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How Canada's athletes are training for what could be the hottest Olympics – CBC.ca

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Of all the extraordinary circumstances faced by those competing at this year’s Olympics, the one that could have the most direct impact on athletic performance is the weather. 

In the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, much of the public’s attention has been on the pandemic that has pushed the Games back by a year and resulted in spectators being barred from events. However, extreme summer temperatures are among the top concerns for Olympic athletes and their trainers, who have had to find some creative ways to prepare.

The summer months in Tokyo can be so hot that the 1964 Summer Games there were held in October. With this year’s events forging ahead this month, forecasters have predicted these could be the hottest Olympics to date, with temperatures reaching as high as the mid-30s Celsius.

For the Canadian women’s eight rowing team, training to compete in that kind of heat has meant moving indoors, into a sweltering sports dome at the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific in Victoria, B.C. On an otherwise cool summer day, team pathologist Wendy Pethick cranked up a huge heater, helping push the dome’s indoor temperature up to around 35 C.

In order to prepare for the extreme heat expected in Tokyo, the Canadian women’s eight rowing team has been training in an ‘erg dome’ in Victoria, B.C., that’s heated to 35 C. (Dan Batchelor)

“The whole goal for heat acclimation is to try to impose a thermal stress for a given period of time,” said Pethick, with the intent of pushing up the athletes’ baseline core temperatures by about a degree, to a maximum of 38.5 C.

“Because we don’t have the temperatures here in Canada,” Pethick said, doing this kind of training ahead of the games can help the athletes’ bodies learn to deal with that kind of heat and “gives them a little bit of an advantage.”

The results look deeply uncomfortable. As the rowers grind out a gruelling 90-minute workout on rowing machines and stationary bikes, sweat slides off their bodies and splashes into pools on the floor beneath them. Pop music is pumped loudly on speakers to keep morale up. 

Team member Madison Mailey said she and her teammates generally drink “around three to four litres” of water during a session. They’re all weighed before and after, so they know how much fluid they lose.

“It’s quite gross to think about your body sweating out three to four litres of water. But it’s real,” she said.

Members of Canada’s women’s eight rowing team lose about three to four litres of sweat during a 90-minute heat training session. (Dan Batchelor)

Since individuals deal slightly differently with heat, Pethick and her colleagues move around the room, checking in with each athlete to gauge their condition.

One of the tools they employ is a tiny thermometer in the form of a pill. The athletes are asked to swallow it a few hours in advance of their training session, and it transmits data about their internal body temperature.

“As soon as the athletes get to 38.5 [Celsius], we just try to maintain that for as much of the session as we possibly can. And we know from the literature and from the research that by applying that amount of thermal stress, we’re going to get full adaptation,” Pethick said.

High-level athletes like the women’s eight rowing team have “very well-developed sweat mechanisms,” she said. “And heat acclimation augments that process.”

The pill also helps ensure each athlete’s safety during training. 

“If we have an athlete that heats up really quickly, then we know that we can back off on the work that they’re doing so that we don’t overcook them,” she said.

Olympic rower Madison Mailey holds up a heat-monitoring pill that she ingests in order to help trainers track her internal body temperature during training. (Courtesy Wendy Pethick)

 

While the actual rowing competitions themselves only last around six minutes, Pethick says, the athletes are working at maximum capacity. That means that while dehydration is less of a concern during a race, they can still overheat.

“The real difficulty is going to be the humidity,” Pethick said. “What that does is it effectively shuts down our most effective heat loss avenue, which is evaporation of sweat.”

When the body can’t thermo-regulate, she says, “you get into things like heat stroke and heat exhaustion, which can be very serious.” 

Racing in a Laser Radial dinghy means Sailor Sarah Douglas not only has to contend with the heat in the air, but also from splashing water, which she says could reach as high as 28 C in Tokyo.

Twice a week for around 20 to 40 minutes, she has been training on an exercise bike in a heat chamber at the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario in Toronto. Occasionally, she has posted videos of the sweaty outcome to social media.

“It’s feeling like an oven,” she said in a selfie video taken inside the chamber, where the temperature gauge read 33.6 C, with 65 per cent humidity.

