Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics

What's the rush? Canadians Justyn Knight, Sage Watson call COC decision 'premature'

Justyn Knight says he loves his country and didn't mean any disrespect but he and other athletes are struggling to understand why the Canadian Olympic Committee made a bold decision Sunday to pull its team out of the Tokyo Games this summer.

IOC to decide by mid-April whether to postpone Tokyo 2020

Toronto distance runner Justyn Knight was excited for a chance to make his Olympic debut in 2020 and is upset the Canadian Olympic Committee won’t send athletes to compete at the Tokyo Games if it’s held this year. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press/File)

Justyn Knight says he loves his country and didn't mean any disrespect, but he and other athletes are struggling to understand why the Canadian Olympic Committee made a bold decision Sunday to pull its team out of the Tokyo Games this summer.

Hours before the COC announcement, the International Olympic Committee revealed a self-imposed deadline of mid-April to consider postponing the Olympics, set to begin July 24, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"I don't have a problem with the Olympics being postponed until 2021," said Knight, who met the Tokyo qualifying standard in the 5,000 metres last June and was excited for a chance to make his Olympic debut in 2020. "The problem I have is that Canada is the only country that voiced that opinion.

"I love Canada and I understand (the COC's) decision is for (the) well-being of (its athletes) but why the rush? There could be a vaccine or cure that's found. Spontaneously, although it's very unrealistic, maybe everybody recovers. We don't know what next week entails."


 

Knight, who noted he and other Canadian athletes were not given a heads-up from the COC about its announcement, learned via text message from someone around 10 p.m. ET on Sunday as he was heading to bed.

The Toronto native immediately logged on to Twitter and saw the increasing volume of tweets.

WATCH | Justyn Knight no fan of COC decision: 

Canadian distance runner Justyn Knight was very vocal on Twitter about the COC's decision to pull Team Canada from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics until 2021. He speaks further on his stance with CBC Sports' Anson Henry. 6:58

Disappointment sets in

"It was very emotional," Knight, who lives and trains in Charlottesville, Va., as a member of Reebok Boston Track Club, told CBC Sports. "I didn't sleep at all. My main thought was wondering if the world is going to fix this problem. I'm putting my faith in the scientists and high levels of government hoping they'll figure out a vaccine or cure."

WATCH | COC says athletes won't attend Olympics if held in 2020:

CBC Sports' Jamie Strashin discusses the Canadian Olympic Committee's decision to refuse to send athletes to the Olympics if they do go ahead as planned, instead calling for a one year postponement. 3:58

The 23-year-old said he spoke with five or six Canadian athletes on Sunday night who shared his frustration with the COC's quick decision-making.

Canadian hurdler Sage Watson also took to Twitter shortly after the COC announcement and stated she believes in the safety of Canada but thought the decision was premature.

Later, she mentioned it was "sad" the decision had to be made for the athletes and added, "Do we not have patience to wait a few weeks?"


 

Marnie McBean, Canada's chef de mission for Tokyo 2020, told CBC News on Monday the COC wasn't comfortable waiting three more weeks for the IOC to act, saying "we would have had to ask our athletes to figure out how to train (with no events in the near future)."

Seyi Smith, chair of the COC, said the organization needed to act fast after "hearing stories of athletes still continuing to train outside, even though we were getting directions from our prime minister (Justin Trudeau) and (Canada's Chief Public Health Officer) Dr. (Theresa) Tam to stay inside and social distance yourself. It didn't look like it was a safe situation for athletes to be doing their part to reduce this pandemic."

WATCH | Justyn Knight wins men's 3,000 metres at Millrose Games:

Canadian Justyn Knight claimed the top spot in the men's 3,000m race at the Millrose Games from New York City. 2:13

"I do understand what (McBean) is saying," said Knight, who won three NCAA titles during his four years running at Syracuse University. "I'm in Virginia and able to find trails and be completely isolated. But if I was back in Toronto, I wouldn't have anywhere to run because Toronto is a hot (spot) for this pandemic.

Getting creative with training

"Whether athletes can train or not, (pulling) them out of the Olympics isn't going to make a difference on what (the IOC) is doing. I'm sure people are still going to be training because you can't go from training to dropping everything. We're going to find a way to do something."

"The IOC is supposed to have a non-biased opinion and hold the athletes' health over everything else," continued Knight, who set a Canadian indoor record in the men's 1,500 in February. "If it is able to live with its decision, has done its due diligence and deemed (an Olympics) being safe (to start July 24 or later this year) I find it weird that wouldn't be safe by (the COC's) standards."

Watson, in a recent interview with chatnewstoday.ca in her hometown of Medicine Hat, Alta., was hopeful the Olympics would be held this year, "but I think it could change at any minute."

WATCH | Sage Watson has issue with COC:

After describing the COC's decision to pull Team Canada from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics until 2021 as "premature", Canadian 400m hurdles standout Sage Watson gives further insight to CBC Sports' Anson Henry as to what her issue was with the decision. 6:56

The 25-year-old, who ran under the 55:40 Olympic standard last July and three weeks later won Pan Am gold in Peru, is back home at her family ranch and getting creative with her training while in self-isolation after returning from the United States.

"I'm still doing the same workouts," she told chatnewstoday.ca, "but I'm doing them here on my gravel road at my ranch. I actually put together a little gym in our shop outside on our ranch."

For Knight, he has taken precautions for weeks to stay healthy and leaves his apartment complex before 7 a.m. for his morning run so he doesn't come across other runners.

"Everybody in the complex is taking things seriously," said Knight, who missed the Olympic standard by 1.36 seconds in the 5,000 ahead of the 2016 Games in Rio. "A lot of older people live here and I've become friends with a lot of them. I've been obeying the rules, staying in my apartment and not going out, unless it's to the grocery store or running on my own. I don't meet with my teammates.

"I can wash my hands, wear a mask, wear gloves and social distance myself but it's kind of in God's hands to help us get through this now."

About the Author

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Broadcast Partners

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.