Canadian Olympic boss says IOC plans to go ahead with Tokyo Games as rumours swirl
Canada's athletes attempt to tune out doldrums 6 months out of scheduled start date
Erica Wiebe had just wrapped up a training session on Thursday night when the messages started pouring in before she had a chance to check social media.
"Ignore the reports," wrestling teammate Jasmine Mian texted her.
Olympic gymnastics champion Kyle Shewfelt encouraged Wiebe to "Stay focused. Be strong."
The positive thoughts came in the aftermath of The Times of London report that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It can be overwhelming on the best of days, Wiebe said.
"Being really clear on your purpose in this whole thing, and having goals that you can work toward on a daily basis, weekly basis, monthly basis, definitely provides some ability to focus," said the three-time Olympian and gold medallist in Rio in 2016.
"[But] it's like man, I kinda wish we could go back and just talk about the condom shortages at the Olympic Village, you know?" she added, with a laugh.
Cancellation report 'categorically untrue'
Citing an unidentified source, the Times said the Japanese government has decided the Olympics must be cancelled. The story saw IOC president Thomas Bach and local organizers pushing back on Friday.
COC chief executive officer David Shoemaker, who'd attended a previously scheduled meting with Bach and other national Olympic committees on Friday, said the IOC reiterated that report of a cancellation is "categorically untrue."
We continue in our preparation to participate at Tokyo 2020 with a focus on the health and safety of our athletes, their families, and their communities. (3/3)—@DShoemaker_COC
Now set to open July 23, the Tokyo Games were postponed 10 months ago at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Athletes are creatures of habit, their lives, particularly in an Olympic year, meticulously scheduled.
But travel restrictions and lockdowns around the pandemic have already turned their lives upside down, and athletes who have been taught to tune out negativity are also human.
WATCH | Olympic officials deny reports that Tokyo Olympics may be cancelled:
"One thing 2020 taught me is: Kayla, just control the controllables," said Kayla Alexander, a member of Canada's women's basketball team.
"There's so many things that are outside of our control right now. I don't know what's going on with COVID. There's another couple strands out there.
"It has already postponed seasons (NBA, WNBA, NHL, among others). It's cancelled seasons. It's postponed the Olympics. It is literally out of our control."
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Women's basketball is one of eight Canadian teams that have qualified for the Olympics, which is a relief, Alexander said. Saturday marks six months to the day from the Tokyo opening ceremonies, and there are huge question marks around how qualifying will happen. Only about half of the 11,000 athletes worldwide have qualified.
"So, what can I control? I can control my attitude," said Alexander, who's playing for Belgian team Royal Castors Braine this season. "So I just try to get better every day and not focus on the big stuff. Because it can drain you. It can put you down a hole."
Canadian shot putter Brittany Crew agrees.
"Especially during COVID," she said. "Things change with the government like we change our underwear — daily. It's a hard issue to deal with, but we as athletes have learned to be adaptable.
"I used to be reactive with facility closures, meet cancellations, etc., but now I just wait a few days."
WATCH | IOC's Bach says Japan remains committed to Tokyo Games:
Sprinter Aaron Brown found the earlier months of the pandemic more difficult.
"It was the novelty of not knowing that was difficult mentally, and often disrupting my motivation and focus," he said. "[But] we lost access to our facilities and were completely taken out of our routine. We've at least seen progress since then, especially with the vaccination distributions, so there is hope down the road . . .
"The issue now is the timeline of when big global events like the Olympics will be able to occur with no roadblocks."
Many believe the vaccination of Japan's 127 million citizens will be key to hosting a successful Games. But uncertainty around that is also growing in a country ranked among the world's lowest in vaccine confidence.
Aussie Open snapshot
The Australian Open has been a snapshot of what can happen in a large gathering of athletes — 72 tennis players are under strict lockdown in Melbourne after exposure to the virus.
Surf Canada executive director Dom Domic reiterated that athletes are adaptable, calling it one of the biggest factors in success.
"That includes training and mindset. With this [Times report], it's just another hurdle, another challenge, another element within the larger natural world that we live and play in," he said. "I think surfers in general just have that ability to adapt. The ocean is uncontrollable and we play in that environment. So this is just taking that to another step, another part of the spectrum I guess."
It's not surprising that the uncertainty has taken a toll on the mental health of athletes grappling with the possibility of dreams dashed.