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2020 Olympics: Amidst coronavirus concerns, athletes call for postponement –



Athletes around the world are calling for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to be postponed until the Covid-19 pandemic is under control. But thus far, the International Olympics Committee has held off on making any changes to its plans.

Currently, the IOC’s official position is that the Olympics will begin on July 24, as scheduled. March 12 saw the traditional lighting of the torch in Olympia, Greece, and although the torch relay was canceled after the second day due to the need to avoid crowds, the flame reached Tokyo on Friday as planned.

In a lengthy interview with the New York Times on Thursday, IOC president Thomas Bach signaled the organizing body might be open to postponing the games, but that it would not make any such decision in the near future. “It would not be responsible in any way to set a date or take a decision right now,” he said, “which would be based on the speculation about the future developments.”

Bach has not set a date by which the IOC will have to make a final decision about postponing the games, saying that he will not speculate, but he has remained firm in saying that he will not cancel them.

Because the games have not been officially postponed, athletes are stuck in a state of limbo. They’re still expected to train for the games, but the gyms where they are supposed to train have mostly been shut down. And Bach’s latest interview comes after weeks of messaging from IOC urging athletes to continue planning to attend the Olympics in July, coronavirus or not.

On March 7, Bach issued a letter to Olympians encouraging them to continue to train for the games “with ‘full steam’” so that “we, the Olympic community, can once more unite the whole world in a peaceful competition.” On Wednesday, the New York Times reports, IOC officials held a two-hour conference call with Olympic athletes and national Olympic committees urging athletes to continue to train and characterizing coronavirus as “not a deadly disease.”

Increasingly, Olympic committees and sports federations are speaking out against the IOC’s current “wait and see” stance, calling for the games to be officially postponed.

On Friday, USA Swimming issued an open letter to the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee requesting that the games be postponed for one year.

“The right and responsible thing to do is to recognize everyone’s health and safety and appropriately recognize the toll this global pandemic is taking on athletic preparations,” USA Swimming’s letter reads. “It has transcended borders and wreaked havoc on entire populations, including those of our respected competitors.”

USA Track and Field followed suit on Saturday with another open letter. “We are all experiencing unfathomable disruptions, and everyone’s lives are being impacted accordingly,” wrote the USATF. “The alternative of moving forward in light of the current situation would not be in the best interests of our athletes (as difficult as that decision might be).”

USA Gymnastics has yet to make a statement, but it sent a survey to its members on Friday asking what its stance should be.

While the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee has remained reluctant to make an official request of the IOC, the Olympic Committees for both Norway and Brazil have issued statements calling for the games to be postponed. And individual athletes and Olympians have begun to speak out as well.

“This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics,” said six-time Olympian and current IOC Athletes Commission member Hayley Wickenheiser in a statement on Twitter on Tuesday. Wickenheiser, who is currently in training to become a doctor, went on, “I think the IOC insisting this will move ahead, with such conviction, is insensitive and irresponsible given the state of humanity.”

“For all of those athletes in the U.S., but also globally, like in Italy and in China, who are on complete lockdowns, I think it would make it a fairer competition in Tokyo if the Olympics were postponed to give everyone the time they need to be ready,” Laurie Hernandez, who won a gold medal in gymnastics in 2016, told the New York Times on Saturday.

Meanwhile, a survey published last Monday in Japan showed that 69.9 percent of people do not expect the Olympics to go forward in Tokyo this summer. But the financial cost of canceling the games would be substantial for Japan, which has already invested at least $12.6 billion into the 2020 Olympics. In a video conference on Monday, Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe declared his commitment to hosting the games.

“I want to hold the Olympics and Paralympics perfectly,” he said, “as proof that the human race will conquer the new coronavirus.”

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Connor McDavid says NHL ‘can't just step into the playoffs’ – TSN



Connor McDavid may skate like an otherworldly wizard, but he hasn’t discovered any new-found passion or hobby during the NHL’s self-isolation period, which hit Day 15 on Friday.

McDavid isn’t a super chef or a prodigious video gamer, and he certainly isn’t building a chicken coop, like the one Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf revealed he’s working on in Anaheim.

“I haven’t been doing much at all,” McDavid said. “I don’t have any hidden talents.”

McDavid is a hockey player.

And the player considered by many to be the best in the world believes that if the NHL does return to the ice to close out the 2019-20 season, it would be a mistake to jump right into playoff intensity without regular season or exhibition games played first.

“I don’t think we can just step into the playoffs,” McDavid said in a video conference call with three other Pacific Division players on Friday. “Game 1, it’s Calgary coming to Edmonton and guys are running around trying to kill each other that haven’t played for two months.

“It’ll end up the [AHL] Stockton Heat versus the Bakersfield Condors if that’s the case. We want to keep the guys healthy. A fair season is a full season. If we can do that, that’s what we’d obviously prefer.”

