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Canadian Olympians have mixed reactions to decision to pull out of Tokyo 2020

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The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) put their feet down on Sunday night when both announced they will not be sending athletes to the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games if the events take place as scheduled.

As the COVID-19 global pandemic flipped life as we know it upside down, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) seemingly refused to blink as an increasing amount of chatter within the sports world about postponing two of the summer’s largest sporting events began to be heard. It was only earlier on Sunday that the IOC finally admitted postponing the Olympics and Paralympics was a realistic scenario.

It was then revealed that despite growing pressure from sports federations and Olympic committees around the world the IOC would make their decision on the status of the Games “within four weeks.”

That simply wasn’t good enough for the COC and CPC. With their decision to boycott the Olympics and Paralympics if they aren’t postponed, Canada became the first country to attempt force the IOC’s hand. Australia followed suit Monday morning, while athletes and senior figures in the United States and Great Britain have come out in support of pushing back the Games. U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland, however, does not plan to call for postponement, saying “My role is not to make demands of those making decisions, but to bring forward solutions.”

While many that shared their thoughts on social media stood behind the decision, some, such as hurdler Sage Watson (left), questioned the rush of the COC and CPC. (Getty Images)
While many that shared their thoughts on social media stood behind the decision, some, such as hurdler Sage Watson (left), questioned the rush of the COC and CPC. (Getty Images)

“Please remember we are all in this together as Team Canada, and as a nation,” Marnie McBean, Canada’s chef de mission for the 2020 Olympics, told CBC’s Devin Heroux on Sunday. “The key is for the Olympics to happen when it is safe and responsible for everyone.”

These drastic measures were understandably met with a variety of emotions from Canadian athletes. Many were proud of Canada’s actions as a global leader in sports. Others, however, weren’t very happy with precisely how things were handled.

Plenty of positivity

“Thank you for being global role models,” wrote Canadian race walker Evan Dunfee, who finished fourth in the 50 kilometre event at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, on Twitter. “We, the athletes, can now focus on being role models at home. We can safely follow the guidelines without worrying about what will happen come July. Thank you.”

“Let’s hope other countries are thinking the same way and now that one country has stepped forward others will too,” tweeted Reid Coolsaet, a Canadian marathoner. “Hosting Olympics in 2021 makes sense when you factor in how athletes are able to train and qualify in the coming months.”

After finishing 23rd at the 2016 Olympics, Coolsaet has been in the midst of training to attempt to run a qualifying time at the Prague Marathon on May 3, according to Sportnet’s Michael Grange.

Paralympic sprinter Marissa Papaconstantinou echoed a similar sentiment as Coolsaet. The 20-year-old also posted a full statement on Instagram.

“Competing in the Olympics is my #1 goal but I fully support this decision and I commend our leadership for taking a stand,” wrote Canadian doubles tennis star Gabriela Dabrowski on Twitter. “I hope more nations follow suit.”

Even more mixed emotions

“I’m heartbroken by the COC decision to not send athletes to a 2020 Olympic Games,” wrote Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe in a series of posts on Twitter. “But I admire their leadership in this moment in time and I believe we are standing on the right side of history.

“I hope that the IOC will do the right thing and postpone the Olympics until 2021. I hope they choose this opportunity to lead with integrity and put humanity first.”

[Related: Raptors Over Everything Podcast: Canada withdraws from 2020 Tokyo Olympics]

“This is painfully hard to comprehend,” tweeted Janine Beckie, a member of Canada’s women’s soccer team that won bronze at the 2016 Olympics. “An impossible situation, a hard decision, but the right decision. Proud to be part of Team Canada.”

“Tough decision but the right one,” added tennis standout Vasek Pospisil on Twitter. “Athletes can wait. Sporting events can wait. This is bigger than sports.”

The confused and disappointed

One of the most vocal after the announcement was Sage Watson, a 400 metre hurdler and member of the Canadian 4x400 metre relay team that finished fourth at the last Summer Olympics.

After interacting with some people who replied to her initial reaction, the 25-year-old followed up with another post just over an hour later.

“We need to put our attention on to this pandemic not athletics,” she tweeted. “Those decisions can wait. The IOC needs to postpone the games, but countries dropping out and not standing together upsets me. We need to make this decision as a WORLD not separate countries. Put our world first.”

Long-distance runner Justyn Knight, Canada’s current record holder in the 1,500 metres, seemed to be on the same wavelength as Watson.

The 23-year-old from Toronto has been gearing up for his first Olympics and turning plenty of heads on the track.

The reaction of sprinter Jerome Blake, also eyeing his first Games, was much more subdued and raw.

Fellow sprinter Brendon Rodney, who was part of the Canadian 4x100 metre relay team that won bronze at the 2016 Olympics, went in a slightly different direction with his posts to Twitter.

Lappage puts it all in perspective

Of all the activity on social media from Canadian athletes, nobody’s attitude to the situation hit quite as hard as that of wrestler Danielle Lappage.

The last 10 days have been quite the rollercoaster for the 29-year-old. On March 14, Lappage and Wiebe earned their Tokyo Olympic berths at the Pan-American Olympic qualifying event in Ottawa.

“As you all congratulate the COC and voice your agreement with their decision today, I hope you think of us athletes, who have been training for what seems like our whole live for August 2020, who had it in our grips and had it pulled out from under us,” she wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. “It can’t be as simple as ‘that’s the right choice’ — it can’t be because of how much it hurts... A once in a lifetime chance to participate in the pinnacle of amateur sports and man, we were so close. Please be gentle with your words because some of us are having a very hard time with this news.”

Many of Canada’s biggest names quiet so far

While some of Canada’s most successful Olympians and Paralympians from past Games have expressed their support — including, but not limited to, Hayley Wickenheiser, Adam van Koeverden, Clara Hughes and Michelle Stilwell — many of the country’s current stars in high performance sports have yet to say much as of late Sunday night.

Swimmer Penny Oleksiak (a four-time medallist at the 2016 Olympics), sprinter Andre De Grasse (a three-time Olympic medallist in 2016), diver Meaghan Benfeito (a three-time Olympic medal winner) and wheelchair racer Brent Lakatos (a four-time medallist at the 2016 Paralympics) haven’t posted anything to Twitter or Instagram since the news dropped.

Meanwhile, rugby sevens spark plug Bianca Farella (part of the Canadian team that won bronze in Rio), swimmer Taylor Ruck (two-time Olympic medallist in 2016) and Kylie Masse (Olympic bronze medallist in the women’s 100 metre backstroke) all spread the news via their Instagram stories. Three-time Paralympic swimming champion and five-time Paralympic medallist Aurélie Rivard did the same.

Two-time reigning Olympic trampoline champion Rosie MacLennan and gymnast Ellie Black were among the group of athletes that simply retweeted the news.

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