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This article was published 23/3/2020 (792 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
This was shaping up to be Shae Fournier’s year.
Monumental, life-changing accomplishments were on the agenda in 2020 for the Winnipeg product. While a Sept. 12 wedding will likely proceed without a hitch, the same can’t be said for her Olympic debut.
Fournier, 27, a key member of Canada’s national women’s water polo squad, is among hundreds of athletes from coast to coast directly affected by the country’s refusal Sunday to send athletes to the upcoming Summer Games in Tokyo amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee issued joint statements saying that unless the Games are pushed from this summer to 2021, a red-and-white-clad contingent will be noticeably absent.
It’s a bold move that many athletes, including Fournier, applaud.
"For me, it wasn’t a surprise at all. No one’s really able to do any real training right now. To have that dream on the line and everybody basically unable to play to their potential just isn’t fair," Fournier said from her home in Montreal.
"As athletes, we live our lives on four-year cycles. So, you expect it to stay the same, and it’s hard to accept when it doesn’t."
Fournier is one of about a dozen Manitoba athletes who had either confirmed their participation or still had a chance to qualify for the Games in their respective discipline.
Other homegrown, high-performance athletes with their Tokyo Olympics hopes dashed, at least for the time being, include two-time Olympic bronze medallist Desiree Scott (soccer), Tyler Mislawchuk (triathlon), Skylar Park (taekwondo), Jason DeRocco (indoor volleyball), Misha Sweet (fencing), Isabela Onyshko (gymnastics), Kelsey Wog (swimming), Leanne Taylor (para-triathlon) and Carolyn Lindner (para-archery).
"I’m receiving a lot of support from people who are sad that I won’t go to the Games. But I’m not seeing the release Canada put out as we’re not going to the Games, it’s more that we don’t want to go when it’s dangerous. We just want to go later," said Fournier.
"I’m just trying to stay in the mindset of we’re doing everything we can so that we can still have the Olympics that we deserve to have, that we worked to have. So, as much as it sucks that it’s postponed, I have to take it as I’m still going to get it."
Canada’s women’s water polo team booked its Summer Games ticket seven months ago at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, defeating Brazil in the semifinals to qualify before a loss to powerhouse United States with the gold medal on the line.
"That was the highlight of my career so far, but I’m hoping the actual Olympics becomes the new highlight," said Fournier, a two-time Pan Am Games silver medallist (2015 in Toronto, 2019 in Lima). She left Winnipeg in 2010 after graduating from Grant Park High School — right next to Pan Am Pool, where she honed her skills with the Bushido Water Polo Club — and accepted an athletic scholarship to Indiana University, where she starred with the Hoosiers women’s team.
She played professionally (Sis Roma) in Italy this season (October to January), and has been monitoring the crisis there and checking in regularly on the well-being of her Italian teammates.
Park, 20, qualified for the Olympics on the strength of a remarkable 2019 taekwondo season, which included winning a silver medal in Peru and a top finish at a December event in Moscow. For the University of Manitoba kinesiology student, who is ranked fifth in the world in the women’s under-57 kilogram division, Sunday’s news was like a thunderous kick to the gut.
"At first, it was just surreal. You dream about it your entire life, as many athletes have, and then it’s like it’s all falling apart," said Park. "I was very disappointed, very sad. No one could have imagined this happening. But I think we have to take the proper steps to keep everyone safe and everyone healthy.
"As athletes, we train for the worst and we train for the unexpected but we hope for the best. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen. I think all of us on Team Canada are ready for whatever comes our way and we’ll adapt to that."
Sweet had a legitimate opportunity to crack Canada’s fencing team with a solid showing at the Anaheim Grand Prix earlier this month. But all Olympic qualifying events in fencing were suspended indefinitely on March 12, the night before he was to begin competing in men’s foil.
"Going into that competition with three spots open... between maybe five or six athletes that were in contention, it was so tight that if anyone did just a little bit better than anyone else, they were going (to the Olympics)," said Sweet, 23, from his Winnipeg home. "I don’t really know how I’m supposed to be feeling right now. There are still so many unanswered questions. For me, I run into the problem of whether or not we have to re-do all our qualifying."
Sweet has already spent considerable funds competing overseas the last five months — Germany, Tokyo (a World Cup and Olympic test event in December), France, Italy and Egypt — to build up his resumé.
"I’ve already thrown all the money I have left into this qualifying year, and I’m not sure I would find the funds to be able to try again next year, should that be the case," Sweet said.
Winnipegger and former Olympic rower Jeff Powell said those answers won’t come for some time.
"The call from the COC is that those athletes who have qualified should remain qualified, but the IOC is not obligated to take Canada’s recommendation on that," said Powell, the executive director of the Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba since 2014.
Powell, who captured gold medals at consecutive World Rowing Championships (2002, ’03) in men’s eights and competed at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece, is impressed by athletes’ willingness to put their aspirations on hold for the greater good.
"It’s like any other vocation or pursuit where people put all their time and energy into, only to have it snatched away," said Powell.
"There’s nothing more powerful, more meaningful to an athlete, than the Olympics. But no matter what cause we happen to believe in, there is, invariably, a bigger and more important one. In this case, the health of our communities is absolutely it."
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).