Tag Archives: competing

Canadian swimmer Maggie Mac Neil facing prospect of competing at Olympics without family

When Maggie Mac Neil won the 100-metre butterfly at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, her mother, father and younger sister were in the stands cheering.

“My parents have done a great job throughout my career always trying to come to as many meets as they can,” said the 20-year-old London, Ont., native who is now attending the University of Michigan. “It was definitely nice to have them there in Korea.”

When Mac Neil competes for Olympic gold this summer in Tokyo, it’s unlikely any family members will be there to watch. Concerns about COVID-19 and restrictions due to the virus are convincing friends and family of many Olympic athletes to rethink travelling to the Games.

Susan McNair, Mac Neil’s mother, said staying home won’t be easy.

“I didn’t grow up anticipating I would have a child in the Olympics,” McNair said. “I didn’t anticipate if she did make the Olympics that we would ever not be there.”

WATCH | Maggie Mac Neil posts Canadian-record time at aquatic worlds:

Canadian teen Maggie MacNeil posts a Canadian-record time of 55.83 seconds at the world aquatics championships. 2:56

Last March, Nathan Hirayama celebrated with his family in the stands at BC Place Stadium after Canada defeated South Africa to win the bronze medal at the HSBC Canada Sevens Rugby tournament. He had hoped to repeat the experience in Tokyo — his parents had already booked flights — but now doubts it will happen.

“Our families have been on this journey with us for so long, supporting us and travelling and staying up in the middle of the night watching,” said the 32-year-old from Richmond, B.C. “They invested in what we’re doing. I think the whole experience would be fantastic to share with our loved ones.

“I think what we’re coming to understand now is, if these Olympics do happen, they’ll look a lot different than what we all dreamed about or foreseen for so long.”

Fears over COVID-19 forced the Tokyo Olympics to be delayed one year. With the Games now scheduled to begin July 23, some of the playbooks that instruct athletes, officials and members of the media of the protocols to be followed have been released, but many questions remain.

“If you have been to the Games before, we know this experience will be different in a number of ways,” reads the playbook for international federations. “For all Games participants, there will be some conditions and constraints that will require your flexibility and understanding.”

WATCH | Breaking down the IOC playbook:

With less than six months to go to the Tokyo Olympics, organizers have said the Games will go on no matter what. Now, they’ve released some preliminary guidelines explaining how that will happen. 1:37

Organizers have said they will wait until the spring to decide if fans will be permitted to travel to Tokyo or attend any events.

Dick Pound, a Canadian member of the International Olympic Committee, believes a limited number of fans will be allowed.

“I would see some, but certainly not full stadiums,” he said.

The Canadian Olympic Committee is waiting for more information before advising families and friends about travelling to Tokyo.

“We continue in our preparation to participate at Tokyo 2020 with a focus on the health and safety of our athletes, their families, and their communities,” Eric Myles, the COC’s chief sport officer, said in a statement.

“We are planning based on the assumptions that the COVID-19 virus will still be present internationally and that Team Canada may not be vaccinated. We expect the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee to update their playbooks in April, at which point we hope to provide a more thorough update for athletes to help inform their family and friends’ decisions.”

WATCH | Mac Neil overcomes nerves to claim gold at acquatic worlds in 2019:

Canadian Maggie MacNeil discusses her victory in the 100m butterfly at aquatics worlds. 0:50

McNair, who is a family physician, had originally planned on her brother and his family to join them at the Olympics. Now, with tight restrictions expected on access to athletes, she questions the point of going.

“There’s a lot of factors kind of against going at this point,” she said. “Even if we didn’t have access to her there [but] we could see her swim, I think I’d be the first one on the plane.

“But there’s a lot of cons against it right now. I want the joy of watching her swim, but I also want to do what’s right, in terms of our safety and the safety of others.”

Another deterrent could be recently-introduced rules that travellers returning to Canada are required to take a COVID-19 test upon landing and spend the first three days of their quarantine, at their own expense, at a supervised hotel while awaiting their results.

For Hirayama, whose great grandparents came to Canada from Japan, Tokyo has special significance. His parents had planned to meet up with old friends while in Japan.

He hopes conditions will change and his parents can make the trip.

“It’s hard to plan for anything that’s not a week away,” he said. “Things change so quickly. It would be awesome for them to book a last minute ticket, but I don’t think they’re planning on it now.”

In some ways, not having her parents make the journey would be a relief for Mac Neil.

