Tag Archives: Beijing

Canadian Michael Kovrig, accused by China of spying, goes on trial in Beijing

The trial of Michael Kovrig, the second of two Canadians detained in China for more than two years, is underway in Beijing in a closed courtroom, a senior Canadian diplomat said Monday.

China arrested Kovrig, a former diplomat, and fellow Canadian Michael Spavor in December 2018, soon after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech company Huawei, on a U.S. warrant.

Beijing insists the detentions are not linked to the arrest of Meng, who remains under house arrest in Vancouver as she fights extradition to the United States.

Global Affairs Canada confirmed Sunday that Canadian officials won’t be granted permission to attend.

“We’ve requested access to Michael Kovrig’s hearing repeatedly but that access is being denied” over national security reasons, said Jim Nickel, chargé d’affaires at the Embassy of Canada to China, outside the court on Monday in Beijing. 

“Now we see that the court process itself is not transparent. We’re very troubled by this.”

The trial of Kovrig, pictured in this file image made from a March 28, 2018, video, is underway in China, according to Nickel. (File photo/The Associated Press)

In a show of solidarity, 28 diplomats from 26 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Netherlands and Czech Republic, turned up outside the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court on Monday, which was marked by a heavy police presence.

“[U.S.] President [Joe] Biden and [Secretary of State Antony] Blinken have said that in dealing with the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the United States will treat these two individuals as if they were American citizens,” William Klein, chargé d’affaires of the U.S. embassy in China, told reporters as he stood beside Nickel.

Jim Nickel, chargé d’affaires at the Embassy of Canada to China, centre, Willian Klein, chargé d’affaires of the U.S. embassy in China, left, speak to media as they arrive to request entry to the closed trial for Michael Kovrig on Monday in Beijing. (Getty Images)

“We are here to show solidarity. Arbitrary detention is not the way,” another diplomat told Reuters, declining to be named as she was not authorized to speak on the record about the Canadians’ trial.

More than 50 countries signed a declaration in February to condemn the arbitrary detention of foreign citizens for political purposes.

Some diplomats took off their face masks as they posed for a group photo outside the court, with each shouting out which country they represented to help reporters identify them.

Verdict to come in Spavor trial

On Friday, Spavor, a businessman, underwent a trial behind closed doors in a court in the northeastern city of Dandong. The court said it will set a date later for a verdict.

Canadian and other diplomats were not allowed to attend Spavor’s trial on what China said were national security grounds, a lack of transparency that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “completely unacceptable.”

Observers have said the likely convictions of the two men could ultimately facilitate a diplomatic agreement whereby they are released and sent back to Canada. Chinese courts have a conviction rate of over 99 per cent.

Police officers stand outside a Beijing court where Kovrig is standing trial. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Earlier Sunday, Vina Nadjibulla, Kovrig’s wife, praised recent public comments from Trudeau, Biden and Blinken in support of “the two Michaels,” as they have become known around the world. 

But Nadjibulla said in an interview on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live that she wants to see those words translated into actions that secure their release as soon as possible.

“Solidarity and support and words are good, and we must continue to say those things,” Nadjibulla told host Rosemary Barton.

“But what really will make a difference for Michael [Kovrig] and for Michael Spavor now are actions and concerted diplomatic effort on the part of all three governments to find a path forward.”

WATCH | Michael Kovrig’s wife calls for end of detention ahead of trial:

The wife of Canadian Michael Kovrig, who was to stand trial Monday in China for alleged espionage, is calling for a diplomatic solution to end the detention of her husband as well as fellow jailed Canadian Michael Spavor. 2:01

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IOC, China make vaccine deal for Tokyo, Beijing Olympians

The International Olympic Committee and China have teamed up to offer vaccines to athletes and teams preparing for the upcoming games in both Tokyo and Beijing.

The collaboration with Chinese Olympic officials was announced Thursday during an online IOC meeting.

“We are grateful for this offer, which is in the true Olympic spirit of solidarity,” IOC president Thomas Bach said.

Bach said the IOC would “pay for extra doses” for Olympic and Paralympic participants.

Japan’s vaccination rollout has been relatively slow despite the upcoming Tokyo Games. It was launched in February, months after other major countries.

The Tokyo Olympics are set to open on July 23, and the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing are scheduled for February.

Heading off concerns that athletes might jump the line to get vaccinated, Bach said extra doses for the general public will be given to countries taking part in the program.

“The IOC will pay for two doses more, which can be made available for the population in the respective country according to their needs,” Bach said.

Distribution will be through international agencies or existing vaccine agreements countries have with China, Bach said.

China, where the COVID-19 outbreak emerged in late 2019, has actively engaged in vaccine diplomacy, using doses developed by Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Research by The Associated Press this month showed China has pledged about a half billion doses of its vaccines to more than 45 countries.

Bach said the agreement with China would help fulfil promises to Olympic organizers and competitors that the games will be staged safely.

He said the project was “our demonstration of solidarity with the Japanese people for whom we have such high respect and whom we hold in such high regard.”

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‘Boycotts don’t work’: Canada’s Olympic, Paralympic leaders dismiss idea of skipping Beijing 2022

With the next Winter Games in Beijing a year away, Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic leaders are dismissing the idea of a Canadian boycott even though human rights issues continue to plague China.

