Though the Tokyo Summer Olympics were originally supposed to take place in 2020, they were postponed until the summer of 2021 due to COVID-19. This brought controversy, uncertainty and several challenges and setbacks to participating athletes. In several countries, gyms, training, and equipment have been extremely limited due to COVID precautions. All of this has made the run-up to the Olympics one like no other.
Canadian Olympics athletes shared their thoughts with 8forty.ca about their feelings about the upcoming Olympics. Participating athletes, especially on the swim team, have had difficulties training.
Evan Dunfee, Olympic race walker, found that a few of his teammates had found creative ways to manage around certain facilities being closed. He stated, “It was amazing to see what my swim teammates were able to put together; they made little contraptions so they could swim in their backyard.”
Dunfee considers himself fortunate as a race walker as all he needs is space and a pathway to train. However, he did find it difficult to train through certain environments, as well as setback some training methods. “I missed on training camps such as going down for winter training in Australia and testing my skills against athletes around the world,” Dunfee told 8fifty via an interview. “I also missed out on altitude camps taking place in Tokyo.”
Altitude training is essential to athletes as rapid change in altitude can impact your athletic performance. Altitude training adjusts your body to different environments and it boosts performance as your body produces more red blood cells.
The mindset of athletes has changed since the pandemic as they are concerned about the uncertainty of whether the Olympics will be held at all alongside the usual stress of the preparation for the competition.
Athletes have had to approach the preparation for the Olympics differently due to uncertainty. Rumors, discussions and protests have been swirling about this significant event that many athletes have been preparing their entire lives for, raising questions about the effects of the uncertainty on their mindset.
Trevor Hofbauer, Canadian marathon team member, finds that the debate of whether the games will take place makes it difficult for him to focus. “It can be a little distracting at times,” Hofbauer said. “Especially back in February, there was an article from a major news source that came out stating a senior official caught wind of a talk that it would be canceled.”
Still, athletes have found ways to cope with all of the outside discussion.
Canadian marathon team member, Dayna Pidorhesky, says narrowing down what is under your control is the most important.
“I think it’s important to recognize what you can control and what you can’t control. I can control (to a degree) my preparations both physically and mentally into the Olympic Games. I want to be healthy and fit to give myself the best chance of success. I can’t control the uncertainty around the games so it’s best to just work hard and keep my head down.”
The 2021 Olympics also brought controversy to the table when the IOC announced that any political acts or protests would be banned, upholding Rule 50, which they were under sustained pressure to relax.
The Olympic Charter states “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
Athletes are told they can use platforms such as press conferences and social media to promulgate their opinion to the public. However, some Canadian athletes are a bit skeptical about the rule.
“I do understand that if every single podium involved a protest that could be extremely disruptive,” Pidorhesky said. “That said, medalling at the Olympic Games might be the only opportunity for that athlete to voice an injustice or let their voice be heard which is a major opportunity and could lead to positive change.“
In addition, Evan Dunfee expressed how politics and sports have always been intertwined.
“Multiple countries such as East Germany and the Soviets push an ideology using sport. In 2018 when South Korean and North Korea had a joint women’s hockey team the IOC constantly promoted the event and its importance to solving global issues. When it’s convenient to them they happily point to their political influence. It’s frustrating because they’re hypocrites,” Dunfee said.
Rule 50 being upheld has brought debate among the fans as well. In informal polls held by a Burnaby student on Instagram and SurveyMonkey, 56% of people believed athletes should be capable of using their podium as a platform to speak whereas 44% believed sports and politics shouldn’t be involved and the podium isn’t a platform for athletes to share their political or religious views.
Dunfee says of the IOC, “They don’t want the athletes to be heard. They don’t want the athletes to use their moment in the spotlight to push any agendas.”
Image credit: Arne Müseler