“My parents are getting older,” she said. “It’s definitely better for them to just stay home safe and healthy.

“I think no matter where I am in the world, no matter where they are, I can always feel their support.”

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Ivanie Blondin, Canadian skaters thrilled to be competing, but with lowered expectations after long layoff

Coming off one its most successful seasons in the history of the program, Canadian speed skaters were looking to carry the momentum of their 31 World Cup medals into this year. 

Then the pandemic hit, the Calgary Oval broke down in September, and now it’s been more than 10 months since speed skaters have laced up for a competitive event.

To say it’s been a nightmarish season is an understatement.

“I’m not going to say I didn’t panic. I did panic. There were a couple times over the last while I asked what I was doing,” Ivanie Blondin told CBC Sports this past week from Heerenveen, Netherlands. “Especially when other skaters were competing. They were posting all these fast times and I hadn’t even been on the ice.”

The 30-year-old Calgary resident is one of 12 Canadian long track skaters who have entered the Netherlands “bubble” and are gearing up to compete in a pair of unique World Cup events starting this weekend. It will all lead to the world championships Feb. 11 – 14.

These will be the team’s first events since the COVID-19 pandemic brought international competition to a halt last March.

WATCH | Canadian skaters excited for start of season:

This weekend on Road to the Olympic Games, World Cup speed skating action returns and Kitzbühel hosts the most anticipated downhill skiing event of the season. 3:14

“In my mind I’m telling myself this is training camp to lay off the pressure,” said Blondin, who won the mass start event gold medal at last year’s world single distance championships. “I’m trying to be realistic. I don’t think there will be many podiums and that’s OK.”

CBC Sports will have live streaming coverage of all competition days, as well blocks of televised coverage as part of their ‘Road to the Olympic Games’ program. 

It’s been quite the adventure for the Canadians just to get to this point. While athletes around the world were still able to find indoor oval ice to train and compete on, Canadian speed skaters had to think outside the box — that included taking their skating outside. 

Photos and videos of Canada’s long track speed skaters training on icy lakes with picturesque mountains in the background have been making the rounds. Yes, the speed skaters from Canada have been training on lakes to stay in shape and in form. And while it may look pretty, it’s not ideal for preparing for international competitions.

WATCH | Canada’s top speed skaters dazzle onlookers with practice on wild ice:

Tyson Langelaar posted this video of Team Canada’s training session out at Alberta’s picturesque Gap Lake in late November after maintenance and COVID restrictions put a stop to ice time in Calgary. 0:24

“The ice is really different and so bumpy. Of course you’re enjoying it because it’s picturesque. But for training, it’s not a controlled environment. You are far from the limit,” said Ted-Jan Bloemen, the 2018 Olympic champion in the 10,000 metres. “We haven’t been able to do intensive training.”

Bloemen was born and raised in the Netherlands. The bubble the team is in is about 90 minutes from where he grew up. He moved to Canada in 2014 after being snubbed by the Dutch and since then has ascended to speed skating greatness. 

There were some really dark times these past 10 months for Bloemen. When he speaks about skating you can hear the joy in his voice, something he lost when he wasn’t able to be on the ice. But now he’s back doing what he loves and is more motivated than ever. 

“I was so happy. It felt so good to glide again. I want to be skating. I love that feeling so much. I would want to make other people feel the way I do when I’m skating,” he said. 

Sure, the Canadians are happy to be skating again. But they’re also realistic about how they’ll perform in these World Cup events.

“For me the next few weeks to race is about practice. We haven’t had the best lead up,” Isabelle Weidermann said. “I’m struggling a little bit feeling race ready.”

Weidermann, from Ottawa, will be competing in the 1,500m and 3,000m events. She says she’s never trained so much in a season and is excited to see what will come of it. 

“I’ve never biked or ran this much, or spent this much time in the weight room. We’ve chatted a lot about it. Everyone has the same feelings about not being ready.”

Weidermann, Blondin and Bloemen are making very clear that Canadian skating fans should not panic and race to any conclusions about where the team is at a year out from Beijing 2022. Instead, as a team, they’ve decided this is valuable practice that will lead them into a full season of competition beginning next fall. 

“It’s not going to be pretty but the important thing is we’re on ice now,” Blondin said.

And building for Beijing. 

