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1 year out, again: Olympic hopefuls gain new appreciation for craft due to postponement – CBC.ca

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Sitting idle in the summer at his home in Nova Scotia in the winter of his career, this is unfamiliar territory for Canada’s women’s softball head coach Mark Smith.

For more than four decades, Smith has been travelling the globe in pursuit of softball glory, first as a player and now as a coach. After these Olympics, he’s retiring.

“I’m coaching a wonderful group of women that I could not be prouder of. And if we can get to the Olympics when this pandemic subsides, I can’t think of a better way to close a career,” Smith said.

This summer was meant to be the ultimate final journey for Smith — a trip to Tokyo, leading this country’s softball team into the Games.

“Each morning that I wake up I think about where we would be if the season were actually happening,” Smith said from his backyard just outside Halifax.

“So for example, today we would be finishing up our pre-Olympic preparation and tomorrow we’d be taking the bus down to the Olympic village.”

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Andi Petrillo hosts panel to discuss uncertain Tokyo Games:

CBC Sports’ Andi Petrillo hosts a panel with guests Aaron Brown, Mandy Bujold, Catharine Pendrel, Sean McColl and Ben Titley to discuss life in quarantine, the new lead up to the Olympics, and Rule 50. 24:41

Smith had every day mapped out. And then in early March when the pandemic hit in full force, all of his planning was thrown into disarray.

“On March 2 when we did our fitness testing and we had 89 personal bests, we had to be the fittest softball team in the world, bar none. We were building toward winning a gold medal which is what we believe we’re going to do a year from now. All systems were go,” Smith said.

The system has been shut down. Not just for the 20 women who were embarking on a journey years in the making – softball hasn’t been part of the Olympics since 2008 – but for thousands of athletes around the world.

Team Canada women’s softball head coach Mark Smith, right, and wife Anne Dodge. After dedicating more than four decades to the sport, the Nova Scotia native intends on retiring after this Olympic cycle – but not before, hopefully, one last attempt at glory in Tokyo. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

It’s the universal struggle for high-performers who are wired to go faster and be stronger – now, maybe for the first time in their athletic careers, they must learn how to be still.

Smith told his softball team to take the summer off, an almost unfathomable consideration in preparation for the Olympics. He sees it as hitting the reset button.

“It took a little while for us to get our heads around it and to give ourselves permission to grieve and go through the rollercoaster of emotions you feel when you’ve worked so hard for something and then, through no fault of your own, it’s been taken from you,” Smith said.

But Smith, his team, and so many other Canadian athletes aren’t about to sit around and feel sorry for themselves for too long.

The Games, as of now, are still going ahead starting in July 2021. It’s one-year to go, again.

The softball team plans to come together in September to ramp up training.

WATCH | Canada’s chef de mission discusses logistics of Tokyo 2021:

Canada’s chef de mission for Tokyo discusses Rule 50, the importance of a COVID-19 vaccine and the logistics of a 2021 Olympics. 8:28

For those athletes who have already qualified, which according to the International Olympic Committee is about half of the participants, and those who haven’t, there are still so many unknowns.

Having a specific target is crucial to peaking at exactly the right time — medal performances on the grandest of athletic stages are surely centered around skill and preparation, but also timing.

“When you’re preparing for the Olympics, the week out of the Olympics you want to be the fittest you’ve ever been in your life,” rower Jenny Casson said from Victoria, B.C.

“And on an Olympic day you want to be the fittest you’re ever going to be in your life and that’s what we were tailoring our bodies for.”

Resilient rowers grow in confidence

If Smith is in the last chapter of his career, Casson’s story is just beginning. She’s part of a rowing pairs team alongside Jill Moffatt — a duo that just missed qualifying their spot for Tokyo last year.

Their final hope to make it to the Games hinged on one last-chance qualifier they were feeling massively confident for when everything stopped at the beginning of March.

“I started seeing the writing on the wall and it kind of felt like a weird dream. It happened so quickly,” Moffatt said.

“I don’t really want to sit around and cry about it. I want to move on as quickly as I can and get ready for the next year, but it definitely was hard at first to switch that mindset.”

