COVID-19 obstacles prove too difficult for athletes who did not qualify for Tokyo

COVID-19 obstacles prove too difficult for athletes who did not qualify for Tokyo

Samantha Stewart has completed more than 40 days of post-travel quarantine since early 2021.

The Canadian wrestler spent the better part of a year without training against a human opponent. She struggled in a last-ditch qualifying event in Tokyo, Europe without her trainer in her corner due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Despite everything, Stewart came within seconds of realizing his lifelong dream of competing in the Olympics.

But Romania’s Andreea Beatrice Ana beat her with a desperate withdrawal with 10 seconds left in the semifinals of the world Olympic qualifiers in May.

Shocked and distraught, Stewart still had to compete for bronze the next day in a 53kg match that suddenly meant next to nothing. She must have lost weight so took a taxi back to her hotel in Sofia, Bulgaria to sweat in the sauna. She was sitting in the steam, swaying and sobbing.

“I don’t know what’s worse, going in there and just being completely overwhelmed, or going there and literally being that close, 10 seconds and then not making that happen,” said Stewart. “I was very upset after that, and what made it a million times worse was that I felt like I had my coach [Don Ryan] there, it happened differently.

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“Speaking to my coach on the phone afterwards, analyzing the game, he said he spotted this athlete and knew she was going to take the ultimate dip in my legs. To hear her say that… to me. made it feel like if he had been there, if he had been around my corner and said something, maybe it would have changed the ending. “

For the first time since women’s wrestling made its Olympic debut in 2004, Canada will not be represented in all weight classes. Defending champion Erica Wiebe of Stittsville, Ont. (76 kg) and Danielle Lappage of Olds, Alta. (68 kg) are the only Canadian women to compete.

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Canada named 371 athletes to its full Olympic team on Tuesday, the largest team since the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. But without the global pandemic, it would have been even more important. There were athletes like Stewart who fell through the cracks.

The 31-year-old from Fredericton held back tears as she shared her story. It was a losing battle.

Uncertainty was the biggest killer, because I couldn’t plan.– Samantha Stewart

“When it’s been your dream for as long as you can remember it, and then all of these things happen to keep you from being able to prepare yourself, and all the uncertainty and all the rules change,” she said. . “Uncertainty was the biggest killer because I couldn’t plan. I had to stay away from home for long periods of time, which took you out of your safety net and out of your comfort zone.

“You don’t have your support network, my coaches weren’t traveling with me, I was traveling alone. I felt very lonely and without support.”

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Charles Philibert-Thiboutot pursued the Olympic standard of 1,500 meters for weeks, but was unsuccessful. The Quebec native and Rio Olympian said it was more due to an Achilles tendon injury in the spring than the pandemic. He had one last chance to race the qualifying standard in Montreal before the qualifying window closed in late June, but the windy weather conditions were not conducive to fast times.

Like many Canadian athletes, Philibert-Thiboutot left the country in search of chances to qualify. It was risky and expensive, and came with quarantines on return.

“It is a great psychological tension not to be able to go home”, Charles Philibert-Thiboutot on the stress of not being able to compete in Canada during the pandemic. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

“There was no race to qualify in Canada. So you had to plan at some point in your season to go to the US or Europe, ”he said. “I’ve spoken to a lot of athletes who have said ‘I’m going to plan to just leave the country for a long time.’ And it’s a big psychological strain not to be able to go home.

“Some athletes do very well. But others, not being home and training in an environment you know well … a suitcase, a lot of athletes were really borderline [on the verge] of a breakdown after that. “

In addition to normal travel costs, athletes were paying for the COVID tests that were needed to compete – between $ 100 and $ 400 per test, Philibert-Thiboutot said.

“It’s a big bill at the end,” he said. “It cost me a few thousand dollars just to get tested for all of my races.”

On the string

Regan Yee was luckier. The 26-year-old from South Hazelton, BC, was among the last of the Canadian women to qualify, reaching the standard – and shattering the Canadian record – in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase on June 30, the very last day.

“I hadn’t raced at all this summer until about two weeks before the Tokyo qualifying window closed, so it was pretty scary,” she said. “We didn’t want to go down to the United States for safety reasons, we just didn’t feel comfortable without being double vaccinated and with the quarantine restrictions when we got back to Canada. We had planned to run earlier. in Ontario, but then they put in place those interprovincial restrictions.

“So it was quite nerve-racking to stick to that last little stretch, but I have a lot of confidence in my coach. [Mark Bomba]. He’s never failed me before, and everything went well. “

Regan Yee, left, of Hazelton, BC, was among the last Canadian women to qualify for Tokyo, after shattering the Canadian record in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press / Feature)

Due to Canada’s travel restrictions and COVID-19 protocols, qualifying for Tokyo was a daunting task. Athletes had to navigate an ever-changing obstacle course of canceled events, medical clearances and facility closures, not knowing when and if they would compete again.

“It was particularly difficult for athletes from the Americas to make it to the qualifying events, compared to other qualifying quadrants around the world,” said Canada’s chef de mission, Marnie McBean, three-time Olympic gold medalist in rowing. “I always recognize the difficulties. And I would say [to athletes who didn’t qualify], ‘I am really sorry.”‘

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