Wrestling Canada )

At the end of night, Wiebe and a small collection of friends and family slipped away to a restaurant to celebrate as planned.

"They support me no matter what," Wiebe said. "I know they're in my corner win or lose. 

"I love the process of mastery in this sport. Competition is just the extra cherry on top of the whole performance. They've been here for me along the journey from way before I was an Olympic champion, and they'll be around long after nobody remembers my name.

"They support Erica the person and not just Erica the wrestler."

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