Canadians competing in Heerenveen, along with the individual distances they have qualified for:

  • Ivanie Blondin (Ottawa, Ont.): 1,000m, 1,500m, 3,000m, mass start
  • Kaylin Irvine (Calgary, Alta.): 500m, 1,000m
  • Béatrice Lamarche (Quebec City, Que.): 1,000m
  • Valérie Maltais (Saguenay, Que.): 1,500m, 3,000m, mass start
  • Abigail McCluskey (Penticton, B.C.): 1,500m, 3,000m
  • Heather McLean (Winnipeg, Man.): 500m, 1,000m
  • Isabelle Weidemann (Ottawa, Ont.): 1,500m, 3,000m
  • Jordan Belchos (Toronto, Ont.): 5,000m, mass start
  • Ted-Jan Bloemen (Calgary, Alta.): 5,000m
  • Alex Boisvert-Lacroix (Sherbrooke, Que.): 500m
  • Laurent Dubreuil (Lévis, Que.): 500m, 1,000m
  • Connor Howe (Canmore, Alta.): 1,000m, 1,500m
  • Gilmore Junio (Calgary, Alta.): 500m

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Biden and Trump speak at competing town halls tonight

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden attacked President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, as the two candidates held duelling televised town halls after their second planned debate was cancelled.

“He said he didn’t tell anybody because he was afraid Americans would panic,” Biden said in Philadelphia on ABC. “Americans don’t panic. He panicked.”

Trump defended staging a Rose Garden event to announce his Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, where many attendees did not wear masks and later tested positive.

“Hey, I’m president — I have to see people, I can’t be in a basement,” Trump said on NBC in front of an outdoor audience of voters in Miami, implicitly criticizing Biden for spending months off the campaign trail as the pandemic raged.

He said he “heard different stories” about the efficacy of masks, even though his own administration’s public health experts have said wearing them is key to stopping the spread of the virus.

The president also declined to denounce QAnon, the false conspiracy theory that Democrats are part of a satanic global child sex trafficking ring, first praising its adherents for opposing pedophilia before saying he knew nothing about the movement.

WATCH | Another chance for Trump to denounce white supremacy:

NBC Town Hall moderator Savannah Guthrie asks Donald Trump if he will denounce white supremacy, suggesting he is often hesitant to do so. 2:59

With less than three weeks to go until the Nov. 3 U.S. election, the Republican president is trying to change the dynamics of a race in which Biden has a double-digit advantage in some national polls.

North Carolina, a highly competitive state, began more than two weeks of in-person early voting on Thursday, following huge turnout in Georgia and Texas earlier in the week.

Video from local media showed large numbers of people waiting for the polls to open in Greensboro and Winston-Salem and gathering in the pre-dawn hours to vote at two arenas in the state’s largest city, Charlotte.

WATCH | Biden defends plan to raise taxes for the rich, despite pandemic:

Former vice-president cites Wall Street firm to defend raising taxes on the wealthy. 1:18

Gerry Cohen, a member of the election board in the county that includes most of the city of Raleigh, N.C., saw more than 400 people in line at a community centre before polls opened.

“I’ve never seen this many in line here,” he said on Twitter.

Early voting records

Nearly 18 million Americans have cast ballots either in person or by mail so far, representing 12.9 per cent of the total votes counted in the 2016 general election, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida.

Voters are seeking to avoid in-person lines on Election Day to stay safe as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations continue to rise but also to make sure their ballots will count. Many are concerned that Trump will challenge widely used mail-in ballots, after he claimed without evidence that they were fraudulent.

WATCH | What cancelling a presidential debate means for the race and voters:

With less than three weeks to go until election day, The National’s U.S. political panel looks at what cancelling the second presidential debate means for the race, whether President Donald Trump getting COVID-19 changed anything and what voter groups both candidates are trying to reach. 7:52

Trump’s campaign is counting on a surge of last-minute votes. But Reuters/Ipsos polling conducted from Friday to Tuesday suggests there are far fewer undecided likely voters this year — around eight per cent — and they are just as likely to pick Biden as they are Trump.

Four years ago at this stage of the campaign, more than twice as many people were similarly wavering between Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The Reuters/Ipsos polling shows Biden holding a 10-percentage-point lead nationally, with a tighter margin in the battleground states that will help decide the election.

Fundraising

Democratic fundraising organization ActBlue said on Thursday it collected $ 1.5 billion US online from July to September, the most it had ever raised in one quarter. By comparison, major Republican fundraising platform WinRed said on Monday that it collected $ 623.5 million US in the same period.

“We’ve raised more money than I ever thought we could,” Biden told donors at an event.

Both candidates have been visiting battleground states this week, with Trump holding rallies in Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa and Biden traveling to Ohio and Florida.

