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Canadians Justyn Knight, Sage Watson call COC decision ‘premature’

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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.”

 

 

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.”

WATCH | COC says athletes won’t attend Olympics if held in 2020:

CBC Sports’ Jamie Strashin discusses the Canadian Olympic Committee’s decision to refuse to send athletes to the Olympics if they do go ahead as planned, instead calling for a one year postponement. 3:58

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?”

 

 

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.”

WATCH | Justyn Knight wins men’s 3,000 metres at Millrose Games:

Canadian Justyn Knight claimed the top spot in the men’s 3,000m race at the Millrose Games from New York City. 2:13

“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.”

 

Canadian Sage Watson’s time of 54.32 sets a Canadian record and books her a spot in 400m hurdles. 3:48

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.”

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Andretti Autosport gains Surgere backing for iRacing at Barber – RACER

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Andretti Autosport has made an interesting expansion in its relationship with Surgere, the sponsor of Marco Andretti’s No. 98 Honda for the August 9 race at Mid-Ohio, by adding the company’s support to the No. 98 iRacing entry Scott Speed will pilot on Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.

The supply chain solution provider is the first known partner among IndyCar teams to increase its support by branching out into Esports sponsorship with the No. 98 Honda.

“We’re really excited to welcome Surgere to the Andretti team and excited to be able to represent them both in the Esports world with iRacing this weekend as well as physically on track in August,” said team owner Michael Andretti. “Our sport is in a unique time, but the opportunity for growth and exposure in new ways is stronger than ever and we’re really happy to have Surgere along for the ride.”

The majority of teams competing in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge have replicated their real liveries for iRacing, rather than look to amplify the role of smaller sponsors, or develop new sponsorship opportunities to utilize in virtual races. The move by Andretti and Surgere highlights the ongoing search by teams to deliver value for sponsors in any way possible during the coronavirus shutdown.

IndyCar team owner Dennis Reinbold, whose driver Sage Karam won the first IndyCar iRacing Challenge, told RACER the victory generated real-world value for his sponsors, who were given all of the metrics produced through live streaming and social media.

“We have done that and our marketing arm has been all about that — to try to connect those dots as best we can for Wix and all our partners,” Reinbold added. “Sage got on (ESPN) SportsCenter the night after and did a great job and all of that factors into it as well. As much exposure as you can get to try to justify our relationships while we’re delayed is a good thing. For now, this is probably the best we can do. I’m really looking forward to Saturday’s race at Barber and see what happens there.”

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Sim debut first step toward racing return – Wickens – RACER

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Late Thursday evening, Robert Wickens got his first taste of driving an Indy car since his life-altering crash in 2018. The laps came in one of the more dynamic simulation rigs on the market, and as the Canadian tells it, the time spent navigating iRacing’s Barber Motorsports Park circuit ahead of Saturday’s IndyCar Challenge race were an important first step in his career.

“It’s very early days. The sim finally was set up by SimCraft. Finished yesterday at around 3:00. I was able to put in a couple laps last night for the first time,” the Arrow McLaren SP driver said.

“It’s weird. It’s kind of a mental overload. My brain was exploding from trying to figure out how to use the handbrakes, to learn the feeling of it and everything,” Wickens explained. “A lot of work to do in a short amount of time. I was hoping I’d pick it up a lot quicker than I am. I’m spinning a lot more than I intend to. I’m just so happy that I can get back and compete with these guys. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

“The biggest thing for me is although this is fun, I see this as the long-term project of getting me back into the race car. I always knew through simulation was going to be the best way to trial different handbrake or paddle configurations. This is step one of a hundred to get me back into the NTT IndyCar Series.”

Wickens’ inspiring journey from paraplegia to regaining incremental use of his legs has kept the racing world glued to his video updates on social media. The need to drive iRacing’s Dallara DW12-Chevy — and every other vehicle — through brake and throttle controls on the steering wheel, is a learning process that will serve the 31-year-old when it’s time to go testing in a real AMSP Indy car.

“Simulation was always step number one for me,” he said. “Unfortunately, through one reason or another, it was very challenging to basically do it right. I didn’t want to purchase an Amazon setup, try to learn on that. I wanted to build a good foundation that you can evolve and make better.

“Like I said, I see this as a great training tool for me to make my hand control second nature, but I didn’t want to do it on a budget. That was always the challenge. Now obviously with what’s going on in the world, current pandemic, the simulation, the virtual racing, Esports, basically took center stage and made it all reality very quickly. I guess you could say I’m almost a beneficiary of what’s happening in the world right now. I’m excited to drive something. Last night was the first time I’ve driven any form of race car since the accident in Pocono. Even though it was virtual, it still felt pretty good.”

Wickens, along with the rest of the IndyCar field, will go racing on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET at Barber, with the event aired live on NBCSN.