In an editorial published in the Globe and Mail and La Presse on Thursday, both David Shoemaker, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, and Karen O’Neill, CEO of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, left no room for doubt — Canadian athletes intend to compete in Beijing. The pair reiterated those thoughts in an interview with CBC Sports.

“We believe strongly in the power of sport,” Shoemaker said via Zoom. “We thought it was important to put a stake in the ground and to say we think these Games are meaningful. 

“We have very serious concerns and share the concerns of others about what’s going on in the host country, but we think our role here is to bring Team Canada to these Games, to be on full display, and be part of a conversation.”

There have been mounting calls for a sweeping boycott of the Beijing Games in light of the persecution of ethnic minorities in the country’s Xinjiang region as well as China’s crackdown on pro-democracy sentiment in Hong Kong.

WATCH | David Shoemaker on why Canada won’t boycott Beijing Olympics:

David Shoemaker, chief executive officer and secretary general of the Canadian Olympic Committee tells CBC News’ Heather Hiscox that boycotts “do not work” and “it’s important for us to be part of the conversation and be there” in China. 11:39

The international organization Human Rights Watch declared in its annual report that China is “in the midst of its darkest period for human rights since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.”

On Wednesday, a year out from the Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony, a coalition of 180 groups, including Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs, Inner Mongolians and residents of Hong Kong opposed to the deterioration of human rights and increasing repression by the Xi Jinping-led Communist party, issued an open letter to governments around the world calling for a boycott.

From a Canadian perspective, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor have been detained in China on suspicion of espionage since 2018. This has substantially strained relations between the two countries.

Despite all this, the final declaration of the G20 summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in November, which was signed by the Canadian government, made no mention of support for an Olympic boycott as a means of redressing these issues.

“We look forward to the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022,” it said.

And while the COC and CPC’s declaration of intent to participate is meaningful, it is the federal government that can ultimately decide whether the nation’s athletes will take part in an Olympics.

People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during an extradition hearing for Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou in 2019. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

In Thursday’s joint publication, both the COC and CPC point to the power of the Games to bring the world together and to advance the interests of the global community by celebrating Canadian performances and values on the international field of play. They conclude a boycott is not the answer to the problems China faces.

“The evidence is overwhelming that boycotts, especially through the singular lens of sport, do not work,” O’Neill said. “It’s important for our whole community, our athletes, coaches and support people who have been through so much lately to put this on the table. This is where we’re at, here’s what we’re thinking, and here’s where we stand in terms of how we’re going to move forward.”

‘Boycotts don’t work’

Canada joined the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics in opposition of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviets led an Eastern-bloc boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“This is not theoretical or academic, we have a history of knowing that boycotts don’t work,” Shoemaker said. “We are assured that our government is addressing this on a government-to-government basis as a high priority. There are myriad tools available to the government to deal with this diplomatically.

“We do not see the logic that as a first order of business to re-set the relationship with China, and to send a message, that we should in effect punish 300 athletes and boycott the Beijing Games.”

Visitors to Chongli, one of the venues for the 2022 Beijing Games, pass by the Olympics logo. A coalition of 180 rights group on Wednesday called for a boycott of those Games tied to reported human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in China. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

When contacted, the athlete leaders of both the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic teams for Beijing 2022 applauded the pro-active approach taken by the COC and CPC regarding the question of a potential boycott.

“A boycott means turning our back on the situation. Let’s instead have conversations and work towards solutions,” said Catriona Le May Doan, the chef de mission for Team Canada in Beijing and a two-time Olympic speed skating champion. “The athlete’s role will be to showcase Canadian values and help build bridges as they have always done.”

Gold medal champion skier Josh Dueck will be Canada’s chef de mission at the Paralympics in China.

“Now more than ever we need to engage athletes to empower people,” Dueck said from his home in Vernon, B.C. “By asking athletes to withdraw from the Games we would take away their ability to compete but also to bring these difficult issues to light. That is unfair on both a personal and conversational level to the athletes.”

The message is clear. The people who run international sport in this country believe it’s far more prudent and responsible to attend the Games in Beijing than to stay home in protest.

“It’s difficult, it’s complex. In saying we think the right answer is that we go and compete in China, we’re not saying that we minimize the significance of the issues that are coming to the fore,” Shoemaker said.

“We think when faced with the choice between engaging and being part of a conversation, amplifying voices, and participating in these Games versus detaching, pulling back, distressing people and further polarizing around viewpoints, the choice becomes abundantly clear.”

O’Neill agreed.

“Showing up, being part of the conversation, and some of the solutions that build bridges is the way forward in terms of sport thriving,” she said. “Leading with a boycott of sport is just not the thing to do and historically has shown us that it will not move us to where we want to go.”

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After disappointing 2018, Canada’s hockey, curling Olympians face extra pressure in Beijing

Canadian Olympians will tell you it’s a privilege to sport the maple leaf.

But with that often comes crushing expectations, especially when you’re a Canadian curler or hockey player and the expectation is gold or bust. Anything else is not good enough. 

Now with just one year to go until the 2022 Beijing Olympics, the pressure is ramping up again. With added weight. 

For the first time since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, when curling and women’s hockey were added, Team Canada will take to the ice for a Winter Games without being defending champions in any one of the four men’s and women’s curling and hockey events.  

This is uncharted territory for a nation that prides itself on being the best hockey and curling nation in the world. But in PyeongChang, that wasn’t the case.