WATCH | Canadian sailor Sarah Douglas shows what an Olympic training session in a heat chamber is like:

Canadian Olympic sailor Sarah Douglas has been exercising in a heat chamber in Toronto, with temperatures in the mid-30s Celsius, in order to prepare herself to compete in the extreme heat expected in Tokyo. (Video courtesy Sarah Douglas) 0:17

Afterward, she wrings out her soaking wet shirt over a sink. “OK, this is how hot it is,” she said, as sweat pours out.

Discomfort is something athletes are used to and train for, but high heat can be especially dangerous for those competing outdoors for long periods of time. That’s why the International Olympic Committee (IOC) moved distance races, such as the marathons, to Sapporo, around 800 km north of Tokyo. Temperatures there are expected to be a few degrees cooler, but still hot.

Before heading there, Canadian marathon runner Malindi Elmore has been training outside in the midday heat in her hometown of Kelowna, B.C. The goal is to acclimatize, but she says the challenge for runners can be as much about training the mind as it is physical.

“It’s in our minds as athletes [that] we want to always do things at our very best,” she said. “But the heat is legitimately a factor, and we need to back off 10 or 15 seconds a kilometre to adjust for the pace.”

Elmore says the overall pace of a race will “naturally adjust” when it’s hot. She says those runners who don’t will “pay a really heavy price.”

Brent Lakatos, a Canadian wheelchair racer, will also be competing outdoors in Japan in the Paralympics. He normally lives with his wife in the United Kingdom, which doesn’t have the kind of heat he needs in order to prepare to compete in the sunshine in Japan. So he has been training in Spain in order to acclimatize. 

Upon his return to the U.K. before heading to the Games, he said, he’ll continue his training inside a do-it-yourself heat chamber in his garage. 

“I’m going to be getting a humidifier that grocery stores use — so, a fairly strong one — and setting that up inside my garage along with a heater,” he said.

Canadian Brent Lakatos, a seven-time Paralympic medalist, plans to train for Tokyo in a do-it-yourself heat chamber in his garage. (John Sibley/Pool/Getty Images)

Wendy Pethick says Paralympians sometimes require highly individualized training plans for heat mitigation. For instance, athletes with spinal cord injuries may have a diminished capacity to sweat, she says.

“And so for those athletes, we’ve looked at a number of different ways for cooling.” 

They include vests filled with ice that can be worn before or after a competition, as well as ice slushies that can be ingested to help lower the body’s core temperature.

Pethick says she was “a little bit” surprised by the choice of Tokyo in mid-summer for these Games. But she added that, “for any Summer Olympics on any given day, it could be temperature extremes. And so I think athletes and coaches need to be prepared for that.”

It’s a lesson summer athletes will likely need to heed into the future, as rising temperatures mean Summer Games could be increasingly hot in many parts of the world. Tokyo, in so many ways, is a testing ground pushing athletes to adapt.


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Canadian flag-bearer's parents delightfully cheer on daughter from across the world – Yahoo Canada Sports

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Miranda Ayim’s parents were ecstatic to watch their daughter carry Canada’s flag at the Opening Ceremony. (Photo via @CBCOlympics/Twitter)

When Canadian women’s basketball player Miranda Ayim triumphantly led the Canadian contingent into the opening ceremony at Tokyo 2020, a small group of friends and family gathered back in London, Ont., to cheer her on.

At the centre of the group were Ayim’s parents, Gus and Sandy Ayim, who were understandably beaming with pride.

Any parent of an Olympic athlete would be on the edge of their seat watching their child enter the Olympic Stadium, but when they are the ones leading the team and carrying the flag, the emotions are surely that much stronger.

“Exhilaration, nervousness, anticipation as we just saw the flag…the Canada flag in the corner in the back, in the tunnel, and then that ratcheted everything up just a little bit as we saw the anticipation of them coming out,” Gus told CTV News.

Suddenly, all those long years of early morning drives to practices and weekends spent on the road at basketball tournaments don’t seem like much of a sacrifice at all. Not when this was what they were leading to.

But still, Ayim knows she wouldn’t be in this spot without the support of her parents. In fact, back in 2018, she thanked her parents in an Instagram post for all they have done for her.

“Of all the people in our lives we take for granted, parents seem to continually rank at the top of the list,” Ayim wrote in the caption. “Without them, there would have been no rebounder in the gym at 6 in the morning, no driver to countless practices and games, no cheerleader in the stands, no consoler after a hard game, no counsellor in the face of hard decisions.”

Now, with the opening ceremony behind her, Ayim can turn her focus to basketball.

