Canada’s summer Olympians have barely finished their post-Tokyo holidays but already their winter counterparts are in the final 100-day countdown to the 2022 Beijing Games. That’s the COVID effect.
For Canadian halfpipe skier Cassie Sharpe, the next few months will be a whirlwind of travel to training camps and competitions to qualify for the Games, which run Feb. 4-20, and earn her chance to win another Olympic gold medal.
She’s been in Switzerland training for the last two weeks and flew to Toronto to be part of Tuesday’s unveiling of Canada’s new Olympic outfits by Lululemon. She’s off to Austria next for more training before competitions in Colorado and Calgary — all before the New Year.
For Brady Leman it’s a similar tale, but his journey includes a ski cross test event in China next month and six World Cups in Europe, all before Christmas.
“It’s time to get ready to live out of a suitcase and start to find some intensity and bring it,” said Leman who is looking to defend his gold medal from the 2018 Games.
“I’m excited. One hundred days out is just a reminder that it’s right around the corner.”
Of course, there’s plenty of controversy swirling in the background as Canada’s athletes prepare to deliver their best on the biggest possible stage. That’s not unusual for the Olympics.
Ahead of the 2014 Sochi Games there were calls for boycotts over Russian laws curtailing LGBTQ rights and fears of “black widow” suicide bombers slipping through the security net. In the leadup to the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-U.S. President Donald Trump were trading barbs over the size and quality of the nuclear arsenals at their fingertips.
In 2015, when the International Olympic Committee picked Beijing to host these Games — making it the first city to ever host both a Summer and Winter Olympics — it was controversial. It’s only more so now.
Human rights activists have called on governments and athletes around the world to boycott these Games over China’s treatment of the Uyghurs and other predominately Muslim minorities, Tibet and Hong Kong.
“It’s definitely in the back of your mind, especially with China politics in the news so much these days,” Leman said.
“For me, I believe in the power of sport. And I hope and believe that we can leave positive legacies in places that we compete when we compete in maybe less-than-desirable political landscapes.”
That’s how Sharpe approaches it, too.
“For us, as athletes, the Olympics are something that brings the world together,” she said. “So for me, that’s what I’m focusing on, the love of sport. The way that all the countries come together to support each other and show what sport is to the world.”
And win some medals along the way, of course.
The athletes heading to these Games have big shoes to fill. Canadians won 29 medals in 2018. That put Canada third in the medal table and, crucially, ahead of the United States.
“We very much hope to improve on our performance,” said David Shoemaker, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
He knows that won’t be easy, especially given how the COVID pandemic has disrupted training, test events and competitions.
“We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t have lofty aspirations,” he said.
So lofty, that the Lululemon podium jacket includes “a medal pocket.”
“I love the message that sends. It’s telling 228 Canadian Olympians that we believe that you have the power and the ability and you have it in you to go to China and bring home a medal,” Shoemaker said.
“And when you do, you should proudly wear it around your neck. But when you’re not, here’s a pocket for it.”