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Canada has withdrawn from the 2020 Olympics—now what?

Reactions to the COC decision from some of Canada's best runners

dayna pidhoresky

Backed by the Government of Canada, the national sporting organizations and the athletes’ commissions, on Sunday evening the Canadian Olympic Committee announced that it will not send athletes to a summer 2020 Olympic Games. Reid Coolsaet was one of the many athletes looking to qualify for the Olympics. However, when the news broke, Coolsaet didn’t feel upset—he was relieved.


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Coolsaet was initially set to run the Prague Marathon in May, which was cancelled a couple of weeks ago. The biggest stressor over the past few weeks for most Canadian athletes—including Coolsaet—was not knowing what they were training for, or if they were training for anything at all.

“Was I getting ready for a marathon in May?” Coolsaet said. “That door hadn’t been officially shut yet, though it was looking likely. Now, knowing that Canada won’t send a team, even if the Games go ahead, it felt relieving. I don’t like the uncertainty. I like to have a plan in place.”

Pidhoresky wins the 2019 Canadian Olympic Marathon Trials. Photo: Maxine Gravina

The new plan

Coolsaet’s new plan is to move down to 10K training and lower the intensity. This is a plan that is sustainable until he begins his fall marathon build. He says Olympic qualification isn’t his main focus any more–it’s running one more great marathon.

“The way I’ve been feeling this year in training, I still want to see how fast I can run a marathon–I still think I have that in me. I didn’t really consider retiring from high-level marathoning yet. Even without the Olympics, I still want to run one more good marathon.”

While Coolsaet isn’t feeling too personally distressed about the situation, he feels for track athletes who were on the brink of making their first team and those who had a shot at performing particularly well.

“The roads are a way different scenario than the track. You can usually still find a big marathon and a big event that’s worth training for which will be a place that you can compete against some of the best runners in the world. On the track, there won’t be a ton of options. They don’t have the luxury of a fall racing season.” He continues, “I think of Justyn Knight, Mohammed Ahmed and Melissa Bishop. These are just a few examples of people who had a shot at doing really well, and don’t any more. I also think of people who were so close to punching through–it’s hard for them too. And finally, to those who already qualified, this is especially tough for them.”

Trevor Hofbauer
Photo: Matt Stetson

Qualified runners

Dayna Pidhoresky qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics back in October 2019, her first-place finish and time at the Canadian Marathon Trials having given her an automatic spot. Assuming the Olympics run in 2021, which is very likely, according to IOC member Dick Pound, what happens to the spot she earned for a Games that didn’t happen?

Athletics Canada is in limbo until they know what the IOC has decided to do. They won’t be able to release new qualification criteria until they know if there will be an Olympics for their athletes to qualify for. However, Pidhoresky is confident that her spot on the team will stand if the Games are held in 2021.

A tough call but the right call

Coolsaet feels that this was the right call, but he is surprised that it came so soon. “I think it’s better, ultimately. I think it’s the right thing to do. Frankly, I think this is the only thing can be done in this circumstance.” Pidhoresky echoes this statement.

“I support their decision, but I feel that it was made prematurely. I understand the rationale, but I think they could’ve waited a few weeks for the IOC timeline regarding the games. I think they’ve painted themselves into a corner, and I’m in that corner whether I like it or not.”

For now, Pidhoresky is on the bike, healing a minor injury, and hoping for the best. Along with the other Canadian athletes, she’s anticipating the IOC’s final decision, and hoping it will play into the hands of Canadian runners.