Canada's 2022 Beijing hopefuls keep an eye on Tokyo

·5 min read

Tokyo is a conversation topic in the vehicle when Justin Kripps and his bobsled crew are on long road trips in Europe.

Canada's winter athletes are emotionally invested in their summer brethren competing in Tokyo's Olympic and Paralympic Games, which were postponed from 2020 to this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Empathy, yes, but Tokyo pulling off its Games in a pandemic this summer would create more certainty that Beijing's 2022 Winter Games will go ahead six months later.

"It is like a test event for our Olympics," Kripps said. "You can really confidently go into the Beijing Games if you had the Tokyo Games executed, and hopefully everything goes really well."

Beijing's Winter Olympics open exactly one year from Thursday, Feb. 4, 2022, followed by the Paralympic Winter Games a month later.

Beijing has more time for the world to tame the virus, or to adopt Tokyo's adaptations if it can't.

"I just hope for a normal Olympic Games," said two-time Olympic moguls champion Mikael Kingsbury of Deux-Montagnes, Que.

"For my teammates who are going with me and it's going to be their first Olympics, I want for all the people experiencing the Olympics for the first time to know how special it is.

"I don't know where we'll be at a year from now. At this point last year, we didn't even know what COVID was. A lot changed in one year, so hopefully it will change in a good direction."

Canada is a world winter sport power, ranking third in overall medals with 29, including 11 gold, behind Norway (39) and Germany (31) in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Canada's Paralympic team ranked second with 28 medals, including eight gold, behind the United States (36).

"When we set our sights to improve, there's not a lot of spots up the ladder to go and yet we are determined, or least to set our sights on that Pyeongchang performance, and we're trying at a minimum to equal that," Canadian Olympic Committee chief executive officer David Shoemaker said..

"The COVID environment has certainly created a number of challenges in our quest to do so. We do think the Beijing Winter Games can be a real celebration of resilience for us and our Olympic team."

There isn't a Canadian athlete aspiring to be in Beijing who hasn't had World Cups or world championships cancelled, postponed or relocated this winter.

The third year of the Olympic quadrennial is when athletes start qualifying for the upcoming Games.

"It puts more pressure on the beginning of next season going into the Games, that we'll only have those events to qualify," said freestyle skier Rachael Karker of Erin, Ont.

"It's almost hard to think about right now."

The level of international competition varies wildly from sport to sport, with outdoor snow and ice events and their lower risk of virus transmission faring far better than indoor sport.

Canada's alpine skiers race regularly, albeit in an ever-changing calendar.

They'll get a world championship starting Monday in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, as will Canada's bobsled and skeleton teams starting Friday in Altenberg, Germany.

"I think we're extremely lucky to be able to do it," said Kripps, an Olympic two-man bobsled champion from Summerland, B.C.

Every short-track speedskating World Cup in 2020-21 was cancelled with only March's world championship remaining on the calendar.

Canada's top figure skaters have been limited to one event in which performances in their home rinks were recorded and judged over time.

Canada's para-alpine ski team that produced a dozen medals in Pyeongchang saw its world championship in Norway and test events in Beijing cancelled because of the pandemic.

The federal government's recent requirement to quarantine in hotels for three nights and be tested at their own expense upon arrival in Canada, makes travelling to what little competition remains cost-prohibitive for 17 athletes, said high-performance director Matt Hallatt.

So the para-alpine team will not race this winter.

"There's no question, particularly on the para-front, that's it's been a challenge for the kind of activity, the kind of training and competition outside of Canada that we would normally enjoy, especially a year out to a Winter Games," Canadian Paralympic Committee chief executive officer Karen O'Neill said.

The women's hockey team hasn't played an international game in almost a year and awaits confirmation a world championship will happen in Nova Scotia in April.

The women normally congregate in Calgary in August to begin preparing for the Winter Games.

"We're really working hard towards Beijing," captain Marie Philip-Poulin said.

"It's our goal, but also the Summer Olympics, they're in my heart. I really hope everything is going to go well for them and for us after."

Canada's long-track speed skaters began competing in a World Cup bubble in Heerenveen, the Netherlands, last month and remain there for next week's world championship.

National-level curling gets underway in Calgary later this month for the first time since last March's Tim Hortons Brier in Kingston, Ont.

"Outdoor sports have had more success," Own The Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger said.

"Certainly with each one of those indoor competitions, it's a learning for other indoor sports for sure. The curling bubble in Calgary will be another one.

"I think as a nation we're getting better and better at managing the risk, regardless of whether it's outdoors or indoors."

Canada is a regular stop on the international winter sport circuit, but mandatory quarantines made hosting the world impossible this winter.

Many Canadians who travelled to compete either delayed the start of their seasons or won't come home until their season ends in the spring.

A backdrop for this flux a year out from Beijing are the political drumbeats over host China's human-rights record.

A coalition of 180 rights groups Wednesday called for a Beijing Games boycott tied to reported human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in China.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2021.

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Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press