With his Edmonton Oilers on the verge of returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons, McDavid said the NHL’s pause in play was more disappointing than frustrating.

Under coach Dave Tippett, the Oilers had already eclipsed their point totals from each of the past two seasons with 11 games still to play, had first place in the Pacific in their sights, and had forward Leon Draisaitl running away with the scoring title on his way to a potential Hart Trophy.

“It’s just disappointing when the team’s having a good year and in the playoff hunt and lots of good stuff going on,” McDavid said. “The health and safety and everyone is what’s important. Hockey can go on hold for a little bit. It’s important that everyone does what they have to do and takes care of each other so that we can get this thing over with so we can get back to playing hockey.”

Whenever that is, McDavid echoed Metropolitan Division stars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin from a day earlier ­– firmly in playoff position, his vote was for the standings to remain as is.

That didn’t sit well with Canucks captain Bo Horvat, whose Vancouver team is in based on points percentage, but currently outside the usual 16-team tournament format based on points.

“It better go by points percentage or play more regular-season games,” Horvat said, laughing.

Flames captain Mark Giordano said he preferred 24 teams, eight more than normal, to qualify for the postseason, with 12 in each conference making it.

“I’ve thought a lot about this,” Giordano said. “More teams get in this year, a couple byes are the top, and then play it out.”

In a points or points percentage world, the Oilers and Flames would be scheduled to meet in the first round. That would add serious juice to an already dripping Battle of Alberta this season.

McDavid, who dealt with a quad injury earlier this season and a knee issue last year, said he is 100 per cent healthy. He said he’s been running throughout Edmonton with teammate Darnell Nurse and working out in his new home’s full gym.

That health is why Giordano said this could be the best playoffs ever.

“I think if we could ever get back to playing, I think this is going to be one of the best playoffs ever because every team is going to have all of their guys healthy,” Giordano said. “It’s truly going to be the best version of every team, I think. We’ll be in for some pretty good hockey if we can ever get past this and into the playoffs.”

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli

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Tokyo 2020 is postponed—now what? Olympic hopefuls tell their stories – Toronto Life



Earlier this week, when the Canadian Olympic Committee decided to pull our athletes from Tokyo 2020, it felt like a no-brainer. As Covid-19 upends the global order, there are few things more precarious than planning the world’s largest athletic competition. Soon after, the International Olympic Committee deferred the Games until 2021. But for the athletes who’ve been tirelessly preparing for these Olympics, the news was heartbreaking. Some will be able to compete in 2021. Others are watching their Olympic window slam shut. We chatted with local hopefuls about how Covid-19 has put their athletic dreams in limbo.

Sam Schachter, 29, Richmond Hill

Beach volleyball

The reality just set in and it’s extremely disappointing. At the same time, it was also a bit of a relief. Like a lot of athletes, I was worried about my health when it came to travelling. There are lives at stake, not just athletes’ desire to compete. I’m lucky, I went to the Olympics in 2016, but Tokyo 2020 was my chance to get a medal. Whatever happens, I think I have another four years in me—I should be able to stick around and make another run at it. I’ve started looking into doing a coaching certificate or a master’s program in high-performance coaching. We all have plans for after sport: maybe it’s time to accelerate those.

Kia Nurse, 24, Hamilton


It was heartbreaking to hear that my Olympic dream was taken away. I’ve been preparing every day for the last four years. It’s particularly tough because I think I’m coming into my prime. Recently, I’ve felt a positive momentum that’s different from anything I’ve felt in my career so far. But postponing the games was the right thing to do. Right now, the best thing we can do is not be around each other. It would have been really weird to go to the Games this summer and not be able to talk, to meet people, to go out. The Olympics only happen once every four years, and the scary thing about being an athlete is that you never know how long your career is going to last—which game, which practice is going to be the last one ever.

Allysha Chapman, 31, Oshawa


I’m just happy they’re taking these measures so athletes and support staff can stay healthy. We don’t know what the virus is going to look like in the summer, and making the decision now so everyone can prepare for 2021 is definitely the right move. It will be nice if everyone can get together next year and say, “We kicked this virus.” I’m frustrated at not being able to train and being stuck inside. I’ve been trying to find fields to do individual training, but I’ve been kicked off a few because they’re closed. I’ve started fostering dogs since we went into quarantine. That’s one of my coping solutions. This week, I have a three-year-old catahoula named Logan. The dogs are definitely keeping my mind occupied.

