Q&A: What do Canadian athletes face when trodding an unknown path to Tokyo 2020

The countdown clock has been reset. Canada pushed for postponements of the Tokyo Games and got them.

The 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will now open July 23 and Aug. 24 respectively in 2021.

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Amid the uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought upon all aspects of life, athletes at least have a target on the distant horizon.

How to get there ready to compete for the podium is murky, however. Turning the extra time into a blessing instead of a curse is a puzzle athletes and coaches must solve.

The Canadian Press tackles some questions surrounding Canada's 2021 athletes and teams.


What are the major challenges Canadian athletes face because of the postponement?

Qualification: The majority have not yet met both the international and domestic standards to have their names on 2021 Olympic and Paralympic rosters. Winning world championship and World Cup medals in an event last year may have qualified a Canadian entry in Tokyo, but the athletes still have to prove to their national federations they deserve to fill it. When will qualification re-start? Will criteria change? Another year is time to move up, and down, a depth chart. National federations will likely require proof of fitness next year for the few athletes who have already qualified.

Training: They can't train properly and don't know when they can. Facilities are shuttered. While observing the exhortations of public health officials to stay home, they're doing flips on their bed mattresses, hoisting kettle bells in their back yard and lifting weights in the living room. Runners and cyclists can train outside by themselves, sure, but how much when there isn't access to massage or physiotherapy?

Money: Sport Canada's Athletes Assistance Program — a big piece of an athlete's financial trap line — will continue, but the base rate works out to just under $22,000 annually. They're not earning prize money or performance bonuses. For those who rely on the gig economy to supplement their income, that's been crushed by the pandemic. Extending sponsorships and attracting new sponsors could be difficult in an uncertain financial climate.


What big names have yet to qualify? Swimmers Penny Oleksiak and Kylie Masse, Paralympic swimmer Aurelie Rivard, trampolinist Rosie MacLennan, canoeist Laurence Vincent Lapointe, wheelchair racer Brent Lakatos, gymnast Ellie Black.

What big names have qualified? Olympic champion wrestler Erica Wiebe, world women's beach volleyball champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, men's sport climber Sean McColl, divers Jennifer Abel and Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu (in synchronized springboard only).


What Canadian teams are in and which teams still have a chance?

Women's softball, basketball, soccer, water polo and rugby sevens, as well as men's field hockey, volleyball and rugby sevens have Olympic berths locked down.

The men's basketball team was scheduled to host a last-chance qualifying tournament in Victoria in June. New dates have yet to be announced.

The men's baseball team awaits new dates for an eight-country Americas qualifier March 22-26 in Arizona.

The men's water polo team must finish top three in a 12-country tournament rescheduled to May 31 to June 7 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Canada was a longshot to finish top two in a postponed eight-country men's soccer qualifier in Mexico, which would have concluded Tuesday.

For the Paralympics, wheelchair basketball and rugby, goalball and the women's sitting volleyball teams are in. A March qualifier for the men's sitting volleyball team in the United States was called off.


What major Canadian events impacting Olympians and Paralympians have been postponed or cancelled because of COVID-19?

Olympic and Paralympic swim and track and field trials, Calgary's Spruce Meadows equestrian summer series, Nations League men's volleyball in Calgary, Olympic men's basketball qualifying tournament in Victoria, World Series Triathlon in Montreal, Harry Jerome International Track Classic in Vancouver, Canadian men's soccer friendlies versus Trinidad in Langford, B.C., Canadian women's soccer friendly versus Australia in Vancouver.


Which Canadians are considered top medal contenders?

Sprinter Andre De Grasse in track, the women's swim team led by Masse, Oleksiak, Maggie MacNeil and Taylor Ruck, canoeist Vincent Lapointe, Paralympians Rivard and Lakatos, gymnasts MacLennan and Black.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2020.

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