Neither Canada’s men’s nor women’s curling teams won medals, the first time either team missed the podium in five Olympics. It sent a shockwave through Canada’s curling community. 

The men, skipped by Kevin Koe, finished fourth, while the women’s team, led by Rachel Homan, missed the playoffs entirely. There was a gold medal won by Kailtyn Lawes and John Morris in the inaugural mixed doubles event, but the shutout in the traditional men’s and women’s tournaments was difficult to process.

Canada’s Rachel Homan and her team failed to make the playoffs in PyeongChang. (Associated Press)

2018 called ‘an aberration’

“We are a sport that has produced medal after medal, world champion after world champion. I would characterize this as a bit of an aberration in our system,” Katherine Henderson, Curling Canada CEO, said at the time. 

On the hockey side, the women’s team suffered a heartbreaking shootout defeat in the gold medal game to the Americans — the pain and emotion of the loss evident as Canada’s Jocelyne Larocque took her silver medal off during the ceremony. 

She later apologized, saying “in the moment, I was disappointed with the outcome of the game, and my emotions got the better of me.”

Jocelyne Larocque, centre, later apologized after refusing to wear her silver medal following their defeat to the U.S. in PyeongChang. (Getty Images)

‘Hurts to think about’

The men’s team, without NHL players, rallied for bronze after being defeated by Germany in the semifinal game, a loss that was devastating for Team Canada GM Sean Burke.  

“It hurts sometimes to think about,” Burke said that February. “We played our best hockey in all but one period against the Germans.”

So after sweeping gold in all of those traditional team sports four years earlier in Sochi, there just was just one silver and one bronze in PyeongChang. While the hockey teams mostly dodged the wrath of Canadian fans — they still brought home medals after all — the same couldn’t be said for the curling teams. Team Homan and Team Koe faced unflattering headlines, pundits calling for a curling summit and a barrage of online hate. 

“It was only a matter of time before we didn’t win everything in curling,” said Marc Kennedy, Koe’s second in 2018. “For so many years we had great results and hadn’t felt the wrath of people until that moment. For everyone in PyeongChang that was an eyeopener. It felt horrible. It sucked.

“Being such a dominant country in curling and in hockey, that pressure just comes with the territory. So many people are counting on you to perform well. You can’t hide from that pressure. Win or lose it’s really important to block out that noise. That’s what it’s become.”

Kennedy has been on both sides of it. 

Eight years prior to PyeongChang he was part of a curling dream team along with Kevin Martin, John Morris and Ben Hebert. In front of a boisterous home crowd in Vancouver, the Canadian foursome didn’t lose a single game on their way to the gold medal. 

Ben Hebert, second from left, Marc Kennedy, centre, won gold as part of Canada’s men’s curling team at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. (Getty Images)

Put winning gold in perspective

“I knew it couldn’t have gotten any better. Undefeated. At home. Kevin Martin getting his gold. It was a storybook,” Kennedy said. “And I think that’s what PyeongChang did for me. It put the incredible Games in 2010 into perspective. It’s still hard to put it into words”

From the highest of highs, to as low as it gets. 

Hebert was also part of both experiences. When he walked off the ice in PyeongChang having just lost the bronze medal game, he said then it was “rock bottom” for Canadian curling. 

“I know my quote at that point was rock bottom. But guess what? At the time it was rock bottom. I was living that life. That’s where I was,” Hebert said recently. 

He’s not there anymore. 

Hebert is still part of Koe’s team, alongside B.J. Neufeld and John Morris. Kennedy has moved on to a team with Brad Jacobs, E.J. and Ryan Harnden, a team that also knows that sweet taste of Olympic gold having captured it in 2014. 

Hebert and Kennedy at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang. (AFP via Getty Images)

Nothing to do with redemption

While both curlers understand people will want to talk about redemption on ice for Canadian curlers and hockey players, they say for them personally it has nothing to do with that. 

“I know that’s what the media is going to write. I know what gets action. I don’t think you’re wrong for writing it. I’m telling you my feelings on it,” Hebert said, never shy to speak candidly. “When you talk about the great curling nation, it’s not even close. We have six or seven teams on the men’s side and good depth on the women’s side who could represent Canada and win a medal at the Olympics.

“Could you imagine if Sweden sent their third-ranked team to the Olympics? I don’t think they’d win a game. Our third-ranked team could win gold.”

That pressure, both Hebert and Kennedy conclude, is a privilege — famous words once said by tennis star Billie Jean King. It means you’re the favourite. It means if you play the way you’re supposed to, you’ll be a champion. 

“If there’s no pressure it probably means you don’t have a chance to win. Having pressure because you’re the favourite is my favourite kind of pressure,” Hebert said. 

Kennedy agrees with Hebert about the storylines around redemption and also doubles down on Canada still being the best on ice in the world. 

Could you imagine if Sweden sent their third-ranked team to the Olympics? I don’t think they’d win a game. Our third-ranked team could win gold.– Ben Hebert

“It’ll be played up and it’ll be an important tag line but for the athletes it won’t matter that much because we’re the best country in the world in curling and in hockey,” he said.

As for Canada’s hockey teams, NHL players will once again be back at the Games, which will no doubt garner a lot of attention. 

In some ways, Canadian hockey fans were more forgiving and perhaps didn’t care as much when the men’s team won bronze, because they made the argument the best of the best weren’t there. 

It was the first time since 1994 NHL players hadn’t attended the Olympics and Canada had won three of the six gold medals up to 2014.

