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‘Now we train out in the sunlight’: How 7 Calgary Olympians have spent their summer – instead of in Tokyo

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics would have taken place from July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020.

They were, of course, postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Calgary Olympic athletes and hopefuls, the postponed Olympic Games means another year of honing their skills, staving off injuries and finding a way to stay mentally and physically prepared for the new 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Olympic athletes and likely qualifiers from the Calgary area took a moment to reflect on how the pandemic has changed their summer plans. They’re not spending it on sports’ greatest stage; they’ve been at home, finding ways to train. 

They’re prepping for next year.

Photographer Candice Ward captured each of the athletes in their environment, including in competition gear they would have been wearing representing Canada in Tokyo.

Haley Daniels

Sport: Canoe Slalom 

Olympics: Tokyo 2021

Haley Daniels, Team Canada athlete in canoe slalom, after completing a day of racing and coaching at Harvie Passage on the Bow River in Calgary on July 26, 2020. CANDICE WARD / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The postponement of the 2020 Olympics hit differently for Haley Daniels.

Not only has she been looking forward to representing her country for the past 11 years, but she had help fight to make her sport gender equal. This was going to be the first year that was going to happen at an Olympic Games.

“Now it is Tokyo 2021, and although it’s one more year, in the grand scheme of things it’s just a minor setback in the greater goal,” said Daniels.

Since the pandemic began, Daniels has been forced to change her training plans and keep them strictly in Canada.

She normally spends her summer in Europe training at World Cups and on artificial courses. This summer she’s had to work with the ones available to her here in Canada.

For Daniels and her teammates, one of the challenges that she is facing right now is planning for the winter training season because once the snow arrives, they are no longer able to paddle consistently – nor travel to warmer climates due to travel restrictions and time lost due to quarantines.

Although the Olympics have been delayed, Daniels said it’s still her main focus.

“I know that it is still on my mind when I wake up and every time I get in my boat – every time I take a stroke,” she said.

“Although we have another year to think about the Olympics and be in qualification mode, I think that it gives us another opportunity to work on our weaknesses and become stronger and more agile so when the time comes to throw down we will feel calm and confident.”

Ben Saxton

Sport: Beach Volleyball

Olympics: Rio 2016

Ben Saxton, beach volleyball player with Team Canada, at the Volleydome in Calgary on July 23, 2020. Since the pandemic hit, Saxton both trains and works at the Volleydome. CANDICE WARD / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

When the pandemic lockdown began, Team Canada beach volleyball player Ben Saxton and his partner were training in California.

“All of our events cancelled all at once. Then we had to rush home to Vancouver so that we didn’t get stuck outside the country,” said Saxton.

“Then, there wasn’t much chance of making any money, so my wife and I decided to move in with my parents in Calgary and help them out with their business (the Volleydome) full time.”

Saxton said this is the first time in the past 12 or 13 years that he has gotten to see the seasons change from winter to spring to summer in his own country.

“Normally I’m off training or playing in perpetual summer. I missed seasons,” he said.

For Saxton, the postponement has been a bit of a relief.

“It had thrown off the entire training process, which would have made the final qualifying process and eventual Olympic event a bit of a mess,” said Saxton.

He said having this break has been both good and bad.

“Yes, it sucks to not be playing. But I’ve never had the opportunity to share the sport I love with younger players during the summer, since I’m always gone during beach season in Canada,” Saxton said.

“It’s a great feeling looking at the growth of the athletes I’ve had in one short summer and picturing that they’ll be able to beach volleyball to the next level in the near future.”

Erica Wiebe

Sport: Freestyle Wrestling – 76kg

Olympics: Rio 2016 (Olympic gold medalist), Tokyo 2021

Erica Wiebe, Olympic gold medalist and member of the Team Canada freestyle wrestling team poses at Northwest Commons Park in Calgary on August 7, 2020. Wiebe took to the grass field with fellow wrestlers when the pandemic closed all indoor training facilities. CANDICE WARD / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

For Olympic gold medalist Erica Wiebe, the Olympics represent two things.

“On a global scale, they represent how when the world comes together, we’re doing pretty great and that we can achieve great things, individually and collectively. Sport is the best storytelling medium for the full spectrum of emotions that is the experience of being human,” said Wiebe.

“On a personal level, the Olympics are an opportunity every four years to showcase the work I have put in on a daily basis over my lifetime. It’s a celebration of all that I am and an opportunity to test that on the world’s biggest stage.”

When the pandemic shut down the world of sport – Wiebe and her teammates had to get creative on how to train.

“Wrestling is pretty much the antithesis of physical distancing and so all training was put on pause for a couple weeks and slowly we started making plans for a safe return,” she said.

“We found a random grass field and started doing individual wrestling workouts – physically distanced, but together – working on stance and motion.”

Now five months in, they have access to a wrestling mat twice a week and are able to touch each other.

They also have continued to train out on the field twice a week.

“Out on the field, there are athletes who are in Grade 9 and 10, guys who work as electricians all day and ‘wrestle’ recreationally, and then Olympic Champions,” said Wiebe.

“I’ve never been so tanned because I’m used to spending two hours every afternoon training in a basement wrestling room. Now we train out in the sunlight.”

Kyra Christmas

Sport: Water polo 

Olympics: Tokyo 2021

Kyra Christmas, member of Team Canada’s National Women’s Water Polo team spends her last day in quarantine in her home near Balzac, Alta. on Aug. 4, 2020. Christmas returned home from competing in Greece at the end of July and had to quarantine for 14 days. CANDICE WARD / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

For athletes who rely on training in the water, Calgary can pose a number of challenges. When the pandemic hit, athletes like Team Canada’s Kyra Christmas got creative.

As a member of the National Women’s Water Polo team, Christmas spends a lot of her training time in the pool, both alone and with teammates.  

“My training changed completely. Every pool was shut down and my team was scattered all over the country,” said Christmas.

“We did a lot of cross training through dry land and weights. We tried to keep throwing the ball and mimicking the same movements on land. It was not so easy; I felt like a fish out of water.”

Finally after about a month, Christmas and her parents decided to get even more creative and build a pool.

“We built it out of hay bales and I began to train in the water again,” she said.

“Still not ideal as the pool was not even close to the same size we usually have and I was still without teammates.”

Just before the Olympics were set to start, Christmas returned to Calgary after competing in Greece for a month.

During the time she would have been competing in Tokyo, she was housebound and in quarantine.  

“Being an Olympian has been a dream of mine since I can remember and I was very emotional hearing about the postponement,” said Christmas.

“But after much thought I changed my perspective and thought this is an opportunity for me to be better than I am now and more prepared for Tokyo. I also think waiting one more year is going to make the whole experience more rewarding.”

At the beginning of August, