Medicine Hat News
Canadian athletes struggling to find competition as they push to qualify for Tokyo
In early January, when COVID-19 numbers were climbing again, and Ontario had just hunkered down in another stay-at-home order, Melissa Bishop-Nriagu, husband Osi and their daughter Corinne, moved from Windsor, Ont., to Victoria.
With her Olympic participation on the line, the west coast city offered fairer weather for training and fewer COVID-19 restrictions.
Still, the world 800-metre silver medallist faces an uphill battle in securing a spot on the Tokyo Olympic team. BishopNriagu, who was fourth at the 2016 Rio Olympics, should be among Canada’s top medal hopes on the track in Tokyo — if she can just get there.
“It is (brutal),” said BishopNriagu. “And even more brutal given the pandemic. . . Bottom line: I need races. And I need them to be fast.”
Track and field isn’t the only sport scrambling to qualify amid Canada’s COVID-19 protocols. Canada promised to send perhaps the strongest men’s basketball team to Tokyo last year, when the Olympics were originally supposed to take place. Now, the compacted NBA season conflicts with the Olympic qualifying tournament in June in Victoria.
Canada’s boxing team is in quarantine less than three months from a qualifying event in Argentina after a team member tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this week.
Athletics Canada had hoped to send a team of 60-plus athletes to Tokyo, but just 24 have achieved qualifying standards, largely due to the inability to compete.
Before the pandemic, World Athletics had implemented new qualifying rules that require athletes to either achieve one very difficult standard — a fast time, a long throw, etc. — to earn an automatic berth, or be ranked in the top 48 in a complicated points system calculated over an athlete’s five best major competitions.
The automatic entry standard for the 32-year-old Bishop-Nriagu is one minute 59.50 seconds.
She has the Canadian record of 1:57.01, but with the 2020 season virtually wiped out by the pandemic, her fastest time is the 2:00.98 she ran indoors in Boston last February.
“The easiest route is just run the standard and get it over with,” Bishop-Nriagu said. “But it’s not easy given our travel circumstances.”