With the NHL’s participation in doubt, most thought 2014 (above) was the last time they would see him on Olympic ice. (Getty Images)

The prospect of Crosby playing on Team Canada with Connor McDavid brings immediate thoughts of a gold medal to Canadian hockey fans now that the NHL has committed to Beijing 2022. (Associated Press)

NHL players return to Olympics

Now the pros are back and the pressure will once again be ratcheted to an incomparable level. Storylines will swirl, predictions on who will be on the roster will run rampant and Canada will once again be expected to bring home gold. 

Sidney Crosby might be playing in his final Olympics. Connor McDavid will be playing in his first Olympics. Canadian hockey fans will be whipped into a frenzy. 

On the women’s side, there will be the same amount of pressure there always is to become Olympic champions. 

The Canadian women have been dominant at the Games, having won four out of the six Olympic golds since it was added to the Olympic program in 1998. 

After losing that first championship game in Nagano, Team Canada won four straight gold medals. 

Marie-Philip Poulin, the team captain, has been a member of the last three teams. In her first Olympics, at home in Vancouver, she quickly rose to fame when she scored both of Canada’s goals in a 2-0 victory over the U.S. to take the gold.

Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin collides with Brianna Decker the U.S., an example of the fierce rivalry between the two teams. (Getty Images)

She ascended to greatness four years later in Sochi, scoring both the tying goal in the waning seconds and the golden goal in overtime against the Americans. 

But she was also on the ice in PyeongChang, feeling for the first time what it’s like to watch another country’s team flag rise to the rafters. 

“Losing. It sucks. You want to win and it’s where you want to be at the Olympics,” she told CBC Sports. “I was able to be on both sides of it. Looking back on 2018 is motivating.”

Poulin, 29, and Team Canada just finished a two-week training camp in Calgary, the first time they’ve been together in nearly a year. The last competitive game Poulin and the team played was a rivalry series game against the U.S. last February. But being back together again in the same space reignited that desire to get back on top. 

Marie-Philip Poulin (29) attempts to console Canada forward Meghan Agosta (2) after their shootout loss to the U.S. in 2018. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

“I’m the most motivated I’ve ever been,” Poulin said. “Our goal is to bring back a gold medal to Canada in 2022. We learn through adversity. If we want to be back on top we’ll have to go through that.”

Quite simply, Poulin hates losing. And wants that winning feeling back for herself and all of Canada.

“Every time we have the chance to wear that jersey it’s something that’s super special. I know there’s pressure coming with it. But it’s an honour,” she said. 

None of the athletes will call it redemption. 

But make no mistake, getting back to the Olympics and winning gold is the only thing on their minds one year out.

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Around the rings in 180 days: Vincent De Haître’s seemingly impossible goal to compete in Tokyo and Beijing

It’s a goal so lofty and steep two-time Canadian Olympian Vincent De Haître isn’t quite sure he’ll be able to get to the top.

But he’s going to put his body through “hell” trying to do it. 

De Haître is a dual-sport athlete, a cyclist and speed skater nicknamed “Quadzilla” because of the size of his quadriceps and whose favourite saying is “uphill is the quickest way to the top.”

Within the next 12 months, he hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in July with Canada’s cycling team and then six months later, in February 2022, on completely different equipment, line up in the Beijing Olympics as a member of Canada’s long track speed skating team.

For the 26-year-old from Ottawa, it’s too tantalizing not to try. De Haître is just wired differently. In the same way that 12 other Canadian Olympians were — the select few high performers who have successfully competed in both Summer and Winter Olympics for Canada over all the years. 

It was already going to be difficult enough for De Haître trying to get to Tokyo after having competed at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang. A couple of years isn’t a lot of time to prepare in the best of circumstances. He could have never predicted a pandemic was going throw everything into disarray for himself and thousands of other Olympians worldwide.

It’s forced him into training another year on the bike, with skating interspersed in between. It’s also trimmed the already slim window in between Games by a year, making the switch from bike to skates in Beijing seemingly impossible. But he’s willing to try. 

Vincent De Haître with his bike on the velodrome in Milton, Ont. (Alexandra Sienkiewicz/CBC Sports)

Quick turnaround between Games

There are 180 days between the closing ceremony in Tokyo and the opening ceremony in Beijing. The thought of that quick turnaround sends De Haître into a bit of a panic. 

“People have done it. But trying to do it at the same time in the midst of a pandemic is just about the hardest way you can do it,” he told CBC Sports. “If you know a pandemic is coming, don’t try to do two sports at different Olympics.”

His love for both sports goes back to when he was 10 years old, when he was skating and BMX’ing around Ottawa. Does he have a favourite?

He laughs, almost anticipating the question, and responds the same way he has his entire life.

Whichever sport I’m doing at that time is my favourite. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I love cycling and skating and going fast.– Vincent De Haître

“Whichever sport I’m doing at that time is my favourite,” De Haître said. “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I love cycling and skating and going fast.”

Now he’s attempting to turn his two loves into history, competing in the Summer and Winter Olympics in two different sports in one of the shortest amounts of time between the two an athlete has ever attempted. 

Trying to wrap his head around all of the training programs, nutritional plans, physiotherapy sessions is nothing short of mind-numbing. So he’s trying to keep it simple. 

De Haître who normally resides in Calgary, is living in a rented accommodation in Red Deer, Alta. his parents are helping pay for — it’s the only place he’s able to speed skate right now. 

