The hours that Sam Pedlow awakes to are typically serene ones. He’s an early to bed, early to rise kind of guy. Asleep by 8:30 p.m., up around 5:20 a.m. Mornings are usually uninterrupted by the distractions and noise of society.
Monday was different.
Late Sunday night, after Pedlow, the blocker on Canada’s top beach volleyball team, had gone to bed, the Canadian Olympic Committee released a statement declaring that it would be pulling athletes from the 2020 Tokyo Games.
“The COC and CPC urgently call on the International Olympic Committee, and the International Paralympic Committee and the World Health Organization to postpone the Games for one year and we offer them our full support in helping navigate all the complexities that rescheduling the Games will bring,” the organizations said in their joint statement. “While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community.”
That meant that Pedlow, partner Sam Schachter, and two women’s teams — Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, who have already qualified for the Games, and Heather Bansley and Brandi Wilkerson — will not be going to Tokyo, although at this point it seems certain the Games will be postponed.
“I don’t think you ever grow up thinking, I want to go to the Olympics, and then start preparing for eight years to be able to do it and then four months before, we have something like this,” said Pedlow, who recently finished ninth at the Doha four-star with Schachter. “I wake up this morning to 50 direct messages of ‘Oh, I’m so sorry’ and ‘You must be so bummed to hear this’ and ‘You must be destroyed’ and it’s such an interesting morning.
“It’s something you would never think about. You would never think about the year you want to go to the Olympics your country isn’t sending anyone because there’s a pandemic. It hasn’t even hit yet. If [the International Olympic Committee] decide they don’t want to change, we’re not going.”
That was, Pedlow believes, a reason Canada pulled out: To put some pressure on the IOC to push back the Games. Much of it had to do with the safety and health of athletes and any spectators as the coronavirus pandemic spreads, but there was also concern about sending undertrained athletes to the biggest competition in four years.
“Every athlete is trying to figure out a way they can train normally without breaking social isolation,” Pedlow said. “There’s still a lot of guys playing in California. If you did that in Canada, it would be impossible. People would kill you. Our swimmers were using community pools. They were finding people’s pools they could use because all the pools were closed. The committee decided it was putting our athletes in danger so they made the call right now because they’re afraid, especially because of our Paralympians, if they’re exposed to something like the coronavirus, they’re at a much higher risk than we are.”
It is becoming more and more likely that there will be no Olympics at all in 2020. On Monday afternoon, IOC committee member Dick Pound told USA Today that the Games are likely to be pushed to 2021.
“We knew this sort of thing was going to happen,” said Schachter, who is currently ranked No. 24 in the world with Pedlow. “That being said, the reality of it actually happening and hearing the news that Canada will not participate at the Olympics if they are scheduled at the expected date — we’re sort of now just waiting to see what the rest of the world does.
“Sprinters, their life span is not long for how many Olympics they have. We’re blessed to be in a sport where you have the Jake Gibbs and Phil Dalhaussers of the world, the John Hydens who are playing into their 40s, late 40s. For us, we’ll have our shots. For other Olympians, this is the one shot they may have.”
All of this is escalating faster than anyone could have predicted or known. When Pedlow and Schachter left for Doha two weeks ago, they hadn’t heard much of anything about the virus in Canada. The day they returned, the Canadian federation wouldn’t allow them to use the training center or courts. They told the two that they should hop on a flight to Mexico for the Cancun four-star that day.
Three days later, Canada shut its borders.
“I didn’t think it would be a situation where the Canadian Olympic Committee would say ‘We’re not going to the Olympics,’” Pedlow said. “I thought we were going to sit in this period for a while, figure out what’s going on, but the Olympic Committee decided the wait and see was the worst part.”
Bansley posted this on her Instagram on Monday:
“I won’t sugar coat it, I had a big cry last night when I got the news that @teamcanada won’t be sending any athletes to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo this summer if they are to continue on as scheduled.
“I had the privilege and honour of representing Canada at the Olympics in 2016. As athletes, we work all our lives towards those 17 days! I know the thrill of being rewarded with walking in the Opening Ceremonies with your fellow teammates singing “O! Canada,” the chills from stepping onto the court, and the highest high after winning a match for Canada. And damn do I want to experience it all again! So yes, I’m heartbroken at the possibility that it could not happen.
“However, the situation right now is far bigger than sport and the Olympic Games. I support the COC & CPC’s decision to do what’s best for the health and safety of our athletes, communities, our country, and the world. We train daily alongside many Paralympic athletes at @csiontario, many of whom have compromised immune systems, and I can’t help but think of them during this time, and the risks that they could be exposed to if athletes were asked to continue training. Now is a time to continue to stay safe!
“For now I’m hopeful that the IOC & IPC will make the safe decision to postpone the games and contain the virus. And l’ll be doing my part by remaining in self-isolation.”