Canada prepares to perform in Beijing-locked Winter Olympics

Is Canada’s caution over COVID-19 a competitive advantage in Beijing?

Safety first, sport second has been a mantra in Canada’s high-achieving community during the pandemic.

Athletes wearing Maple Leafs at the 2022 Winter Olympics watched many of their international competitors train and compete with fewer restrictions on them.

According to the Canadian Olympic Committee and Own The Podium, Canadian athletes entering Beijing’s “closed loop” encirclement are better mentally and emotionally prepared for those restrictions than their competitors. surname.

“The team is used to being locked down, they’re used to these tight controls, they’re used to the closed environment, it’s like an old hat to them,” said Anne Merklinger, who stands. OTP head said. “They know they can do it. They know they can do it.”

The Winter Olympics in Beijing open on Friday and close on February 20.

A Canadian team of 152 athletes will compete in three regions – downtown Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou.

The Canadian athletes essentially locked themselves in the days before their departure in front of Beijing and were constantly tested.

According to COC CEO David Shoemaker, they are willing to follow the Chinese rules laid out in the organizers’ books.

“Our overarching premise is that it could be a competitive opportunity for us if we not only comply with the books better than any other country, but if we follow the rules and requirements of that playbook allows us to do everything we can to minimize the impact of the virus,” COC CEO David Shoemaker told The Canadian Press.

In other words, if Beijing’s Games become a war of attrition due to the coronavirus with athletes dropping out because of the infection, it is the COC’s job to get Canadians to the starting line.

Their summer partners proved that safety and success are not mutually exclusive at the Tokyo Olympics less than six months ago. No Canadian athletes have tested positive, and the 24 medals, including seven gold, the most ranked at the Summer Olympics were not boycotted.

However, the Omicron variant, which flooded into Canada late last year and recently made its way to China, is a more contagious threat to podium ambitions.

“As our medical director Dr. Mike Wilkinson said, our goal cannot be like Tokyo, no COVID,” Shoemaker said.

“Our goal is to ensure that no Team Canada athlete is deprived of the opportunity to compete and achieve their Olympic dreams because of the virus.”

Three members of Canada’s 414 delegation, including athletes, coaches and staff, joined COVID-19 protocols on Tuesday.

The COC will not name athletes in the protocol unless the athlete wants that information to be made public.

Canada’s 29 medals four years ago in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is the most at a single Winter Olympics and ranks the country third behind Norway (39) and Germany (31).

Eleven golds are 14 behind the home team’s record of 14 won in 2010 in Vancouver and Whistler, BC

COC and OTP do not set a difficult medal target for Canada in Beijing.

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on winter sports athletes’ opportunities to train and compete at a normal, full-field level,” Merklinger said.

“We don’t have the same breadth of data points that we would like to have to recommend a performance target for the Canadian Olympic Committee to consider.

“High performance athletes, it’s part of their DNA to try to hit performance goals. We’re a very strong country in winter sports and we’re going to see that happen. again in Beijing.”

Canada’s athletes know they’ll be alone in their rooms a lot.

Those who compete in a single event will leave China quickly upon completion.

“A big part of what makes a multi-sport game, whether it’s the Olympic Games, the Canadian Games, is the interaction with other sports, being able to cheer on your teammates. ” Whitehorse cross-country skier Dahria Beatty said. “I think even within Team Canada, each sport is going to be pretty separate.

“Unfortunately, but at the same time, if it’s essential for the Olympics to happen, it’s a much better option than not being able to compete and represent your country after training. for four years for it, or even longer training if you really think about it.”

Defending Olympic men’s ski champion Brady Leman said a competitor’s absence from the field because of an infection did not reduce the value of his medal. Calgarian considers it one of the many variables his sport manages to manage on its way to victory.

“You want to beat the best, that’s for sure, when you win a medal, but at the end of the day it’s the best of the day,” Leman said.

“Unfortunately, it will probably happen to a few people. Maybe not in our sport, hopefully not in our sport, but it will happen in some sports. That’s just the reality of competing in 2022.

“I would feel bad for them, but I don’t think it will reduce any achievement at all.”

The COC will provide mental and emotional support to any Canadian athletes forced to withdraw because of COVID.

“It was both unthinkable and something we were prepared for,” says Shoemaker.

Beijing’s closed-loop measures give him confidence that the Canadian athletes can march into the Bird’s Nest during Friday’s opening ceremony without risking infection.

“For athletes in the mountains, although they are welcome to participate in the opening ceremony, it is not what we recommend because of the long distances they have to travel to be able to do so. ,” he said.

“For the athletes in Beijing, for the integrity of the closed loop, and as long as it works well and fits their goals and performance schedule, we encourage them to attend. “

OTP provides technical expertise for sports, summer and winter, Olympic and Paralympic confederations.

The OTP also makes recommendations for direct funding of nearly $70 million in government funds annually to federations whose athletes demonstrate future medal potential.

COC contributes $15 million to OTP’s targeted excellence strategy, which prepares athletes to enter the Game environment, takes care of their needs on the ground at the Game, and pays for it. That is through corporate sponsorship.

The COC also awards $20,000 to Olympic gold medals, $15,000 to silver, and $10,000 to bronze medalists. Their coaches are rewarded at half that rate.

Canadian taxpayers are the biggest investors in high-performance sports. The federal government spends about $200 million annually as financial support for athletes and the organization of international events is increased.

This Canadian Press report was first published on February 1, 2022.

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