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Athletics Canada announcement delivers serious blow to race walker’s Olympic hopes

Canada won't compete at the upcoming Pan American Race Walking Cup, eliminating one of the last opportunities for Mathieu Bilodeau to qualify for Tokyo

Photo by: IOC/Christophe Moratal

Athletics Canada (AC) has withdrawn from the Pan American Race Walking Cup in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on May 7. The decision has unfortunate consequences for Canadian race walker Mathieu Bilodeau, who was looking to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics at the Ecuador race, which was going to be his last international competition ahead of the Games. AC is hopeful that the Canadian 50K championships will go ahead in Montreal on May 23, as they will be Bilodeau’s very last chance to book his tickets to this summer’s Olympic Games.

AC’s decision comes just days after a similar call to pull out of the World Athletics Relays, which are set to take place in Poland on May 1 and 2. Both decisions are due to COVID-19, and much like Poland, Ecuador is experiencing a heavy wave right now. As the AC announcement noted, Guayaquil, the host city of the Pan American Racing Walking Cup, is one of Ecuador’s hardest-hit cities, and the country recently entered a state of emergency. 

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Travelling to and then staying in Ecuador presented too much of a risk to Canadian athletes, AC officials said, and they believe withdrawing from the event was the right call. “We are committed to our athletes’ and coaches’ safety and have worked hard to assess the risk associated with the event,” said AC high performance director Simon Nathan. “In the end, we can not confirm accurate case counts, infection rates, or other important details related to the situation in Ecuador. What we do know is that hospitals, and the health care system in general, are overwhelmed and the death rate is very high.”

Nathan acknowledged that the team — which consisted of Bilodeau, Alger Liang and Tyler Wilson — is disappointed with the decision, especially since it leaves Bilodeau with only one last shot to qualify for Tokyo, which would be his second time competing at the Olympics (he raced the 50K in Rio in 2016). “We will continue to do all we can to support [Bilodeau’s] Olympic goals in a way that is as safe as possible,” Nathan said. 

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Unfortunately, even that race cannot be guaranteed, as AC has said its plans for a number of qualifying races on Canadian soil are now in doubt due to the third wave of COVID-19 that is currently sweeping the nation. Canada’s Evan Dunfee is the only race walker with a guaranteed ticket to Tokyo, as he qualified for the Games after winning bronze in the 50K at the world championships in Doha, Qatar, in 2019.