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COVID-19 isolation means dog days for Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Edmonton Sun

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Every dog has its day, especially Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ golden retriever Sophie, who wouldn’t know COVID-19 from a milk bone.

But her tail has been wagging with all the times the Edmonton Oilers centre has gotten out her leash lately.

“I think she’s the only one that’s happy with the whole quarantine thing that is going on. She gets lots of attention, lots of walks right now,” said the longest-serving Oilers player at 604 games, who is currently camped out with wife Breanne at their house in Edmonton during the stoppage, rather than return to their off-season home in Vancouver.

Like pretty much everybody staying inside and practising social distancing during the coronavirus threat, he’s safe but bored, sleeping in later than usual, trying to get some exercise, watching Netflix.

Yeah, he’s seen Tiger King.

“Pretty bizarre, the whole thing,” he said, not stick-handling around the question on whether Carole Baskin’s departed husband had been fed to the tigers.

“Sure seemed that way to me,” said Nugent-Hopkins on SportsNet’s Hockey Central.

He’s spending more time in the kitchen than usual. Not as big on take-out with Skip the Dishes or Uber Eats.

“I’ve been cooking a lot, something I don’t usually do during the season, lunches and dinner, a little unusual for me but cooking is something I’ve wanted to get more into and my wife and I are trying to come up with creative dishes to try out,” said Nugent-Hopkins.

Getting creative is what he’s done with his playing too, moving to left-wing from centre. This may be his true NHL calling if McDavid and Draisaitl are the NHL’s best tag-team at centre. Just as Joe Pavelski moved to wing with Joe Thornton in San Jose with Logan Couture as the other Sharks’ centre.

Nugent-Hopkins had 61 points in 65 games at the stoppage, 41 of those in 30 games since New Year’s Eve, when he and Draisaitl found themselves with Kailer Yamamoto.

This may be the start of Nugent-Hopkins’ second chapter, the first player taken in the 2011 draft, now a winger like so many other centres in the NHL because all those Canadian Olympic teams are populated with centres who have to move over.

Either Nugent-Hopkins stays with Draisaitl, the NHL’s scoring leader, or shifts to left-wing with McDavid because the Oilers third-best forward can’t be a No. 3 centre; not nearly enough ice-time for a guy who was on pace for a career high 70-plus points before the stoppage.

“Playing the wing changes your game a little bit, it does open up a little more offensively for you,” said Nugent-Hopkins on a video conference call. “When you’re centre, you’ve always got to make sure you’re coming back and playing deep in your own zone. You’re kind of catching up to the rush more so coming out of the defensive zone, transitioning to offence.”

“Whereas as a winger, you’re usually the one leading with the puck or at least supporting the guy who’s leading with the puck. So it’s kind of, as soon as we get it, we have that offensive mindset. At least, that’s how I saw it once I went onto the wing. I got to play with obviously Leo and Yamo and we got some chemistry going right away. Definitely a lot of fun,” said Nugent-Hopkins.

Yamamoto’s arrival from Bakersfield saved the season for the Oilers, gave them a second-line, taking the heat off McDavid on the first unit. Yamamoto has 25 points in 26 games, and nobody’s looking at the 150-pound winger like he’s a work in progress any longer.

“What do I like about Yamo? The way he goes and gets pucks, he’s not afraid to go into the corner with anybody. He battled with (Zdeno) Chara — a little height difference there, but he’s not afraid,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “He wants to win the puck battle and get pucks back for us.”

It’s a strong scouting report, just like the one he’s got on 14-year-old forward Connor Bedard, who was just granted exceptional-player status by the Western Hockey League, who will welcome him as a 15-year-old.

Nugent-Hopkins can relate because he was the first-overall pick in the bantam draft by Red Deer Rebels in 2008, just as Bedard will be when the Regina Pats call out his name.

“I’ve skated with Connor with Power Edge Pro in Burnaby. I think we started skating with him when he was 12 and when we found out how old he was, we were pretty shocked. He’s a bigger kid for his age (165 pounds), I definitely wasn’t that big at that age, but everything he does is so advanced,” said Nugent-Hopkins.

“His shot is already very good, hard and so accurate and a great skater. Pretty special player for sure and for him to become the first guy to be granted exceptional-player status in the WHL is pretty impressive.”

Nugent-Hopkins would rather be talking about the other Connor, and Saturday’s game in Calgary to end the regular-season, bringing back the fire on ice in the Battle of Alberta. But, we won’t be getting that now.

“I’ve thought about all the games we’ve missed. We had that one eastern road trip left and then a lot of home games left,” he said.

“It’s hard not to think about that when you’re going over those days we should have been playing. Everybody’s kind of just taking it one day at a time now, waiting for updates. It’s definitely strange, knowing we would have been playing our last regular-season game on Saturday.”

E-mail: jmatheson@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @NHLbyMatty

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