Rowing teammates Jill Moffatt, left, and Jenny Casson have battled through a vast set of safety protocols in order to return to training on water. (Merijn Soeters/Rowing Canada Aviron)

The two are finally back on the water again, having to endure a rigorous set of protocols just to get their boat on the water at their training facility in Victoria — they have set times they’re allowed to train, they have to sanitize all their equipment (including their boat) and are wearing Team Canada branded masks while doing it.

“At first, when we first heard all the protocols I was like, ‘oh my gosh, how are we going to do this?'” Moffatt said.

“It was a lot easier than anyone thought, and everyone said if we have to do this to get in the water it’s well worth it. And our boats are cleaner than they’ve ever been,” Casson added.

The two are upbeat and saying all the right things, for now. They’re leaning on each other more than ever to stay motivated and focused. Their tolerance for flexibility and adaptability is being tested like never before.

Jill Moffatt, left, and Jenny Casson are working toward a final Tokyo Olympic qualifier in May 2021. (Merijn Soeters/Rowing Canada Aviron)

“Jill is the uplifting positive force, I think. She has this really good saying when we get down, ‘what would your competition want you to be doing?’ That’s the biggest wake up call you can get, because I know my competition would be thrilled if we were moping around,” Casson said.

As it stands right now, the two will get their final chance to qualify for the Olympics next May.

If there’s fear for athletes about how their bodies will respond having been away from the track, off the pitch, or out of the pool for months, at least one Canadian athlete has done this all before and isn’t too worried about it.

Hayden’s experienced long layoffs before

At 36 years old, swimmer Brent Hayden has come out of retirement to make one last push for Olympic glory. He won bronze in the 100-metre Freestyle at the London Games in 2012, stepped away from his sport for seven years, only to decide to return for Tokyo last fall.

He never imagined having an extra year to prepare when he made the decision.

“I don’t think anybody saw this coming. I was giving myself a year to get ready for Tokyo, which I already knew wasn’t going to be a lot of time,” Hayden said from Vancouver.

Hayden had to first earn his spot on the Canadian squad at the trials that were set for April. He was pleasantly surprised at how well his body was performing, having been away from swimming for so long. Age and experience are perhaps allowing him to train smarter and make him faster.

“I was on pace to not only make the team but I think I was on pace to do really well at the Games,” Hayden said. “I was working out a lot in the gym and I’d put on a lot of muscle mass. I had gotten a lot stronger. I think I could actually break my 50-metre Freestyle Canadian record.”

WATCH | Brent Hayden is staging a comeback, and training in his parents’ backyard:

CBC Sports’ Scott Russell spoke with swimmer Brent Hayden, who is training for next year’s Olympics after retiring from the sport in 2012. 3:03

Perhaps that’s what Hayden most wants to share with his fellow Canadian athletes right now: not to panic over lost time. He’s done this all before. Instead of months away from training at the highest level, Hayden was away from it all for years.

He says the body is more resilient than anyone could imagine.

“The fact that my body was able to respond to my training not just from the time off but also at this age, a lot of positives out of that,” he said.

When Hayden left swimming in 2012, he fell out of love with the sport. He was spiraling, depressed and never thought he’d find a way back.

Now he’s here, with an entirely different outlook — one that could lead to a podium performance nine years after stepping off of one in London.

“There’s a pandemic going on and that just makes you realize that there’s more important things in life than sports,” he said. “Deep in my heart this was something that I really wanted to do and I believe anything is possible.”

One year out, athletes once again are eyeing Tokyo. This time with a new appreciation for what they do and what it all means — and in the midst of their journeys, learning about the redemptive power of sport.

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Canada's soccer captain consoled her American club teammate after the USWNT lost its shot at Olympic gold – Insider

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  • The US Women’s National Team lost to Canada in their Tokyo Olympics semifinal match.
  • Canada is now guaranteed a gold or silver medal, while the USWNT can secure bronze at best.
  • Canadian star Christine Sinclair consoled her club teammate, USWNT’s Lindsey Horan, after the upset.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Canada’s women’s national soccer team pulled off one of the biggest upsets in its history at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday, besting the US Women’s National Team for the first time in upwards of 20 years.

