It became official: It will be a dream deferred not a dream denied.
Island athletes, coaches and sports officials looking for clarity about the Tokyo Olympics got it Tuesday with the announcement the 2020 Summer Games have been officially postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a good call. It’s in the best interest of the athletes and their health,” said Pat Kay of Duncan, a player on the Canadian rugby sevens team, which has qualified for the Tokyo Games.
Past Island athletes have been affected by Olympic cancellations due to world wars in 1916, 1940 and 1944, endured a massacre in 1972 at Munich and a boycott of Moscow in 1980. But never before has there been a postponement of an Olympic Games.
“Having the Olympics only postponed [not cancelled] is a next- best scenario,” said Kay. “It’s been difficult to digest because things were changing every day. A day and a half ago, it was only Canada that was not going. Now everyone is in the same boat preparing for next year’s Olympics in Tokyo. I’m just one person. Everyone is affected by this thing and athletes can’t feel sorry for themselves.”
But even with clarity will come a period of limbo. In men’s sevens rugby, for instance, the Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris and London World Series tournaments slated for this spring and summer have all been postponed. So too the women’s Canada Sevens which had been scheduled for May at Westhills Stadium in Langford.
“It’s impossible to plan ahead at this time,” said Kay, a graduate of the Cowichan Secondary Thunderbirds.
“You almost now treat it as an off-season and turn the switch off. It’s always changing. But everyone can do their part by isolating, which we have been doing as athletes.”
CEO Terry Dillon of Island-based Rowing Canada agreed that not much will happen this summer in sport. He said Rowing Canada has targeted September, but admitted it could be as late as November, before serious activity resumes on Elk and Quamichan lakes. Canada had qualified six boats for the Tokyo Olympics and was looking for more before the last chance-Olympic qualifier scheduled for June at Lucerne, Switzerland, was cancelled.
“We will begin our [seat] selection process for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021 when it is safe to do so,” said Dillon.
Canada was the first country to declare, even ahead of Tuesday’s postponement, that it would not attend an Olympics held this year. “Our main concern is for the care and support of our athletes. I am proud of what Canada did,” said Dillon.
With team activities banned, self-training has become the order of the day. But that has its limits.
“We don’t want athletes right now to be pounding out the kilometres on indoor ERG machines because we want everyone’s immune system to be up at this time,” said Dillon.
Yet, some moderate activity is required, especially for elite athletes.
Lambrick Park graduate Emma Entzminger, who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with the Canadian women’s softball team, has set up a makeshift gym in the garage of her Victoria home with weights and other equipment donated by family. She looked on the bright side: “We have more time to prepare for Tokyo in 2021. Now that we have an official answer about a postponement, we can settle down a bit [in terms of anxiety] and mentally recharge.”
Entzminger said she strongly supports the postponement: “I am proud of Canada [for being the first nation to say it would not attend the Games in 2020] because this situation is bigger than sports. Health is No. 1.”
Ten national sport federations have training centres on the Island. With those transplanted athletes, and the many home-grown Olympians the Island produces, more than 50 Island or Island-based athletes were expected to compete in the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
The Langford-based Canadian women’s rugby sevens team, tied for second in the World Series standings, was again an Olympic medal favourite for Tokyo after taking bronze at the 2016 Rio Summer Games.
“It is the most logical and safest decision,” said Canadian head coach John Tait of Mill Bay.
“And it could be a huge success a year from now in welcoming the world back [from the pandemic].”
Meanwhile, 43 per cent of Olympic berths for Tokyo 2020 had yet to be filled, among them the last four men’s basketball slots. Organizers said Victoria is prepared to host a last-chance Olympic basketball qualifier next year at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. It had originally been scheduled for June in the Memorial Centre but that has been scrubbed due to postponement of the Tokyo Games to 2021.
“We are committed to organize the qualifying tournament at a time when it is safe to do so,” said Clint Hamilton, chair of the local organizing committee.