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Athletics Canada withdraws from World Relays, questions feasibility of holding Olympic Trials

COVID-19 continues to take its toll on Canadian track and field

Photo by: The Canadian Press/Mark Blinch

Athletics Canada (AC) has made a pair of unfortunate announcements in recent days, first withdrawing the Canadian team from the World Athletics Relays and then questioning whether the Olympic and Paralympic Trials can be held later this year. Both announcements are, of course, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which is raging across much of the country in a third wave. 

World Athletics Relays 

The news of the Canadian team’s withdrawal from the World Athletics Relays comes just a few weeks after the squad was announced. AC was set to send 24 athletes to Poland to compete in four events: the men’s and women’s 4 x 100m relays and the women’s and mixed 4 x 400m. 

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Pulling out of the event means that Team Canada might miss out on qualifying for these races. The only relay team to have qualified for Canada at this point is the women’s 4 x 400m squad, as they finished in eighth at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, booking their spot on the start line in Tokyo. If AC had sent the Canadian athletes, a berth in the finals of these events at the World Relays would have meant guaranteed tickets to the Olympics. Not sending a team doesn’t mean that all hope is lost for these teams, but it does make qualifying more difficult. 

“As long as the results in Poland leave spaces for other teams to qualify, we still have time to arrange races and to qualify for the Games via the World Athletics Top Lists,”AC head coach Glenroy Gilbert said when the news was announced. Gilbert noted that the men’s 4 x 100m team is in ninth in the world rankings, and the mixed 4 x 400m squad sits in 11th.

AC hopes these rankings will be good enough to give the teams a chance to qualify after the World Relays. The women’s 4 x 100m team is ranked much lower, unfortunately, and depending on how things shake out in Poland, the women’s hopes of racing in Tokyo could be dashed for good.

AC officials acknowledged that this is a disappointing decision, both for athletes and for fans, but considering the current state of the pandemic, they believe it was the right call. “The safety of our athletes, coaches and staff is our top priority,” AC high performance director Simon Nathan said. “If an athlete were to contact COVID-19, it will compromise their preparation for Tokyo – even if they are asymptomatic – as they will be required to self-isolate.” AC’s decision to pull out of the World Relays comes after several other countries, including top contenders like the U.S. and Jamaica, announced their withdrawal from the competition as well. 

Olympic and Paralympic Trials 

The Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Trials are scheduled for June 24 to 27 in Montreal, and while AC officials have said that the response from public health officials has been positive, they have also noted that if the Trials were set to take place today, they wouldn’t be able to go ahead. No decision has been made yet, and AC will revisit the issue on May 17. 

A big factor is province-to-province travel. Certain provinces are shut down right now and not accepting out-of-province visitors, and AC has said that if this remains the case in the coming months, events in these provinces (like the national 10,000m championships, set to run in Burnaby, B.C. on June 13) will have to be cancelled. There are several other events in AC’s Tokyo Qualifier Series, and while these are crucial for athletes looking to book a spot on the Canadian Olympic team, it might not be possible to run them. 

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