Kayla Sanchez, 18, Scarborough


I’ve had my eye on Tokyo since my good friends Penny Oleksiak and Taylor Rose competed in Rio 2016. I moulded my life from that point to be successful in 2020. So it’s been a challenging couple of weeks. It’s something that pushes me and makes me want the glory of the Olympics even more. At the same time, it’s comforting to know that the Games have been postponed. I don’t have to worry about my physical performance right now, I just have to worry about my friends and my family. My mom is a nurse at Scarborough General, so she’s helped me understand how serious the virus is. She’s handling it well, and I’m really proud of her and all the doctors and nurses who are working tirelessly while we’re at home. I’m still waiting to see what happens with qualification. Nobody’s been nominated for the team yet, so I think the process is going to have to start over again. But I’m still young. For a while now, Penny has been telling me to set my sights on 2024 because female swimmers peak around 24 or 25 years old. So the postponement might even be good for me.

Justin Parina, 20, Mississauga


I really wanted to compete. The Pan-American Games in Toronto in 2015 was when I started taking boxing seriously. I’ve been visualizing myself competing at the Olympics ever since. But it was a relief when they postponed it, and it’ll be an advantage for me. I’ve only been on the international circuit for two years, so now I’ll have a chance to get more experience. Now that the summer is wide open, I could potentially pursue my academic goals. I put my bachelor of nursing on hold after my first semester: I nearly failed because I was juggling boxing and school. I was doing five courses while I was on the national team. I’ve got a few options after Tokyo: I could go pro and start making money, maintain my amateur status and wait for Paris 2024, or start my nursing career. It’s like a video game, I’ve got three paths to choose from.

Katherine Uchida, 20, Toronto

Rhythmic gymnastics

When I first heard the news, it didn’t feel real. I’ve been preparing for the Olympics for as long as I’ve been doing gymnastics—13 years. But I knew a postponement was possible, and ultimately I’m relieved. The virus needs to be taken seriously. It would have been way too risky to go ahead. I’m just trying to focus on the things that I can control. I do a lot of visualization to keep the stress levels down. Physically, I’m doing yoga in the morning. I’m also trying to keep up with school. I’m taking a bachelor’s in sociology and international studies at U of T, and all of our classes are online now.

Crystal Emmanuel, 28, Scarborough

Sprint and relay

This will be my third Olympics, so it was a real shocker. But I’m high-risk because I have asthma, so I’d rather be safe. For me, making that decision was smart. I had friends and family who were going to Tokyo as well, so I wanted them to be safe too. I’d rather have an amazing Games next year than a mediocre one this year that puts lives at risk. And we’ll have something to look forward to after all the downtime. I’m an overthinker, so it’s been a rough road. I’m going over a lot of technical stuff, a lot of reading, knowing my technique and my form, where my hand positions are. Just visual learning: thinking about what I want to look like in a race. I will be going in 2021 for sure.

Jason Ho-Shue, 21, Markham


I’ve been preparing for the Olympics my whole life. My father used to play badminton and he was my first coach. He died of heart failure while playing badminton in 2011. I thought about giving it up, but I realized that wouldn’t have made my dad happy. Now when I play I feel a connection with him. There’s a bit of uncertainty about what happens with qualification now, which is stressful. But at least postponing gives us lots of time to prepare. When I wake up, I do 20 minutes of ab exercises and 100 push-ups. In the afternoon, I run outside and do some cardio exercises. I also smack the bird against the wall at home, just to keep the feeling of hitting. The time off is going to affect everyone’s skill level a little, and it might take some time to get back to peak performance. I’ve been playing really well since January, so I have to stay positive and hope I can return to that form.

Keegan Pereira, 28, Toronto

Field hockey

I’ve been preparing for this since Rio 2016, my first Olympics. The initial feeling when Canada pulled out was “What am I going to do with my life?” But we also kind of knew that the IOC would be forced to do something. I really hope they happen in 2021 and we can leave this all behind us. Mentally, it probably affects individual sport athletes more than teams. In our group chat, everyone is trying to keep each other upbeat. That interaction keeps you social and keeps you going. Physically, it’s super hard. All the gyms are closed in Toronto. Even my condo gym is closed. All I can do is work out at home with my 10-pound dumbbells or go for a run. It’s not enough to maintain peak physical condition. I know that for a lot of guys on our team, Tokyo was going to be their last Olympics, their last opportunity to play for Canada. So this is going to extend the careers of quite a few people, because I don’t think anyone wants to drop out. Personally, I’m not sure if I’ll be playing past Tokyo. But I’ll definitely make it to 2021.

Haley Smith, 26, Uxbridge

Mountain biking

If I’m being honest, I expected the Games to be postponed. It was the correct decision, and I’m proud that Canada had the guts to pull out. At the end of the day, I’m racing my bike in a circle, and as much as it’s important to me, it’s not important compared to public health and safety. I’ve been hoping to qualify since 2016, when I got a letter saying that I failed to qualify for Rio. I’m lucky that I live with my fiancée, who’s also a cyclist chasing the dream. We can train together because we’re self-isolating together. We’re doing less challenging trails and not pushing it too hard, because we don’t want to risk ending up in the hospital and putting undue strain on the health care system. Our wedding was supposed to be in August and I’m not sure if that will happen, either. Right now we’re in British Columbia, and I’m hoping we’ll be back in Ontario with my family this summer. We’re going to avoid air travel altogether, but we’ll get there somehow, even if we have to buy a car and drive.