But at the conclusion of the semifinal match, Canadian team captain Christine Sinclair didn’t immediately begin celebrating with her squad. Instead, Sinclair — the all-time leading goal scorer (man or woman) in the history of international soccer — made her way across the field to USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan. The two are teammates on the Portland Thorns, and Sinclair wrapped Horan in a tight hug.

Canada's Christine Sinclair hugs Lindsey Horan of the US Women's National Team.

Canada’s Christine Sinclair hugs Lindsey Horan of the US Women’s National Team.

Naomi Baker/Getty Images


Sinclair, who’s 38 and serves as the Thorns captain, appears in photos to give an animated pep talk to a visibly distraught Horan. The 27-year-old is a star in her own right, but she struggled when her national team needed her most.

Though Horan has won a World Cup for the United States, she has now gone to the Olympics and fallen short of the gold twice in a row.

Christine Sinclair comforts Lindsey Horan.

Canada’s Christine Sinclair comforts USWNT star Lindsey Horan.

REUTERS/Edgar Su


The USWNT still has a shot at a bronze medal, though — they’ll take on Australia for a spot on the podium Thursday at 4 a.m. ET. If they win, Horan will be one of many American stars on the team to earn their first Olympics hardware, since the USWNT unexpectedly walked away empty-handed from Rio in 2016.

Sinclair, meanwhile, is guaranteed her best-ever result in Tokyo after participating in four Olympic Games over her career. She’s twice earned bronze medals — in London and Brazil — but now she’ll take home either silver or gold, depending on the result of Thursday’s match against Sweden.

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In pursuit of 5th Olympic medal, Andre De Grasse eases into 200m semifinals – CBC.ca

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Andre De Grasse remains on track to repeat his triple-medal Olympic performance from 2016.

The decorated Canadian sprinter easily advanced to the 200-metre semifinals on Tuesday in Tokyo, placing third in his heat in a time of 20.56 seconds.

Amid temperatures that reached at least 36 C plus humidity, De Grasse appeared to hold back some, a possible change in strategy after claiming the best qualifying time in the 100m heats on the weekend.

Besides the harsh conditions, De Grasse also battled through another false start in his heat — the fifth he’s been involved in at these Olympics in four races.

WATCH | De Grasse cruises into 200m semis:

Andre De Grasse of Markham, Ont., finished third in his heat with a time of 20.56 seconds to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 men’s 200-metre semifinals. 8:44

The Markham, Ont., native ran a personal-best 9.89 to take bronze in the men’s 100m on Sunday. It was his fourth Olympic medal after becoming the first Canadian to ever win three on the track at the 2016 Rio Games, when he took silver in the 200m behind Usain Bolt, along with bronze in the 100m and 4x100m relay.

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He is the only contender from the 100m attempting the double in Tokyo.

Fellow Canadian Aaron Brown also advanced on Tuesday, winning his heat in 20.38 seconds.

Brown, 29, chose to give up the 100m in Tokyo so he could focus on his stronger distance, the 200m, with fresher legs.

“It feels good. Glad to get my feet wet finally, join in on the action. We’ve seen some great performances already, so glad to be safely through. Didn’t want to gas it too much but the main thing was just to qualify,” Brown said after the race.

WATCH | Brown takes top spot in heat:

Toronto’s Aaron Brown won his heat with a time of 20.38 seconds to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 men’s 200-metre semifinals. 5:01

The decision appears to be paying off in the early going for the Toronto native and current Canadian champion.

“I really think that I gave myself the best chance to be on the podium in the 200 by forgoing the 100. Not trying to spread myself too thin like I did [at 2019 worlds in] Doha. I’ll double in the future, so it’s not like I’m done with the 100 forever, but I really want to give myself the best chance here,” Brown said.

At the 2016 Olympics, Brown placed 16th in the 200m and 31st in the 100m.

The top three runners in each of the seven heats, plus the next three fastest, advanced to the semifinals later Tuesday. The final is scheduled to be run Wednesday evening in Tokyo.

After placing sixth in his heat, Canada’s Brendon Rodney failed to advance with a time of 21.60 seconds.

WATCH | De Grasse claims 100m bronze in Tokyo:

Canadian Andre De Grasse claimed 100m bronze in a second-straight Olympic Games, while Italian Lamont Jacobs won gold and American Fred Kerley took silver. 5:55

The 200m is De Grasse’s top event. Whereas the 100m was viewed as a wide-open field and played out that way, American Noah Lyles is the runaway favourite in the 200m with De Grasse, 26, his top competition.