He did have the choice of traveling from Calgary to the outdoor oval in Red Deer and then back most days, but that would have meant about three hours in a car. For someone who has been battling back injuries for years, that was never going to be an option. 

So, like so many of us in this pandemic, he’s cooped up alone. His only outlet is going to the track to skate — alone —  throughout the week. He says it’s a small price for trying to achieve his goal.. 

“There are pros and cons to everything. I don’t have a coach around. But I don’t have to drive a lot,” De Haître said. 

These are some of the most crucial days in a seemingly never-ending journey for De Haître as he’s now decided to make some technical changes to his skating. He’s never had downtime like this before to work on the little things.

De Haître has already competed at two Olympics as a speed skater – in PyeongChang in 2018, above, and Sochi in 2014. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Rough blueprint

“I feel pretty [lousy.] But that’s what happens when you’re trying to make a change,” he said. “My brain says that’s not how we’re supposed to be doing this. And then it all supposedly clicks.”

That word — supposedly — is used a lot when De Haître talks about the plan he and a small village of people have come up with to get him to both Olympics.

He does have somewhat of a blueprint to work from; De Haître has competed in two Games as a speed skater already — Sochi in 2014 and then four years later in PyeongChang. He switched to cycling during some of those off-seasons. 

In Sochi, he posted a top-20 finish in the 1,000 metres and was named Speed Skating Canada’s long track rising star of the year. Then that summer he competed at his first major international event in track cycling — the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow — where he finished fourth in the team sprint and seventh in the 1 km time trial. 

But the Commonwealth Games aren’t the Olympics. And there wasn’t a pandemic. 

Cycling told me they needed me to attend all training camps. It was pretty much the same for skating. I had to be committed to both.– Vincent De Haître

At the 2018 Olympics, De Haître was suffering from a severe heel injury that held him back and left him wondering what might have been. So in a lot of ways, De Haître had to make the best sales pitch of his life to two sets of national teams that he could be an asset to the cycling and speed skating teams while in Tokyo and Beijing. 

He did most of that negotiation on a 14-hour road trip from Victoria to Calgary last March, just a week before the Olympics were postponed. He was coming home from a cycling training camp that had just been cancelled in the early days of the pandemic. That’s when he started calling his coaches, high-performance committees and all other support staff to start mapping out what it would take to get to Tokyo and Beijing and if it was even possible.  

De Haître trains with Canada’s cycling team at the velodrome in Milton, Ont. in November. (CREDIT)

Wear and tear on body

“By May there was some clarity,” he said. “Cycling told me they needed me to attend all training camps. It was pretty much the same for skating. I had to be committed to both.”

De Haître committed at that moment. Since the summer he’s been splitting his time between training outdoors or indoors on a stationary bike and also training for skating, in less than ideal conditions with restrictions changing almost daily. 

Now, in what would be considered the cycling off-season, he’s fully devoted to the ice until at least March. All the wear and tear and different use of muscles is taking its toll on De Haître.

“Your body adapts and develops tissue. That goes away when you’re not using it. And then when you go back to that, you’re not as strong,” he said. “My legs are strong from cycling but I didn’t have the body to handle it. If you take a Honda Civic and put a V-8 [engine] in it, there are other things you need to do to that car to make it work.”

Keeping his body together is a monumental task that his physiotherapists are not taking lightly. De Haître couldn’t be more grateful for it. He estimates that a normal turnaround time for what he’s putting his body through would take months. His physiotherapists have trimmed it down to a few weeks. 

I’m motivated by how many people are surrounding me. It reinforces they have belief in me that I can do this.– Vincent De Haître

“It’s really intricate. It’s easy to get lost in all the details. But in the simplest form, there are a lot of people helping me make this happen,” he said.

“It’s really motivating. There’s pressure. I feel pressure. But I’m motivated by how many people are surrounding me. It reinforces they have belief in me that I can do this.”

De Haître has already been named to Canada’s cycling team, which provides him some relief in a time when it’s hard to get any concrete answers on anything. But he’s far from being in the clear.

Perhaps what’s most incredible about this double Olympic-sized task is that by the time he competes in Tokyo, it will have been more than a year and a half since his last competitive cycling race. 

As soon as he’s done competing in Japan, he’ll have four months to prepare for Canada’s Olympic speed skating trials to try to make it onto the team for Beijing. And to make it even more remarkable, when he finally gets back to skating, he will not have competed in a competition since the 2018 Olympics. 

The margin of error is immeasurable. Any setbacks or injuries now could derail the entire thing — and he’s already had a career littered with injury and setbacks. There can’t be many missteps along the way now and De Haître knows it. 

“I have to make it work to my advantage. That’s how athletes need to work in their heads so they can believe in themselves. You have to find a way to make this an advantage,” he said. 

“I believe the work [with] we’ve done, I can make this work.”

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After delays, WHO experts to arrive in China Thursday for virus origins probe, says Beijing

Experts from the World Health Organization are due to arrive in China this week for a long-anticipated investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, the government said Monday.

The experts will arrive on Thursday and meet with Chinese counterparts, the National Health Commission said in a one-sentence statement that gave no other details.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the experts would be travelling to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.

Negotiations for the visit have long been underway. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed disappointment last week over delays, saying that members of the international scientific team departing from their home countries had already started on their trip as part of an arrangement between the WHO and the Chinese government.