The 33-year-old forward and the rest of her Canadian teammates will begin their pursuit of a medal when they face off against Serbia on Monday.

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Canadian cyclist Michael Woods just misses podium after gruelling 234-km ride – CBC.ca

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In a race that lasted nearly six hours and traversed more than 200 kilometres, in the end it came down to a matter of inches for Canadian cyclist Michael Woods.

With Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz capturing gold, Woods was among a group of five riders who were in a flat sprint over the final 100 metres, jockeying for silver and bronze. With a few metres to go, Woods appeared to get boxed out by two other riders, ultimately finishing fifth and missing out on a medal by less than a second.

“I am really happy with how I rode but just off the podium which was my big goal,” Woods told CBC Sports after the race. “I tried to get some separation as much as I could but it just wasn’t in the cards.”

Woods final time was six hours, six minutes and 33 seconds, 1.07 behind Carapaz.

Belgium’s Wout van Aert captured silver. Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar took the bronze.

Woods overcame gruelling conditions, on what riders called the toughest Olympic course ever, to be in contention at the finish.

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The 34-year-old was barely mentioned during this race before, like a coiled spring, thrusting himself into the top group with about 30 kilometres left of the 234-kilometre race.

Coming into this race, the Toronto native and Ottawa resident said the brutal course, full of deadly climbs, “really suited him.”  He was right.

“I thought I was the strongest climber today, but I had to roll the dice [and] it didn’t play out as I’d hoped,” Woods said.

“I really didn’t want it to come down to a sprint. I tried to attack several times and I wanted to get away like Carapaz did, but I just wasn’t as lucky as him and able make the move that he did.”

This race had an Olympic feel that’s been lacking here in Tokyo as for the first time athletes had a crowd cheering them on. Thousands of fans welcomed the riders as they entered the Fuji Motor Speedway two hours from Tokyo, where the race finished. Riders also received strong encouragement from locals who lined parts of the course as the race snaked through the mountains, where COVID-19 protocols aren’t as restrictive as in Tokyo.

A pack of riders goes past Yamanaka Lake during the men’s cycling road race on Saturday. (AFP via Getty Images)

While countries like Italy and Belgium and France had five riders who were able to control the pace throughout the race before launching waves of co-ordinated attacks, Woods did much of the work on his own.

About 80 kilometres into the race, it appeared that Woods might have been involved in a crash that sidelined a pair of British riders, but he escaped contact. He did have to drop back from the pack momentarily as he appeared to have issues with one of his shoes before getting a fresh pair from his team car.

With the iconic Mount Fuji looming over many parts of the course, the 130-rider field had to navigate a series of five gruelling climbs adding up to nearly 5,000 metres, a more arduous challenge than even the most difficult mountain stages at the Tour de France.

As one commentator put it: add in the humidity and it will feel like they are climbing Mount Everest.

The toughest challenge of this race came near the end, after nearly 200 kilometres of racing, called the Mikuni Pass, the steepest climb in cycling.

Woods said before the race that the steep ascents made it a “good course for him.”

“It is a really challenging climb, really steep, but it really suits my skill set. I think with the heat, particularly with the amount of climbing in this race, it really does suit my abilities,” Woods told CBC Sports.

WATCH | The Olympians: Mike Woods

Watch CBC Sports’ The Olympians feature, on Mike Woods. 3:06

Beyond the brutal climbs, riders also had to endure the searing heat. Early this month, Woods actually decided to leave the Tour de France early so he could come to the Olympics early to help acclimate himself to the heat.

“I did three hours in the peak heat of the day, sweating profusely, and I was really happy that I got that in. I think I need a couple more days of that heat exposure and I think I’ll be good in terms of actual race day preparation,” Woods said.

The Olympic road race is usually held on a circuit, but at these Games, riders began at Tokyo’s Musashinonomori Park then passed through Kanagawa and Yamanashi Prefectures before finishing at the Fuji International Speedway. As riders wound their way through the Japanese countryside, they were treated to small slices of Japanese culture, including ancient temples and ornate fountains.

Just two weeks ago, Woods was involved in a crash at the Tour de France, where he suffered a severe road rash. But coming into these Games, Wood said he felt healthy and in great spirits.

Back home, his wife Elly is just about to have a baby boy. Despite changes coming at home and a career that has now included two Olympics, in the moments after this narrow defeat, Woods said that you may see him in Paris, the site of 2024 Olympics.