These interviews were edited and condensed for clarity.

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McDavid, Pacific captains enjoy tight battle for playoffs in 'fun year' –



Connor McDavid, Mark Giordano, Bo Horvat and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are Pacific Division rivals who have seen an escalation of intensity this season.

The Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes battled for the division lead and playoff spots up until the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

The Oilers (37-25-9) are second in the division, three points behind the first-place Vegas Golden Knights. The Flames (36-27-7) are third, four points behind the Oilers. The Canucks (36-27-6) are fourth, one point behind the Flames and tied with the Nashville Predators for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. The Coyotes (33-29-8) are fifth in the division, four points behind the Canucks.

The Oilers, Canucks and Coyotes have been in first place this season.

“In all honesty, it’s been great,” Giordano, the Flames defenseman, said Friday. “I think our teams are super competitive now. The Battle of Alberta’s back (against the Oilers) but I also think we’re huge rivals with Arizona and Vancouver. So we’re all right there bunched in and battling, so it’s been a fun year. We definitely have had some heated battles. … Hopefully we get going again and bring it right back.”

Each of the captains on a video call arranged by the NHL was asked what he doesn’t miss about playing against the other three while the season is paused.

“Probably losing every face-off against Bo,” said McDavid, the Oilers center who has 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists) in 64 games this season and is second in the NHL scoring race to teammate Leon Draisaitl, who has 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in 71 games. “I’m not very good at face-offs but we go to Vancouver and [when you] play every shift against Bo, you don’t win many draws.

“Have had lots of good battles against all three of them. [Ekman-Larsson] has probably got the best stick in the League. It’s not as long as [Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno] Chara’s. [Giordano] is obviously a great overall player, so three good players in the Pacific Division.”

Horvat, who has 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 69 games this season, said McDavid was downplaying his own face-off abilities.

“He actually roasted me this year,” said Horvat, a center. “Trying to catch him is the biggest thing, so if you can start with the puck, it’s obviously an advantage to me.

“And the other two guys, every single time in the corner or coming down on them, you know you’re probably not going to get around them or get the puck in the corner. That’s the one thing I don’t miss about playing against those guys for sure.”

Video: Pacific Division stars discuss NHL Pause

Ekman-Larsson, who has 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists) in 66 games this season, laughed when he said he doesn’t miss McDavid making him look bad with his speed and noted his frequent on-ice battles with Giordano.

“It’s been fun at the same time,” the Coyotes defenseman said. “I respect [Giordano] a lot, but that’s how it is on the ice. Obviously a really good defenseman and a player I look up to. I don’t miss the battles right now. It’s kind of nice to relax in the sun a little bit.

“And Bo, I feel like we never have the puck when he’s on the ice, so I don’t miss that either.”

Giordano said Ekman-Larsson “crushed me a couple of times” and that the Coyotes have become difficult to play against with their defensive resolve and young, skilled players like forwards Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz.

And then he poked some fun at McDavid and Horvat.

“The other two forwards, I don’t know why everyone thinks they’re so quick,” said Giordano, who has 30 points (five goals, 26 assists) in 60 games. “I think they’re actually kind of slow, especially Connor, so it’s kind of tough to adjust my gaps based on [how] I’ve got to slow it down a bit.”

But the individual rivalries take a back seat to the battle for position within the division, Giordano said. It’s why the rivalry between Calgary and Edmonton has heated up.

“What’s happened is both teams, we’re both in those playoff spots, and for a lot of my career it wasn’t like that,” said Giordano, who has played all 14 of his NHL seasons with the Flames. “This is so much better. It’s so much better for the game, and it’s a lot more fun to play in those games. We’ve had some good ones this year, and hopefully we’ll keep that going.”

Calgary won its first three games against Edmonton this season, then lost the fourth 8-3 at home Feb. 1. That game included 102 minutes in penalties and a fight between goalies Mike Smith of the Oilers and Cam Talbot of the Flames.

The teams were scheduled to play a fifth time April 4 at Calgary in the regular-season finale for each.

“We’ve had lots of games (in past seasons) where they’ve been pretty meaningless, and this year obviously the games [are] so tight and these four teams being so tight,” McDavid said. “In Calgary and Edmonton especially, the fans always get into it, they’re always lots of fun, and this year they’ve been pretty wild. So we’ll get back playing here and maybe we’ll even see them in the playoffs. That would be pretty fun.”

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