China’s government has strictly controlled all research at home into the origins of the virus, an Associated Press investigation found, while state-owned media have played up fringe theories that suggest the virus could have originated elsewhere.

The AP investigation found that China’s government is handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to scientists researching the virus’ origins in southern China. But it is monitoring their findings and mandating that the publication of any data or research must be approved by a new task force managed by China’s Cabinet, under direct orders from President Xi Jinping, according to internal documents obtained by the AP.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, meets with Chinese President Xi jinping before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Jan. 28, 2020. (Naohiko Hatta/Reuters)

The culture of secrecy is believed to have delayed warnings about the pandemic, blocked the sharing of information with the WHO and hampered early testing. Australia and other countries have called for an investigation into the origins of the virus, prompting angry responses from Beijing.

After Tedros’s statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said that the country was open to a visit by WHO experts, but that it was still working on “necessary procedures and relevant concrete plans.” China’s disease experts are currently busy with multiple small-scale virus clusters and outbreaks that have been reported in the past couple of weeks, ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

“Our experts are wholeheartedly in the stressful battle to control the epidemic,” Hua said.

There was no immediate comment from the WHO on Monday’s announcement, but U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric had earlier told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “is fully supportive of Dr. Tedros’ and WHO’s efforts to get a team in there.”

New cases stemmed in China

“It’s very important that as the WHO is in the lead in fighting the pandemic, that it also has a leading role in trying to look back at the roots of this pandemic so we can be better prepared for the next one,” Dujarric said. “We very much hope” that China’s reported comments that it is working with the WHO and looking for a smooth visit “will happen.”

The virus’ origins have been the source of intense speculation, much of it centred around the likelihood that it was carried by bats and passed to humans through an intermediary species sold as food or medicine in traditional Chinese wet markets.

China has largely stemmed new cases of domestic transmission, but said Monday that scores of people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Hebei province, bordering Beijing.

That outbreak comes amid measures to curb the further spread of the virus during next month’s Lunar New Year holiday. Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale.

China has largely stemmed new cases of domestic transmission, but said Monday that scores of people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Hebei province, bordering Beijing. Above, residents enjoy night life at a club in Wuhan in October, 2020. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

China has recorded 87,536 total cases of the virus, including 4,634 deaths. Hospitals are currently treating 673 people for COVID-19, while 506 others are in isolation and under observation after testing positive without showing symptoms., officials said.

The Hebei outbreak has raised particular concern because of the province’s proximity to Beijing. Parts of the province are under lockdown and interprovincial travel has been largely cut off, with those entering Beijing to work having to show proof of employment and a clean bill of health.

Beijing has also seen a handful of new cases, prompting authorities to lock down some suburban communities and require residents to show negative test results to access grocery stores and other public spaces.

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Catriona Le May Doan, 2-time gold medallist, named Canada’s chef de mission for Beijing Olympics

Catriona Le May Doan sounds as if she’s ready to do battle.

The Canadian Olympic Committee announced Tuesday that Le May Doan has been appointed chef de mission for Team Canada at the upcoming 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.

“At times, the chef has to put on the armour and lead the team,” the two-time Olympic gold medallist in speed skating said from her Calgary home.

“The role is to lead and to defend and when our athletes shine the role of the chef is to step aside. It’s all about the athletes. Only an athlete knows the pressure of representing our country on the Olympic stage. I don’t know if you can put on the armour if you haven’t been an Olympic athlete.”

The pandemic and the uncertainty facing every athlete on the planet coupled with an increased social consciousness pervading the world of sport has caused universal upheaval on every field of play at all levels.

The Olympics, which were once counted on to provide a spectacular expression of humanity every two years, are now in question. They are facing major challenges to their relevance.

WATCH | Le May Doan familiar with Olympic pressure athletes face:

The two-time Olympic champion in speed skating joins Scott Russell to discuss why she’s ready for the responsibility of the role and the global importance of the next Olympic Winter Games. 6:43

That’s why the choice of chef de mission — the person who essentially becomes the face of the Canadian Olympic team at any given Games — is so important.

“These are intelligent and thoughtful people who are alive to the issues that are going on in the world,” said COC president Tricia Smith, who had a hand in selecting Le May Doan. “[Le May Doan] is alive to the unique role that all of sport and the Olympic Games can play in bringing the people connection to the forefront.

 “She’s someone who absolutely has earned credibility and respect of the athletes of the team and of all Canadians.”

Indeed, Le May Doan’s qualifications to lead are impeccable.

Paving way for others to follow

She’s competed at four Winter Games beginning in 1992 in Albertville, France with the last Olympic speed skating event contested on an outdoor oval.

In Lillehammer, Norway in 1994 she tasted bitter defeat when, as one of the favourites to win a medal in the 500-metre event, she fell and was eliminated.

“I dealt with the gut-wrenching feelings of failure for a very long time,” she said as she reflected on that experience.

Four years later at Nagano, Japan she claimed the gold medal in the sprint and added a bronze medal in the 1000m. Then having carried the Canadian flag into the opening ceremony at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, Le May Doan won gold again and became the first Canadian athlete, winter or summer, to successfully defend an individual Olympic title.

“It was at those Games that I would experience the most pressure I had ever faced in my life,” she recalled. “I was able to dig deeper emotionally and mentally than I even knew possible, and pave the way for others to follow.”