WATCH | Early voters met with long lines, technical issues across U.S.:

There is growing concern about voter suppression three weeks before the U.S. election, with technical glitches at voting machines, lineups that are up to 11 hours long and controversial court rulings limiting the number of absentee ballot drop-off sites. 1:40

Speaking to a rally in Greenville, N.C., on Thursday, Trump promised an economic recovery if he was re-elected. “We’re going to have a red wave,” he said.

The U.S. economy tanked in the second quarter due to the coronavirus pandemic, and at least 25 million remained on jobless benefits at the end of September, Labour Department figures showed on Thursday.

Trump pulled out of Thursday’s scheduled debate when the commission in charge of organizing the event said it would be held virtually after he contracted the coronavirus. A final debate is still scheduled for Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tenn.

The town halls, in which each candidate will field questions from voters, will take place at 8 p.m. ET, with Trump on NBC from Miami and Biden on ABC from Philadelphia.

WATCH | Trump returns to 2016 playbook in campaign’s final weeks:

Down in the polls with the election fast approaching, U.S. President Donald Trump has returned to his 2016 playbook and doubled down on harsh messaging aimed squarely at his base. 2:01

A group of 100 Hollywood actors and producers wrote a letter of protest to NBC, saying that airing Trump’s town hall was “enabling the president’s bad behaviour while undercutting the Presidential Debate Commission and doing a disservice to the American public.”

The Biden campaign said on Thursday that two people involved in the campaign had tested positive for COVID-19, including one on the staff of Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate.

Biden had also been on a plane with an aviation company employee who tested positive but was not in close contact, his campaign said in a statement. He tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday as well as Wednesday, his campaign said.

“This shows how seriously we take COVID, how we have since March done everything in our power as a campaign to ensure the safety of our staff and volunteers and voters,” Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, told reporters on a call.

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Lauren Alaina Shares How Competing on ‘American Idol’ Differs From ‘Dancing With the Stars’ (Exclusive)

Lauren Alaina Shares How Competing on ‘American Idol’ Differs From ‘Dancing With the Stars’ (Exclusive) | Entertainment Tonight

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‘Dancing With the Stars’ Season 28 Cast Revealed — See Who’s Competing!

‘Dancing With the Stars’ Season 28 Cast Revealed — See Who’s Competing! | Entertainment Tonight

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Canadian hockey players embrace cost of competing at Paralympics

Liam Hickey isn’t your typical first-time Winter Paralympian. That’s because he’s already competed at the 2016 Summer Games in wheelchair basketball.

That experience — along with a silver medal from the 2015 Parapan Am Games in Toronto — gives the 19-year-old from St. John’s a degree of maturity and poise that belies his age.

Hickey is “all-business” according to Canadian men’s coach Ken Babey, something that becomes clear when he talks about living away from the team’s core for long stretches. To compensate, he plays with his local team and trains on his own, but it comes at a price.

“It’s out of my own pocket,” Hickey says, adding that ice rental costs him about $ 150 per hour. “I try to get three to four ice times a week, which is what the guys are getting here in Ontario, so it definitely adds up quickly.”

“It’s one of the many sacrifices I’ve given. I don’t mind doing that if it means I’m going to get better.”

Becoming elite at any sport requires sacrifice in some shape or form, and Hickey is seeing the payoff from this commitment in both his on-ice performance and the recognition of his teammates and coaches.

“He has that competitive edge that we like, he brings that right away, he has an outstanding work ethic and he’s a fast, skilled player,” Babey says.

“He’s definitely a key member of this team and I think he will be too in the future.”

Fitness first

Hickey says he receives support from Sport Canada’s carding system that allows him to keep pace with his teammates in Toronto while he’s in the Avalon Peninsula.

He needs to be on top of his game in order to fit in Babey’s uptempo system, which demands that players be in peak physical condition in order to maintain a level of consistent speed over the course of a full game.

“There’s some science to what we’re doing and it relates to being fit first,” Babey says, referring to regular fitness testing that’s been going on since last June. 

“If you want to play on this team, you’re going to have to be fit because we see ourselves having to play maybe some tight games and winning those games late in the third period.”

Para Ice Hockey has come a long way since its debut at the Paralympics in 1994, including a name change. Rob Pizzo takes you inside this fast and exciting sport that is growing in popularity every day.2:02

The team has bought into the system, with captain Greg Westlake emphasizing the importance of this style of play in an increasingly competitive field following a bronze in Sochi.

