This day, pre-pandemic, would have been the eve of the XXXII Olympic Summer Games.
The world’s best athletes would have descended upon Japan to take up the hope, the heartbreak, the glory of Tokyo 2020. The city would have been teeming with tourists and international press. The world, infected by Olympic fever, and not the virus currently making the rounds.
This day, mid-pandemic, now marks the restart of the one year countdown to the rescheduled Games.
Post-pandemic it will be mean something else. On July 23, 2021, a new, likely diminished version of the Games will start. Unless of course it doesn’t. If COVID-19 has one lesson universally felt, it’s that nothing is certain.
The unique challenge for an aspiring Olympic athlete in these unprecedented times is the additional layer of “what if” coronavirus has inserted into a gruelling process that leaves little room for doubt. In recognition of this date, Marnie McBean, Chef de Mission for Team Canada Tokyo 2020, issued an open letter. It’s addressed to the Canadian Olympic hopefuls, but if you replace the word “Olympian” for “human” it’s a call of arms to us all.
I can’t help but wonder: What is today? Is it a recognition of a missed year? Or a celebration of one year out? Either way, it’s part of your story.
Everything that has (or hasn’t) happened in the last six months and what will happen in the coming year, is part of your story.
What story? Every Olympian has a story, it usually has a lesson in it, and they tell it in different ways:
1. Their VERY SHORT story is a moment during the Games.
2. Their SHORT story spans the Opening to Closing Ceremony and includes both Olympic competition and the Olympic city. (A bit of sport, a bit of culture, a bit of a party).
3. Their REAL story is longer, much, much longer. It’s a detailed, behind the scenes tale of persistence, determination, effort and resilience. It happens in isolation as well as before crowds and includes tears, pain, joy and celebration.
Most (all?!) Olympic stories include tales about how solid plans got disrupted and then how they were assessed, recalculated and continued. Think of an athlete you know or even someone you only know of. Do you think they got through their journey on a direct path? Not a chance.
So here you are. You had a goal and a plan. You were sent home. Your plan was put on hold.
More accurately, your plan was thrown in the garbage – your goal was not. Your story continues. You’ve come up with a plan and you, and your team, are figuring it out. This is what you have always done – figure things out and thrive.
How you figure this out IS YOUR STORY.
As it always has been with sport, we can’t predict the end. Win or lose: that’s always been the game of it. One year from now, five years from now, or 20 years from now, you’ll be sharing your story. This (incredibly unique) story.
Your 2020 Olympic story is being written by you. It includes all the work and competition that led up to the global COVID-19 shutdown, it includes everything that you’ve been doing since February and it will include everything that will come in the next year.
No matter what happens, continue to figure out a story that you’ll be proud to share. Continue to believe that you are capable of more. Continue to build a better, stronger and healthier you.
Many great stories are emerging during this time. Recently, Moh Ahmed shattered the Canadian 5,000-metre record to crack the all-time top-10 list (congrats, Moh!). Andre De Grasse posted a winning time of 9.69 seconds in the 100 yard event at the Weltklasse meet that was reduced and spread out due to COVID-19. Erica Wiebe started her Executive MBA Americas program at Queen’s/Cornell. I saw Meaghan Benfeito, Pierre-Luc Poulin and Joelle Bekhazi share photos of returning to training in what has literally been months (keep those coming!). Jacqueline Simoneau represented her graduating class at Vanier College as Valedictorian. And Pam Buisa, supported by Josiah Morra and Charity Williams, organized a Peace Rally for Black Lives in Victoria.
This is just a snapshot and as Chef de Mission for Team Canada, I couldn’t be prouder of the story that you’re telling so far.
To those who have not yet been able to return to the field of play, know that the team behind the team is working hard to find solutions for you.
And to all of the athletes, coaches and support team who have been on the frontlines through all of this, THANK YOU!
So, what are you adding to your story today?
Marnie McBean OC OLY
Chef de Mission Team Canada Tokyo 2020