While there is certainly frustration with the postponement of the Olympic Games, athletes agree that everyone needs to have the same opportunity to prepare and train for the games—coronavirus could disproportionally be affecting athlete’s training.
Canoe slalom paddler Alexander Slafkovsky, canoe sprinter Linnea Stensil, and paracanoeist Curtis McGrath have all voiced support for the postponement of Tokyo 2020, saying they would not want to compete against athletes who have not had the same opportunity to prepare because of the coronavirus.
Slovakia’s Slafkovsky is getting some rare time with his children, Sweden’s Stensils has finally painted a wall in her apartment, and Australia’s McGrath is planting a vegetable garden as the three athletes cope with quarantine restrictions in their countries.
The trio talked about their experiences on the inaugural ICF podcast, How Sport Stars cope in Covid-19 lockdown. All three spoke of their frustrations and disappointment, but all agreed the decision to postpone the Games was the right one.
Their situations are being experienced by athletes all over the world. Slafkovsky was hoping to make his Olympic debut in canoe slalom, Stensils was set for her second Olympics in canoe sprint, and McGrath had his sights set on double gold in paracanoe at the Paralympics.
McGrath won gold when paracanoe made its Paralympic debut in Rio in 2016, and he is hoping to make history by winning two gold medals in Tokyo next year. But he also wants it to be a fair and even competition.
“You want to be going to the Games where everyone has had the ability to prepare, and you want to race once everyone has had the chance to prepare enough to be at the Games,” McGrath said. “It would be a tragedy to rock up, and half the countries have not had the opportunity to prepare or to train. For me here in Australia, we’ve still got the opportunity to get on the water, but it’s still going to be a long road.”
Slafkovsky agrees. “It would be unfair to all the other athletes who really cannot do anything,” he said. “Here in Slovakia we can do something, kind of, but really everyone is in the same boat. We cannot say, okay let’s go out and train and do a race, while the rest of the world is locked down. We have to come to the point where everyone is safe, able to train, and prepare before we can restart.”
Sweden has not had the restrictions many other countries have had during the coronavirus outbreak, but athletes are being asked to avoid travel where they can, and not to put other people’s health at risk.
For Stensils, who made her Olympic debut in Rio and has already earned her country a quota for Tokyo, the biggest frustration is not being able to plan ahead.
“I don’t want to make so many plans, because I feel like we are always making plans, and then some new information comes and you can’t do those plans,” Stensils said. “I’m just trying to take it one day at a time, trying to focus on that day, and if something happens it won’t affect the plan too much, because it takes time and it takes energy to make plans, especially for me because I have to do all the plans on my own. So I’m just trying not to plan too much, and enjoy the things that I can do.”
She said even though the news was not unexpected, she still felt crushed when the announcement to postpone the Olympics was made. “I was quite empty and unmotivated when this decision came,” she said. “It was nice to know definitely that there would be no Olympics, but before then I didn’t know what to do. Now I’ll just try and do the training I can.”
McGrath had just completed the Australian paracanoe selection trials and had earned the right to be selected to go to Tokyo when news of the postponement came through. “It was a bit of a demotivating point at the time, but now I see it as an opportunity to capitalise on the time we’ve been given and work on the things I need to work on,” he said. “When you get into a Games year, it goes so fast, so in a way we’ve been given a gift of time.”
Despite being one of the world’s foremost canoe slalom paddlers, Alexander Slafkovsky has never been to an Olympics. He has already stated Tokyo will be his last chance, and he was tracking well in the Slovakian selection race before the shutdown took over.
Slovakia has had some of the toughest quarantine conditions in the world. Slafkovsky can’t even get out on the water. “I was prepared for it, it was not unexpected,” Slafkovsky said. “I said to myself ‘okay, that’s the decision, we have to deal with it and prepare for the next thing’. The problem is we don’t know what will be the next thing. We are just hoping it will stop in the middle of the summer, and everything will go on as before. But with the situation as it is in the US right now, it doesn’t seem by summer that the world will be okay.”
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