Following her retirement from the sport, Le May Doan became a broadcaster and then served as the lead mentor for the Canadian team at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. She is currently the president and CEO of Sport Calgary, a non-profit organization which delivers a bevy of sport and recreation to hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and ability in that community.

Her motivation for aspiring to the honourary and volunteer position as chef de mission is both altruistic and genuine.

“I want the athletes to experience the power of the Games as I did,” she said. “They will become the messengers who will take the ideal of hope and unity through sport back to all of our communities in Canada.”

Big shoes to fill

Le May Doan is the latest in an impressive line of Canadian champions to become chef de mission. Prior to 2008 and the Beijing Summer Games it was rare for an athlete to assume the position more frequently occupied by a sports administrator.

“We have a shared history with those currently competing and can truly understand what they need,” said Sylvie Bernier, the 1984 diving gold medallist who was Canada’s chef de mission the first time the Olympics were held in China a dozen years ago.

Mark Tewksbury, who won swimming gold at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, served as chef de mission 20 years later in London in 2012.

“The role is about leadership of our Olympic team,” Tewksbury said. “Canada is one of the few countries to have an athlete in this role. This is invaluable. Only an athlete who has been there can unite the team around them very quickly and use the chef de mission’s position as a competitive advantage.”

Catriona Le May Doan, centre, speaks beside former Olympic swimmer Mark Tewksbury, right, as current and past Canadian Olympic athletes encourage the city of Calgary to continue a 2026 Winter Olympic bid. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press)

Short track speed skater and 1992 Olympic champion Nathalie Lambert was the high-profile chef de mission at the home Games in Vancouver/Whistler in 2010 where Canada won a then-record 14 gold medals.

“In my opinion we always need someone with great communication skills and an extensive knowledge of performing on demand,” Lambert said.

For her part, Marnie McBean, the three-time rowing gold medallist, has been patiently leading Team Canada’s expectant and nervously optimistic athletes through the pandemic toward the Tokyo Olympics, which have been delayed until the summer of 2021.

“I’ve been determined to normalize the path … the emotions and the roller-coaster ride that come with the ambition to be the best at the Olympics,” McBean said.

“I need to be out of their way not in it.”

The chef de mission’s role has evolved into an inspirational one from a Canadian perspective. The chef is the example to follow. Le May Doan is well-aware of this reality in very strange times.

“With sport being taken away from us it’s more important than ever to show our communities, our country, and the world how sport can heal,” she said.

“Beijing will be an environment which is safe for our athletes. We’ll go representing Olympic values and Canadian Olympic values. If athletes want to have safe space to express what they believe, they’ll have safe space. The Olympics and the athletes wearing the Maple Leaf represent hope and will allow our youth to dream again.”

As it is with her immediate predecessors, Le May Doan believes the best recipe for success as Canadian chef de mission is an unwavering passion for the purpose of the entire Olympic movement.

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Pandemic tests Canada’s ability to be powerhouse at Beijing Olympics

What bobsled pilot Justin Kripps wants out of the upcoming sliding season is momentum. What that looks like will be dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel like there’s there’s a couple different ways we can get it, but we have to get it from somewhere,” said the Olympic champion from Summerland, B.C.

“The theme I’m trying to take, and I think a lot of people are, is being flexible and ready for anything at a moment’s notice.”

The pandemic is testing Canada’s ability to remain a winter-sport powerhouse at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Canada has been a top-five country in every Winter Olympics medal table since 1998, and top three in Paralympic Games gold medals since 2010.

The third season in a Winter Games quadrennial is a big one.

It’s a year in which athletes can qualify to compete in the Games via World Cup and world championship results.

The last world championship and final full World Cup season before a Games indicates which athletes are tracking for Olympic and Paralympic podiums, and what needs to be done to be among them.

WATCH | Kripps pilots Canada to World Cup gold in St. Moritz:

The Canadian bobsleigh quartet raced to a combined time of 2:11.12 to claim their third gold medal of the season at the IBSF World Cup event in St.Moritz, Switzerland.  2:22

“This is a very critical year,” Freestyle Canada chief executive officer Peter Judge said.

Access to quality training and competition in the midst of travel and gathering restrictions, mandatory quarantines, delays and cancellations of international events is uncertain and complicated.

“Every single situation right now is quite complex,” Canadian Olympic Committee chief sport officer Eric Myles said.

International federations in snow and ice sport are based in Europe, which is where the majority of competition has retreated to during the pandemic.

Most North American stops came off international calendars. Canada lost home-country advantage across sports such as speedskating, luge, alpine skiing, ski cross and figure skating.

Freestyle skiing, snowboarding, figure skating, speed skating and sliding sports accounted for 26 of Canada’s 29 medals in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

The majority of Canada’s figure skating team hasn’t competed since early February.

The world championships in Montreal were cancelled in March as was this month’s Skate Canada Grand Prix in Ottawa.

“It’s incredibly challenging for athletes to train and to remain motivated with so many question marks,” said pairs skater Kirsten Moore-Towers from St. Catharines, Ont.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s such a small part of what the world is dealing with, but for us it’s been our whole lives for a long time.”

Kripps, women’s pilot Christine de Bruin and their crews were informed just recently they’ll depart in November for the first World Cup in Latvia, following next week’s training camp in Whistler, B.C.

“I’d rather have a last-minute decision made when we have more information than to shut down the whole first half of the season without having the information,” Kripps said.

