Canadian boxing team in holding pattern after Olympic trial event cancelled
International Olympic Committee task force 'doing its utmost' to find best solution
Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold had been trying to tune out negative COVID-19 news and focus solely on training and her quest for a Tokyo Olympic berth.
But the two-time Pan American Games champion woke up from a nap Wednesday morning to bad news she couldn't avoid. The Americas Olympic qualifying event later this month in Buenos Aires had been cancelled amid the global spread of the disease, leaving Bujold and 12 Canadian teammates in limbo.
"I've been avoiding a bit of the news because all the stuff about the Olympics being cancelled. Are they cancelled? Are they not? I just want to focus on what I need to do, so I've been trying to avoid it, but I didn't think this was going to happen," Bujold said. "I thought maybe they would get the qualifier [completed] before the virus got too bad … and I haven't heard of any cases in Argentina. Seemed like a safe place to be going."
On Wednesday however, Argentina was among three Latin American countries to isolate travellers from countries stricken by COVID-19, and was the first Latin American country to register a death attributed to the virus last Saturday.
Canada was sending a team of 13 boxers next week to Argentina for the March 26 to April 3 event.
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The IOC Boxing Task Force (BTF) said in a statement it's "doing its utmost to find the best solution."
Bujold, a 32-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., said complicating matters is the fact that elite athletes peak for certain events, such as Olympic qualifying tournaments and the Games themselves.
Asia and Oceania qualifier also called off
"That's the toughest part," she said. "It's hard right now because we don't really have an: 'OK, it's not happening on the 26th, but maybe it's going to be happening in three weeks,' so you can kind of plan.
"Right now we're sitting in limbo. Is it going to happen? Is it not going to happen? Is it going to happen in two months? Is it going to happen in two weeks? That really changes what you need to do for your periodization, and how you need to change your training right now."
Concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, also caused the postponement of the Asia and Oceania qualifier which was originally scheduled for Wuhan, China — the hub of the initial outbreak of the virus — in early February. That event was switched to Jordan's capital Amman with the finals taking place Wednesday.
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The African continental Olympic qualifying event has already been held, while the European Olympic qualifier opens Friday in London.
The BTF's decision to cancel the Buenos Aires tournament was latest in a long list of events that have been cancelled because of COVID-19.
"The BTF understands and respects the decision taken by the public authorities of Argentina during this difficult time worldwide," the task force said in a statement. "We are searching for the appropriate solution for this unexpected situation and will immediately inform the National Olympic Committees, National Federations and other impacted parties as soon as further information is available."
The Canadian Olympic Committee said that approximately 11 National Sport Organizations, including boxing, have had their qualification path disrupted.
This weekend's Olympic wrestling qualification tournament in Ottawa, however, is still a go. Canada's reigning Olympic champion Erica Wiebe is among athletes competing at the Pan-American Olympic qualifier which runs Thursday through Sunday at the Shaw Centre.
Bujold said boxers were told they could hear as soon as within the next 24 hours of alternate arrangements. In the meantime, she's remaining positive.
"At this point, I have a training partner in town and I'm just taking advantage of the opportunity that I have, staying focused on what it is that I am working on, and it gives me extra time to perfect the things that we've been working on," she said. "So it's unfortunate, but at the same time, you'd just got to take whatever positive you can out of it, and just hope for the best."
The 11-time national champion at 51 kilograms is used to dealing with adversity. Bujold fell ill at the Rio Olympics, and was unhooked from an I.V. and taken directly to the boxing venue from the hospital ahead of her quarterfinal bout against China's Ren Cancan. She couldn't even muster the energy to warm up and was soundly beaten. Three months after Rio, her coach Adrian Teodorescu died of cancer.
"It's not been a smooth path so far," she said Wednesday.
Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover. The Public Health Agency of Canada says the risk to the general population is low.
However, for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over, those with compromised immune systems and those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe. Among the Canadians diagnosed with the illness so far, fewer than 15 per cent have required hospitalization.