OTTAWA — The official raised Canadian Erica Wiebe's arm to signal a victory, and her guaranteed spot at the Tokyo Olympics.
The gesture was more for show, though, with no fans in attendance to recognize her accomplishment.
“That was to nobody,” Wiebe said, laughing, about her victorious arm-raise.
The 30-year-old from Stittsville, Ont., won her semifinal bout at 76 kilograms at the Pan-American Olympic qualifying event at the Shaw Centre in downtown Ottawa on Saturday.
Wiebe's qualifier was one of the lone sporting events on the calendar on Saturday due to concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down others including the NBA, NHL and MLB.
Event organizers said on Friday the qualifier would continue, but without spectators.
The defending Olympic gold medallist from Rio at 76 kg needed only to finish top two to clinch an Olympic berth for 2020.
“I came here for one reason only — to punch my ticket to Tokyo. I knew it was going to be a challenging day regardless of the situation but I stayed in my wrestling stance and executed my game plan and I’m excited for what’s to come,” said Wiebe.
Wiebe said she’s been working hard for this moment for the better part of the last four years.
“It’s such an honour to step on the mats and wrestle for Canada,” said Wiebe. “I feel really proud to be able to do that one more time.”
Wiebe defeated Genesis Rosangela Reasco Valdez of Ecuador 6-0 in the semifinals. She won the gold medal by injury default after Aline Da Silva of Brazil pulled out.
Wiebe was disappointed to not be able to wrestle in front of many friends, family, and longtime supporters, as Wiebe’s hometown is only about 30 minutes from downtown Ottawa.
“It went from being a challenge of managing ‘I’m going to have more fans than I’ve ever had in my career watching me wrestle’ to ‘OK, it’s going to be an empty arena.’ It was interesting how the circumstances of the event really quickly evolved,” said Wiebe.
She said she was happy the organizing committee, including Wrestling Canada and United World Wrestling, made sure the event went ahead regardless.
The only other major sporting event happening on Saturday was a UFC bout in Brazil.
Wiebe said it was going to be touch-and-go all week with whether her event was going to continue or not, but said it was “amazing” they were able to compete.
“I knew maybe I’d have a chance to punch my ticket to Tokyo, maybe I wouldn’t. But in wrestling anything can happen,” said Wiebe. “This was just another aspect of that.”
Wiebe said “98 per cent” of the athletes had travelled to Ottawa a week ago and said the risk from travel was lower than other events that may have been postponed worldwide.
“It’s an individual combat sport, but the teams are pretty segregated and the risk of transmission was really low,” said Wiebe. “There are risks at any level, but they took all the necessary precautions to keep us safe. Moving forward I know that will be the case.”
Canadian teammate Danielle Lappage of Olds, Alta. also clinched a spot in Tokyo with her semifinal victory at 68 kg.
A representative from Wrestling Canada confirmed the men’s freestyle event would go ahead on Sunday as scheduled.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 14, 2020.
The Canadian Press