After months of question marks, health concerns, event rescheduling, and general ambivalence about an Olympics being held in a pandemic, those famous rings are starting to shine a little brighter on the horizon.
The 100 days out post arrived Wednesday, a sign the Tokyo Games are just around the corner despite the many hurdles along the way.
“That little tiny blink of a light was really dim before and now it is getting brighter and brighter,” said Surf Canada executive director Dom Domic.
The Games are scheduled to begin July 23 after a one-year postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A ceremonial conch shell performance was held Wednesday on Mount Takao as part of the 100-day countdown festivities. Olympic and Paralympic mascots participated in a commemorative ceremony in downtown Tokyo.
“So many days seem to be repeats of a previous day,” said Canadian chef de mission Marnie McBean. “But this one, there’s actually a marker on it that indicates that things have been moving forward.”
However, traditional Olympic hoopla will be muted considerably in the lead-up to the Games and during competition. Fans from abroad are banned and the usual hubbub will be tamed.
Hanging over the proceedings is that COVID-19 is still raging in many countries — including Canada — which is mired in a third wave of the pandemic.
Vaccination rollouts have been expedient in some parts of the world, middling in others, and virtually non-existent in some countries — including Japan. Vaccines aren’t mandatory for athletes to compete in Tokyo but many competitors may get shots by the summer.
The pandemic has also thrown a wrench into qualification plans, competition schedules, travel and training routines.
“We’re making the best of what we can and there’s numerous challenges that we face every single year,” said Canadian wrestler Erica Wiebe, who won Olympic gold five years ago in Rio. “This is just a totally different one, but a challenge all the same.”
Athletes, so often locked into consistent routines in the pursuit of peak performance, have had to adjust on the fly while grappling with pandemic challenges.
Canadian race walker Evan Dunfee, who won world bronze in 2019, said he’s “balancing two minds about it.”
“I have my personal selfish mind that is wholly focused on being in my best shape possible and is excited to stand on the start line and test myself against the best in the world and see what I can do,” he said.
“That part of me acknowledges that going to the Olympics puts me at a personal risk which I can accept. My other mind is my non-personal mind that is looking at the bigger picture. Not only does me going put me at a risk that I can choose to accept, it also has the potential to put others at risk.
“And no matter what efforts I take, I can’t reduce that risk to zero and that is hard to reckon with.”
The gargantuan task of pulling off a Summer Olympics is a monster challenge at the best of times, never mind in the throes of a pandemic. The Games typically includes tens of thousands of athletes, officials, media members and broadcasters from all over the globe.
“I think people still have some doubt and they have questions,” said veteran CBC broadcaster Scott Russell. “All of that uncertainty still exists. But (100 days out) is a signpost that we get past, that we’re that much closer.
“And maybe it is real that the Games are going to happen.”
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to feature a record 33 different sports and 339 events at 42 competition venues.
“I just want to compete with the best of the best,” said Canadian long-distance runner Justyn Knight. “I am just grateful that they are still hosting the Olympics and are giving athletes like myself the opportunity to fulfil our dreams.”
Gracenote, an international data analytics company, is forecasting 20 medals for Canada in Tokyo: four gold, seven silver and nine bronze.
That’s good for a 16th-place tie with New Zealand and Brazil in the virtual medal standings. The United States is pegged to top the table with 114 medals, ahead of China (85) and Russia (73).
Canada won 22 medals (4-3-15) at the 2016 Olympics.
The 2021 Games will run through Aug. 8. The Paralympics are set for Aug. 24-Sept. 5.
Also Wednesday, the Canadian Olympic Foundation launched the Olympians Supporting Olympians Bursary to provide financial support for athletes on their paths to the Games.
The bursary will provide financial awards to 30 summer and winter Olympians and Olympic hopefuls.
With files from The Associated Press and from Canadian Press sports reporter Lori Ewing in Toronto.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
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