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Scott Stinson: With Tokyo Olympics call, Team Canada may have shamed IOC into doing the right thing – National Post

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It is difficult to describe in words what an Olympic medal means to an amateur athlete.
Instead, there are scenes.

On the side of a mountain in Korea in 2018, four Canadian lugers won a silver medal and exploded with joy, erasing four years of pain that had come with a fourth-place finish in Sochi.

“No words,” Tristan Walker said moments later. As he spoke, his teammate Justin Snith stood next to him, shaking silently as he wept.

At an arena in Rio de Janiero, when Erica Wiebe had wrestled the match of her life to win gold. She held up a Canadian flag, fell to her knees, and buried her face in the middle of the mat. There were tears there, too.

At a different mountain in Korea two years ago, it was Mikael Kingsbury, the greatest moguls skier in history, who let out a huge yell as he crossed the finish line with a perfect run. He had a closet full of trophies and honours, but the relief that winning his first Olympic gold brought absolutely emanated from him that dark, cold night. Not winning would have been unbearable.

“I don’t have any words right now,” he said.

These are the things that Team Canada had to consider when it made the decision, announced late Sunday night, that it would not send its athletes to the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo if they were held as scheduled in 2020.

It was the right decision, as the world reels from the effects of the coronavirus, and it was a brave one, coming only hours after the International Olympic Committee announced that it would wait four more weeks before deciding on a postponement. The Canadian Olympic Committee said, effectively, that it could not wait. Expecting its athletes to continue training right now “runs counter to the public health advice which we urge all Canadians to follow,” it said. This is absolutely true, and it is the part of the IOC’s wait-and-see approach that is so untenable.


Silver medalists Alex Gough, Samoa Edney, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith of Canada celebrate during the Medal Ceremony for the Luge – Team Relay Competition on day seven of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Medal Plaza on February 16, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

But Canada’s was also a brutal decision. The COC was on the way to qualifying its largest-ever team for a Summer Olympics, as an operation that was transformed into a medal-winning machine over the past decade-plus continued to churn out potential podium finishers. Even if the Tokyo Olympics are pushed back a year, which is the desired outcome for Team Canada and which offers the least amount of disruption to normal training schedules, it is a plain fact that some of the athletes who had worked for four years toward a peak in July of 2020 will not necessarily be able to reach the same peak in July of 2021. For some, the Olympic dream will be lost. Injuries will happen. Life will happen. Teams will have to weigh if the composition of their rosters 16 months from now should be the same as they would have been in July. For the Paralympics, the difference a year makes can be even more stark. Some athletes have degenerative conditions, and their competitive windows can close fast. A delayed Paralympics could mean no Paralympics at all.


Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser (L) and Natalie Spooner celebrate with their gold medals after their team defeated Team USA in overtime in the women’s ice hockey final game at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 20, 2014.

REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

This helps explain why Team Canada did not come to this decision lightly. It was on March 17, less than a week ago, that the COC offered qualified support of an IOC statement that it was too early to consider changing the date of the Tokyo Olympics. Some high-profile athletes took the IOC to task, among them Canadians Hayley Wickenheiser and Mark Tewksbury, both retired legends, and over the ensuing few days the folly of the IOC’s waiting game became all the more evident. Health authorities here and around the world are stressing the importance of staying home to help break the transmission of COVID-19, a practice that is directly at odds with training for an Olympic Games. Gyms are closed, pools are closed, tracks are closed. Italy is on total lockdown, Germany is banning groups larger than two, and many other countries, including ours, could be moving in that direction. What is a would-be Olympian to do in those circumstances? Hurdle chairs in the kitchen? Throw a javelin off the balcony?

Team Canada, once just happy to be there, has rightly developed a swagger over the past decade

The delay is the only answer. Even allowing for the possibility of rapid global change that gets the virus under control in the coming months, it is the present day that is the problem. Training is unsafe. Expecting athletes to pretend otherwise is foolish.
Canada was out in the lead, but others are certain to follow. The Australian Olympic Committee has since told its athletes to stop training for a 2020 Olympics, and the American track and swimming federations, two pillars of its Olympic teams, have said the United States should push for a postponement. Countries like Brazil and Norway, who had each advocated for a date change, will make their ultimatums more concrete. The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, said on Monday that a date shift for an Olympics that he no doubt wants to be part of an economic recovery, could be “unavoidable.”

And so, in the end, it will be the International Olympic Committee that finally comes around and admits the obvious. The record will show that Canada had to shame them into doing the right thing.

Team Canada, once just happy to be there, has rightly developed a swagger over the past decade. It won no medals with this decision, but it should be proud just the same.

Postmedia News

sstinson@postmedia.com

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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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