Lyles ran a 20.18 on Tuesday.

The Canadian set a national record in the distance in Rio, blazing past the finish line in 19.80 seconds. He’s ranked second in the discipline by World Athletics, behind Lyles whose personal best is 19.50.

Brown, whose personal best is 19.95, is ranked sixth. He won bronze alongside De Grasse in the Rio relay.

American Erriyon Knighton, 17, cruised to a 20.55 to win his heat and instantly entered the podium conversation. Kenny Bednarek, also of the U.S., posted the best time in heats at 20.01.

Canada’s Constantine advances

Canada’s Kyra Constantine is into the women’s 400m semifinals.

Running in a heat with Bahrainian star Shaunae Miller-Uibo on Tuesday in Tokyo, Constantine burst out of the blocks, but slowed down late, falling to fifth in her heat. She crossed the line with a time of 51.69 seconds.

“I tried my best to execute [my race plan]. My first 200 was great. My second could have been executed a little better,” she said moments after the race.

Still, it was enough to advance with one of the six fastest times outside the top three athletes in each heat. The semifinals are set for Tuesday evening ahead of the final on Thursday.

The 23-year-old from Toronto, making her Olympic debut, owns a personal best of 50.87, set in June as the third-fastest time in the world this year.

“Honestly, coming in, I felt so overwhelmed with the love and support from my family and friends and I just wanted to come out here and do my best — not only for myself, but for them,” Constantine said.

Miller-Uibo won the heat in 50.50 seconds. The Dominican Republic’s Marileidy Paulino posted the best qualifying time at 50.06 seconds.

Canada’s Natassha McDonald placed last in her heat, failing to qualify with a time of 53.54 despite a strong start to her race.

Meanwhile, Canadian Liz Gleadle won’t advance to the women’s javelin final after throwing 58.19 metres in qualifying on Tuesday.

Gleadle, a 32-year-old from Vancouver, placed 11th in her group. The top 12 finishers combined between the two groups, or anyone with a distance of 63 metres, moved on to Friday’s final. 

No other Canadians were competing.

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Athletics-Jacobs says reconnecting with father pushed him to 100m gold

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Lamont Marcell Jacobs believes reconnecting with his estranged American father helped him make history by becoming the first Italian to claim Olympic men’s 100 metres gold on Sunday.

Jacobs secured a surprise victory with a European record time of 9.80 seconds, becoming the first winner of the post-Usain Bolt era and the first European Olympic men’s 100 meters champion since Britain’s Linford Christie in 1992.

It was a stunning run from the 26-year-old underdog, who was born in the United States to an American father and Italian mother.

“I was born in Texas, but I stayed there for six months before my parents separated and I came to Italy. Italy is my country,” Jacobs told Gazzetta dello Sport.

“I did not hear from my father again until one year ago, when I decided to work with a mental coach. She told me that to run fast I would need to reconnect with the father I had never known.

“The reconciliation gave me something more, which has helped me in the last few days. But I have never met him in person, we write to each other and talk.”

The former long jumper had never run under 10 seconds until this year, but exploded out of the blocks to come out on top in an open field.

“I changed mentality and took advantage of my team, that was the turnaround in the last few months,” Jacobs said.

“I knew I could improve with my start. Then I asked my body for one last effort: ‘please, let’s do one last run and then we can rest’.

“I knew I was in great shape coming here. There was no favourite, so I thought when I looked at the others: why not try it, what more do they have than me?”

Jacobs’s run topped off an incredible night for Italian athletics, coming 13 minutes after Gianmarco Tamberi shared the gold medal in the high jump with Qatar’s world champion Mutaz Essa Barshim.

It completed a remarkable turnaround for Tamberi, who broke his ankle days before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and the Italian was the first person to embrace Jacobs at the finish line.

“I know his story, I know what he had to go through to get here, I have also been through a lot, many blows, I took them from all sides,” Jacobs said.

“It takes a thousand defeats to win, you need to know how to lose with class in order to get up again.”

 

(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie, editing by Ed Osmond)

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