“I’d rather just make it work and try to get some races going.”

The skeleton and luge teams are skipping the first part of the season, however and will remain in Canada until December.

All World Cup speedskating for the rest of 2020 was cancelled, so the Canadians are home until 2021.

The International Skating Union is considering European hubs or “bubbles” to complete the season in 2021.

Complicated by international travel

For those travelling to compete, the questions are endless: when to go, how to retain fitness during a mandatory 14-day quarantine if they return to Canada mid-season, should they stay in Europe until the spring of 2021, what happens if they or someone on their team gets sick and will a surge in infections wipe out their seasons entirely?

“We have a race schedule. Whether those races are actually going to run or not is I guess the number one question,” said Olympic cross-country skier Dahria Beatty of Whitehorse.

“My goal right now just based on the climate is to go over, race well the start of the season, allow myself to stay until March and then come home and do a 14-day quarantine,” Beatty explained.

“If I had to come back mid-season to do some races in Canada to re-qualify, that 14-day quarantine really, especially in an endurance sport, is terrible.”

While Beatty trains in Canmore, Alta., in hopes of a season, other Canadians are already in Europe.

The national alpine ski team raced in the season-opening World Cup in Soelden, Austria, this past weekend.

Legacy venues provide advantage during pandemic

When it comes to places for athletes to train at home, Canada has the advantage of legacy venues from the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Whistler and Vancouver and the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

They are Plan ‘B’ if athletes are grounded for part or all of the upcoming season.

The bobsled and skeleton teams are practising starts at Canada Olympic Park’s ice house in Calgary this week before heading to Whistler.

The slopestyle course and halfpipe at COP were built post-1988 and have hosted multiple World Cup events.

Snowboard Canada and Freestyle Canada are working with WinSport to make COP a full-time training base for the national teams if needed.

“If all hell breaks loose this winter, even if we can’t go anywhere and even if we can’t get to events, we’ve got world-class training facilities,” Judge said.

The federations are also pitching for COP to be an international competition “bubble” for World Cup snowboard and freestyle in March.

Paralympic biathlon champion Mark Arendz of Charlottetown says the Canmore Nordic Centre, which is another 1988 venue, offers the training he needs to stay competitive if racing is curtailed by the virus.

“If everything goes really sideways, we’d have the ability to train and focus on our training and get stronger here,” Arendz said.

Limited options

Calgary’s ’88 legacy is fraying, however.

The “fastest ice in the world” is no longer in the Olympic Oval because of a mechanical issue. The national long-track speedskating team isn’t expected back on the ice there before January.

“What was happening was affecting our ability to make ice,” Oval director Peter McCrory said.

“The reason why it’s taking so long is we are wholly dependent on an external organization to fix the issue for us.”

Also, the national short-track team’s training facility in Montreal shut down because of rising COVID-19 infections in Quebec.

“It’s very scary that both of our teams are off ice right now,” Speed Skating Canada chief executive officer Susan Auch said. “That’s a problem for sure.

“It’s another disruption in an already difficult six to eight months.”

The search is on for a site to house both teams, which is roughly 80 people, with the covered oval in Fort St. John, B.C., a possible option.

Calgary’s sliding track at COP closed over a year ago, awaiting money for a $ 25-million renovation.

Sliders no longer walk across the parking lot from the ice house to the track, but must travel to Whistler’s track.

Having both tracks operational in a pandemic would put Canada ahead of the game for Beijing, according to Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s high-performance director.

“We would have been so far ahead of the rest of the world in sliding,” Chris Le Bihan said. “We would have such a big competitive advantage with the two tracks.”

Kripps’s mantra in a potentially chaotic season comes from his teammate Ben Coakwell.

“He was saying we have to stay ready, so we don’t have to get ready,” Kripps said. “You can’t let yourself fall behind.”

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U.S. orders closure of Chinese consulate in Houston, angering Beijing

The U.S. has ordered China to close its consulate in Houston in what a Chinese official called an outrageous and unjustified move that will sabotage relations between the two countries.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin condemned the action, which comes at a time of rising tensions between the world’s two largest economies. He warned of firm countermeasures if the U.S. does not reverse its decision.

“The unilateral closure of China’s consulate general in Houston within a short period of time is an unprecedented escalation of its recent actions against China,” Wang said at a daily news briefing.

Besides its embassy in Beijing, the U.S. has five consulates in mainland China, according to its website. They are in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan and Shenyang.

The U.S. said in a brief statement that the consulate was ordered closed “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.” It did not provide any details.

“The United States will not tolerate the PRC’s violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC’s unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behaviour,” the statement from State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said.

Media reports in Houston said that authorities had responded to reports of a fire at the Chinese Consulate. Witnesses said that people were burning paper in what appeared to be trash cans, the Houston Chronicle reported, citing police.

Police were told that occupants were given until 4 p.m. local time Friday to leave the property, the Chronicle said.

Houston police said in a tweet that officers responded to call at the Chinese Consulate building at 3417 Montrose Blvd. The tweet said that smoke was observed in an outdoor courtyard area, and that officers were not allowed to enter the building.

Ortagus’s statement came a day after the Justice Department indicted two hackers based in China it accused of working on behalf of the government in Beijing. The men were accused of targeting firms that are developing vaccines for the coronavirus and of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of intellectual property and trade secrets from companies across the world. At a press conference, U.S. officials said the men did not obtain coronavirus research.

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