The International Olympic Committee officially announced the Tokyo Summer Games will be rescheduled this week, a day after Canada pledged that athletes will not compete in the event unless it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A local Paralympian said he was pleased to see Canada lead the way to protect athletes and keep them at home if the Games went ahead as scheduled. That ultimatum, from the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees, was followed shortly by other nations around the world, until IOC president Thomas Bach announced the event’s postponement on Tuesday.
“In the global scheme of things and perspective, this was the only correct, ethical thing to do,” said Tristen Chernove, a three-time medallist in cycling events at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil.
“I think sport is a wonderful tool for exemplifying some of the best of humanity’s qualities and when sport is used that way, its great, but I think when people get too focused on sport in other ways, we can easily lose sight of the bigger picture, which is security and safety of our species.
“…Canada never fails to give me many reasons to be extremely proud to represent our country and put the maple leaf jersey on and this, again, was one of those moments, where I was really proud of Canada to take that move.”
Chernove said he was personally concerned with what appeared to be ‘naive’ messaging coming from the IOC prior to the announcement postponing the event.
“Right now, globally, priority one needs to be every nation helping not only their own citizens, but the global community, get through this and we really shouldn’t be putting resources — whether it’s financial or just human manpower — towards things like the Games.
“We need to be in a healthy world to have a healthy Games and we are far from that at the moment.”
A veteran of the last Paralympic Games, Chernove won a gold medal in the time trial portion of the road race, while capturing a silver in the men’s C2 3,000-metre Individual Pursuit on and a bronze in the C1-2-3 1,000-metre Time Trial.
He’s also been a fixture on the UCI Para-Cycling world cup circuit and world championship events, with many top podium finishes and accolades collected over the years, establishing himself as one of Canada’s — and indeed the world’s — top para-cyclists.
Chernove has always been an active high-performance athlete, particularly with kayaking in his younger days. He was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease in 2009, a progressive condition that affects the nerves controlling muscles, and decided to take up competitive cycling.
Chernove recently collected three silver medals at the 2020 UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championship in Ontario earlier this year and had been ramping up his training regimen in advance of the Tokyo Games.
“For me, I was having a fantastic year leading up to the games, although I am 44 [years old] going on 45 now by the time the Games were to come,” Chernove said. “Really, I surprised myself a little with the whole age is just a number mantra — that’s actually proven to be pretty true in my case.
“This year, actually, I’m fitter, stronger and going faster than I ever have before. Every event I did this year, I set new personal bests and world records and things were shaping up to be right on schedule to be peaking for great performances at the Games that I was looking forward to.”
Now, with the onset of COVID-19, he is maintaining a balance of training for 20 hours a week while adapting routines in response to the global pandemic. For example, his national cycling teammates are utilizing a virtual reality-like environment, where everyone can meet up digitally and race each other while hooked up to power meters and biometrics.
“We get to race each other in a virtual world and we’re doing almost daily meetups in that space with the national team cyclists to ride and race together from our basements,” Chernove said.
Chernove, who is involved with a national athlete’s council — an elected body of current and former Olympians and Parlaympians — said the postponement of the Games has been generally well received by the athlete community as the right thing to do.
One can imagine the spectrum of emotions surrounding a lifetime of work and sacrifice it takes to make a national team, only to have their Olympic or Paralympic dream put on hold due to wildly uncontrollable circumstances. However, athletes are leaning on each other, while some are also reaching out and engaging with their communities.
Chernove pointed to a fellow cycling athlete, Sara Poidevin from Calgary, who is posting daily healthy habits and fitness tips on social media.
“I think there are many, many athletes starting to figure out how to contribute to people making good use of the time,” Chernove said, “even if they’re in isolation, and staying mentally and physically healthy through that time and these are all healthy ways we athletes can use what they know to try to contribute to people’s well being throughout this difficult time.”
How long the global pandemic will go on for is anyone’s guess. Experts in Canada have said they won’t know the effectiveness of initiatives like social distancing and self isolation will have in stemming the spread of COVID-19 until a few weeks.
However, other countries across the world such as Italy, Spain and China have been harder hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Within that context, organizing and pulling off a global sporting event that keeps athletes, volunteers and spectators safe is a nigh impossible task.
Though the Games have been postponed, IOC president Thomas Bach has indicated the hope is to have the Games underway no later than the summer of next year.
On the Olympics and Paralympics, Chernove struck a philosophical tone on the value of recognizing and celebrating the spirit of the Games and that the event is about much more than just sport.
“Sport is pretty low-down on the list of priorities when it comes to safety and security and those things, however, that being said, I think the Olympics and Paralympics are about much, much more than sport,” Chernove said.
“Sport is just a great tool by which to have these celebrations of excellence to bring the world together and I just keep reminding myself of the Olympic and Paralympic ethos if you will, and the ethos is human excellence and one world unity striving for ever stronger and healthier global society and though we might not be able to go to Tokyo to compete with one another in sport, we can carry that ethos and still have the Tokyo 2020 framework, at least for me, those values are stronger than ever.”