Justyn Knight says he loves his country and didn’t mean any disrespect, but he and other athletes are struggling to understand why the Canadian Olympic Committee made a bold decision Sunday to pull its team out of the Tokyo Games this summer.
Hours before the COC announcement, the International Olympic Committee revealed a self-imposed deadline of mid-April to consider postponing the Olympics, set to begin July 24, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t have a problem with the Olympics being postponed until 2021,” said Knight, who met the Tokyo qualifying standard in the 5,000 metres last June and was excited for a chance to make his Olympic debut in 2020. “The problem I have is that Canada is the only country that voiced that opinion.
“I love Canada and I understand (the COC’s) decision is for (the) well-being of (its athletes) but why the rush? There could be a vaccine or cure that’s found. Spontaneously, although it’s very unrealistic, maybe everybody recovers. We don’t know what next week entails.”
I support my country no matter what. However I believe each athlete should make their own decision in regards to dealing with a matter like this. There is no rush.
Knight, who noted he and other Canadian athletes were not given a heads-up from the COC about its announcement, learned via text message from someone around 10 p.m. ET on Sunday as he was heading to bed.
The Toronto native immediately logged on to Twitter and saw the increasing volume of tweets.
Disappointment sets in
“It was very emotional,” Knight, who lives and trains in Charlottesville, Va., as a member of Reebok Boston Track Club, told CBC Sports. “I didn’t sleep at all. My main thought was wondering if the world is going to fix this problem. I’m putting my faith in the scientists and high levels of government hoping they’ll figure out a vaccine or cure.”
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The 23-year-old said he spoke with five or six Canadian athletes on Sunday night who shared his frustration with the COC’s quick decision-making.
Canadian hurdler Sage Watson also took to Twitter shortly after the COC announcement and stated she believes in the safety of Canada but thought the decision was premature.
Later, she mentioned it was “sad” the decision had to be made for the athletes and added, “Do we not have patience to wait a few weeks?”
We need to put our attention on to this pandemic not athletics. Those decisions can wait. The IOC needs to postpone the games, but countries dropping out and not standing together upsets me. We need to make this decision as a WORLD not separate countries. Put our world first.🌎 <a href=”https://t.co/iBErExvWov”>pic.twitter.com/iBErExvWov</a>
Marnie McBean, Canada’s chef de mission for Tokyo 2020, told CBC News on Monday the COC wasn’t comfortable waiting three more weeks for the IOC to act, saying “we would have had to ask our athletes to figure out how to train (with no events in the near future).”
Seyi Smith, chair of the COC, said the organization needed to act fast after “hearing stories of athletes still continuing to train outside, even though we were getting directions from our prime minister (Justin Trudeau) and (Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer) Dr. (Theresa) Tam to stay inside and social distance yourself. It didn’t look like it was a safe situation for athletes to be doing their part to reduce this pandemic.”
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“I do understand what (McBean) is saying,” said Knight, who won three NCAA titles during his four years running at Syracuse University. “I’m in Virginia and able to find trails and be completely isolated. But if I was back in Toronto, I wouldn’t have anywhere to run because Toronto is a hot (spot) for this pandemic.
Getting creative with training
“Whether athletes can train or not, (pulling) them out of the Olympics isn’t going to make a difference on what (the IOC) is doing. I’m sure people are still going to be training because you can’t go from training to dropping everything. We’re going to find a way to do something.”
“The IOC is supposed to have a non-biased opinion and hold the athletes’ health over everything else,” continued Knight, who set a Canadian indoor record in the men’s 1,500 in February. “If it is able to live with its decision, has done its due diligence and deemed (an Olympics) being safe (to start July 24 or later this year) I find it weird that wouldn’t be safe by (the COC’s) standards.”
Watson, in a recent interview with chatnewstoday.ca in her hometown of Medicine Hat, Alta., was hopeful the Olympics would be held this year, “but I think it could change at any minute.”
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The 25-year-old, who ran under the 55:40 Olympic standard last July and three weeks later won Pan Am gold in Peru, is back home at her family ranch and getting creative with her training while in self-isolation after returning from the United States.
“I’m still doing the same workouts,” she told chatnewstoday.ca, “but I’m doing them here on my gravel road at my ranch. I actually put together a little gym in our shop outside on our ranch.”
For Knight, he has taken precautions for weeks to stay healthy and leaves his apartment complex before 7 a.m. for his morning run so he doesn’t come across other runners.
“Everybody in the complex is taking things seriously,” said Knight, who missed the Olympic standard by 1.36 seconds in the 5,000 ahead of the 2016 Games in Rio. “A lot of older people live here and I’ve become friends with a lot of them. I’ve been obeying the rules, staying in my apartment and not going out, unless it’s to the grocery store or running on my own. I don’t meet with my teammates.
“I can wash my hands, wear a mask, wear gloves and social distance myself but it’s kind of in God’s hands to help us get through this now.”