Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe set for 1st competition since March
Rio gold medallist to join fellow Canadian Amar Dhesi at Individual World Cup in Dec.
Canada's Erica Wiebe will make her long-awaited return to competition in December.
Wiebe, 31, and fellow Canadian Amar Dhesi, 25, are set to fight at United World Wrestling's Individual World Cup in December in Belgrade, Serbia.
The pair last competed in March's Pan Am Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where each booked a ticket to the upcoming Tokyo Games.
"This competition will be a huge step in my Olympic preparations by providing an opportunity to gain experience competing in these new, uncertain circumstances," said Wiebe, the 2016 Rio gold medallist.
"I'm hungry to compete and build towards my Tokyo performance goals."
Wiebe, of Stittsville, Ont., competes in the 75 kilogram weight class.
"It's been really crazy because in my 10 years on the Canadian national team, I've never not competed for this long," she said.
"I'm wrestling and training better than I ever have. I've just taken so much time to develop, to really dig into some technical and tactical skills. The training volumes are so different compared to when we're traveling to Europe every month."
Dhesi, meanwhile, is working towards his Olympic debut, where he'll fight at 125 kg.
Dhesi, the Surrey B.C., native who trains in Columbus, Ohio, beat 2016 Olympian Korey Jarvis of Elliot Lake, Ont., to win the top heavyweight spot at the Canadian Wrestling Trials in December 2019.
"All this training doesn't doesn't actually prepare for the real thing on the mat," Dhesi told The Canadian Press from Columbus.
"I need to get in front of a real referee and stand beside a real opponent, blow the whistle and see what happens. I'm just grateful Canada is letting us go."
United World Wrestling president Nenad Lalovic said the return to competition is important for all athletes.
"There are real challenges to overcome, but we are working together to find a safe and acceptable format where our top athletes can compete in a world class event," Lalovic said.
Risk vs. reward
Wrestling Canada wrestled with risk and reward in deciding the World Cup was an option for the Canadian team. Some athletes chose not to go.
"We've had athletes that training wise are probably ready to go and compete in Serbia, but don't feel comfortable doing so," high-performance director Lucas O'Ceallachain said.
"We haven't forced anybody to do that. We have some athletes that still live at home, that have elderly relatives that live with them that will be considered high risk."
Canada's six-person contingent will consist of O'Ceallachain, Wiebe, Dhesi, their coaches and an athletic therapist.
Wrestling Canada used the return-to-competition assessment tool developed by Own The Podium and the Canadian Olympic Committee, as well as consulting medical experts, to determine how safe it was for Canadian athletes to compete in Belgrade.
"They are precious cargo," O'Ceallachain said. "We take it very seriously how we're going to take care of them.
"Serbia has been very good at providing extensive documentation in terms of what their plans are and what they're going to do. We feel they're doing everything they possibly can.
"We're full of trepidation, anxiety, but we're also excited to get back at it."
O'Ceallachain says he also sought advice from Canada's winter-sport teams already competing in Europe, as well as the Canadian judo team that travelled to Guadalajara, Mexico, and Budapest, Hungary for competition in recent weeks.
Wiebe intends to take part in Alberta's rapid-testing pilot program for international travellers at the Calgary airport upon return.
That could shorten her quarantine from the required 14 days if Wiebe tests negative.
Competing in Belgrade means she won't spend the holidays with her family in Ontario.
"It's a really big sacrifice that's really important for me right now," Wiebe said.
With files from The Canadian Press