“We will have to see what the course in Paris is like,” he said. “I will be 38 at the next Olympics, So it’s difficult to say. But this has me all the more motivated and if the course in Paris is challenging, I will be there I think.”

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Canadian medal hopefuls Humana-Paredes, Pavan start beach volleyball with easy win – CBC.ca

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Under a scorching sun, brilliant blue sky and temperatures that soared above 38 degrees Celsius at the Shiokaze Park in Tokyo, Canada’s dynamic beach volleyball duo of Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes wasted no time taking it to their Dutch opponents. 

The No. 1-ranked and defending world champions took a few minutes to get their footing in the golden sand at the venue, but when they did, they were a force to be reckoned with. 

Pavan and Humana-Paredes defeated the Netherlands duo of Katja Stam and Raisa School in straight sets (21-16, 21-14) on Saturday to open their Olympics. 

“I think today we made it clear that everything we’ve been working on has paid off,” Pavan said after the victory. “The three times we’ve played that team it’s gone down to the wire. Today we took care of it.”

The duo fell behind early to the Dutch, trailing 5-2 in the first set and looking somewhat frustrated. But after an end change Canada rallied, stringing together four straight points, the fourth a huge Pavan block at the net, to take a 6-5 lead.

She pumped her fist in the air before sharing a high-five with Humana-Paredes.

“Regardless of the empty stadium I was shaking like a leaf,” Humana-Paredes said. “I was so nervous and so excited and put on a brave face.”

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The team talked about needing to feed off one another’s energy on the court because they normally thrive on the crowd. So any chance they get to ignite one another here at the Olympics, they take full advantage of it. 

Thousands of blue seats around the venue sat empty because of COVID restrictions — a similar scene at every Olympic venue in Tokyo, still in a state of emergency.

WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes win opener in straight sets:

Canada’s Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan opened their Tokyo 2020 beach volleyball campaign with a straight-sets (21-16, 21-14) win over the Netherlands’ Katja Stam and Raisa School. 5:34

The Canadians started to pull away slowly from the Dutch. Pavan’s 6-foot-5 frame was a huge advantage at the net, blocking another Dutch smash to make the score 14-10. 

The Dutch were visibly frustrated by Pavan’s daunting presence at the net and started making unforced errors. The Canadian duo then cruised to a 21-16 opening-set victory.

“We came out a little slow just getting used to the environment, nerves, excitement, everything. We settled in pretty quickly,” Pavan said. 

The Dutch weren’t about to go away too easily in the second set, going shot for shot with the Canadians. Canada mounted a 12-9 lead before a technical timeout for crews to rake the sand court.

Humana-Paredes then took her defensive game to a different level and at times was seemingly all over the court, digging up balls that seemed destined to touch sand. 

Pavan’s presence at the net continually frustrated the Canadians’ Dutch opponents. (AFP via Getty Images)

The experience, poise and power of the Canadians proved to be too much for the Dutch duo. Pavan and Humana-Paredes finished off the match winning the second set, 21-14. 

“Our game plan was on point. We executed our serving game very well and our defensive system. We were very prepared,” Pavan said. 

She finished with four block points and 11 attack points. 

One of the key strengths to Humana-Paredes and Pavan’s game is their ability to communicate. Because of the silent venue their strategy could be heard very clearly throughout the venue. They were constantly talking to one another and sharing information to each other and it slowly wore down the Dutch. 

WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes headed for history:

On this week’s episode of Team Canada Today, we go behind the scenes at training while Andi Petrillo tells you all you need to know about Olympic beach volleyball. 7:57

“That’s something we’ve been working on and it’s a cornerstone of our team,” Humana-Paredes said. “Our communication on and off the court, we put so much work into that. Communication is what we always come back to.”

Pavan and Humana-Paredes now take on Germany in their second match of the tournament in Pool A. 

There are 24 teams competing at the women’s beach volleyball tournament, including another Canadian duo made up of Heather Barnsley and Brandie Wilkerson. They play China in their first game on Saturday night in Tokyo. 

There are six groups made up of four teams. The top two teams from each group advance, with four more joining them in the round of 16. Then that gets trimmed down to eight teams, four teams and then the gold medal game. 

That’s the game Pavan and Humana-Paredes are targeting and are off to a perfect start. 

“It’s such an honour to be here and surreal. It’s something I’ve dreamt of since I was a little girl. I just want to soak it all in.”

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