“We needed to get a lot faster, we needed to get in better shape, we needed to really push that fitness component,” Westlake says.

“The other teams are fast and they spend a lot of time working on skating, so to combat that we need to skate, we need to push our bodies as much as we can, so that’s the goal with everything we do.”

‘That same hunger is back’

Hickey joined the national team two years ago and is now an indispensable member of the team.

“I think we all love playing together so it definitely makes it easier to develop the chemistry and come strong every game,” Hickey says.

The experience level on this Canadian squad varies tremendously; Westlake, Billy Bridges and Brad Bowden are the only remaining members of the 2006 squad that won Canada’s lone Paralympic gold while Hickey is younger than Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews.

That experience gap doesn’t faze Babey, who preaches puck possession, collective support and being a “good team citizen.”

“[Hickey] suits our style of play and he’s added another scoring dimension to our team so other teams can’t just focus on certain guys anymore,” Babey says.

The youthful exuberance of this squad — 17-year-old forward James Dunn is the youngest Canadian Paralympian in Pyeongchang — reminds Westlake of his first Games as an 18-year-old in Turin.

“There was a hunger in that team, because nobody had won before,” Westlake says. “That same hunger is back, that same drive and it’s exciting. I want to get a gold medal for a lot of these guys, I know they deserve it.”

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Put a ring on it: 2 husband-wife duos competing at curling trials

It’s hard enough for an athlete to go on an Olympic journey alone. Getting to the Games can require sacrifice. There’s less time for family, friends and living a balanced life.

Now imagine two people, in one household, trying to get to the Olympics, at the same time, during the same event.

That’s the exact scenario this week at the Canadian curling trials in Ottawa for the husband and wife duos of Mike and Dawn McEwen and Brent Laing and Jennifer Jones.

“I think we decided to just do our own thing,” says Dawn McEwen, who plays lead for Jones’s team. “They really haven’t had any TV games so I haven’t even had the chance to watch. It would probably elevate the stress level.” 

Jones and Dawn McEwen went on a magical run during the trials in Winnipeg four years ago. Their husbands watched them not only win the right to wear the maple leaf in Sochi, but also go on to capture Olympic gold. 

“She had a great week and we didn’t that go-around,” Laing, who plays second for Kevin Koe, says of his wife. “We have some experience with this.

“She’s one of the reasons I can deal with these situations better than before because I have someone who has been through it.”

All four of these curlers are undefeated so far in Ottawa. Not that their spouses would notice.

“We do chat but we’re at different hotels,” Mike McEwen says. “I guess I’ll see her at the end of this? Or maybe the one time we have a game on the ice at the same time.”

That will happen Tuesday afternoon when Jones and Dawn McEwen play Casey Scheidegger’s rink while Mike McEwen takes on Koe and Laing. The wives will be on one sheet while the husbands play against each other on the sheet right beside them. 

“I’m not going to lie, I’ll peek over and check it out, but first and foremost I have to focus on our game,” Dawn McEwen says.

mcewen-mike-171204-1180

Mike McEwen was off to a strong start at the trials in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Staying connected

With Dawn and Mike McEwen staying in different hotels, they’re not really spending time together in Ottawa. Their two-year-old daughter is being taken care of this week by their parents. They text. FaceTime. But even that is limited.

Dawn says it’s really nothing new for them.

“It’s been so long that we’ve been playing in big events together,” she says. “We’ll touch base at the end of the day if we have the chance, but for the most part we do our own things.”

Jones and Laing are playing it a little differently. They have two young daughters who are also being taken care of by their parents this week. But they’re trying to connect with each other a little more than Mike and Dawn.

“We talk about curling all the time,” Laing says. “When it’s family time it’s family time, but we’re talking about curling all the time.”

jones-mcewen-171203-1180

Jennifer Jones, centre, and Dawn McEwen, right, with teammate Jill Officer, want to defend their Olympic title. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

And what about living the Olympic dream together?

“That’s the only way to top what they did in Sochi, for us to both be there,” Mike McEwen says. “You have to medal as well, but that would be hard to describe that feeling. It would be out of this world.”

Dawn agrees. “It would be such a wild and amazing thing to come true,” she says.

Laing isn’t looking that far ahead, knowing a lot has to go right for both him and Jones to get to the Games together.

“We haven’t really talked about it a ton but it’s a dream we both have,” he says. “It’s kind of become our family dream. She’s done it and it would be something special if we could go together.”

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