Melissa Bishop won't let rare Victoria snow stop her quest for Tokyo gold

The punchline almost writes itself: track athlete Melissa Bishop came to Victoria to train for the Tokyo Olympic Games only to find she brought her home-province Ontario weather with her.

“The question was: ‘Where can we go in Canada to train [with the Canada-U.S. border closed]?’ ” The only real option was Victoria,” said Bishop.

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Now, snow-covered Victoria.

But it won’t last long. Soon it will be back to dank, grey Victoria winter. But you can run in the rain and 8 C better than you can in sunshine and -13 C, which her hometown Eganville, Ont., was on Saturday.

And there are plenty of support systems that athletes can hook into in Victoria. That’s why so many national training centres are located here with more than 75 Island or Island-based athletes expected to compete in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer.

“The Athletics Canada Western Hub, based in Victoria, is incredible and so are the facilities and support services here for athletes — everything from nutrition to physio and ­massage,” Bishop said.

She is here for a three-month training block on the Centennial Stadium and PISE tracks. Her husband, Osi Nriagu, and their two-year-old daughter, Corinne, have joined her for the three months.

“It’s Daddy Day Care,” Bishop quipped.

It’s a family mission.

Fourth-place is the toughest finish in the Olympics, which is where Bishop placed in the women’s 800 metres at Rio 2016 in a Canadian record 1:57.02.

The event was controversial because of the inclusion of intersex athletes, who naturally produce elevated levels of testosterone, including gold medallist Caster Semenya of South Africa.

Bishop, who eclipsed the former Canadian 800-metre record held by Diane Cummins of Victoria, was silver medallist in the 2015 IAAF world championships. She knows the podium in Tokyo is attainable.

“I look at the Olympics as unfinished business,” said Bishop, 32.

“I am hungrier than I have ever been.”

That hunger will be fed by the Victoria training stint running through March. She knows the city well through her appearances over the years at national-level meets at Centennial Stadium.

“So many in the Island running community have reached out to me since I arrived,” Bishop said.

It’s clear the International Olympic Committee, Japanese government and organizers are adamant the Tokyo Olympics, already delayed a year, will go ahead in July. In what form, or whether spectators will be allowed, is not known.

“What we do know is that these Games will be really different,” said Bishop a veteran of the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics, and also Commonwealth and Pan Am Games.

“I have no safety concerns about going to Tokyo. I am confident the IOC and COC [Canadian Olympic Committee] will do their jobs regarding everybody’s safety.”

Bishop said athletes have no choice but to train as if the Tokyo Games will happen. Anything less would be to court failure.

“My worst-case scenario is that the Olympics go ahead and I’m not prepared,” she said.

“You have to be ready to compete, no matter what happens, and no matter if the Games go on or not. That’s all any athlete can do – prepare and be ready, no matter what eventually happens. It’s not just me, it’s every athlete in the world. We’ve all had the same hill to climb through this [pandemic].”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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