Island athletes ready for a most unusual Olympics

About 75 Island or Island-based athletes will compete in the Tokyo Olympics over the next 16 days and the Tokyo Paralympics to follow next month.

And despite all the uncertainty leading up to the Games, athletes such as cyclist Haley Smith, who trains at Bear Mountain, say they’re grateful that it’s happening at all.

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“We did not know if this was going to happen and now it’s real,” she said from Spain, where she was training last week before departing to Japan.

Track cyclist Jay Lamoureux of Victoria, who will compete on the Canadian pursuit team in the Olympic velodrome, feels the same way. “What matters most is that the Games are ­happening,” he said last week before leaving for Tokyo.

Its unique circumstances will make the Tokyo Olympics memorable, many Island Olympians said as they looked to the opening ceremony that was to be conducted in a mostly empty stadium today.

Only 30 to 40 Canadian athletes were set to march behind Langford-based rugby player and co-flagbearer Nathan Hirayama in a ceremony that began at 4 a.m. Pacific.

No spectators were allowed for the opening — only International Olympic Committee officials and corporate sponsors. That’s set to be the case for the sports competitions at all the venues.

“But it’s still such a special event and a sign of the beginning of something that has been in doubt over the last 16 months,” said Hirayama.

Olympic diver Celina Toth of the Victoria Boardworks Club was one of the few Canadian athletes set to march in the opening ceremony. The Canadian Olympic Committee left it up to each team. “We don’t compete in the Games for two weeks yet, so our schedule allowed for it,” said Toth on Thursday from Tokyo.

Toth said while the absence of fans is unfortunate, she’s excited to be marching. “It’s still the Olympics.”

Tokyo Olympic rugby player Pat Kay of Duncan compared the Tokyo Olympics with “the boycotted Olympics or the other weird ones.”

There was Montreal and the debt, Munich and the massacre, Moscow and the boycott. Now Tokyo and the pandemic.

“No matter the circumstances out of our control, I’m still proud and excited to be an Olympian,” said Kay, a graduate of Cowichan Secondary.

Kraig Devlin, a Saanich firefighter who serves as high performance director and team leader for the Canadian Tokyo Olympic karate team, said: “It’s been a rollercoaster ride with a lot of uncertainty. But I’m very excited and honoured to be a part of this Olympics.”

Since the karate doesn’t take place until the second-to-last day of the Games, on Aug. 7, Devlin and the karate team won’t depart until July 29. So, was he planning to stay up bleary-eyed to watch the opening ceremony live?

“To be honest, I will sleep and record it to watch later in the morning,” he said.

Devlin said he has no reservations about going to Tokyo.

“It’s our job to keep the Japanese public safe because they are the ones shouldering this whole Olympics,” he said. “We will keep our protocols tight. The COC has been unbelievably organized about this and the logistical support they have provided has been huge. I feel quite prepared going in.”

The unusual nature of these Olympics sank in long ago, said Canadian rugby player Connor Braid of Victoria, who called it “water off a duck’s back by now.”

“I think most athletes [in] Tokyo have long since acknowledged this will not be the normal Olympic experience,” he said before leaving for Tokyo. “This is more about the process and knowing what you can and can’t control.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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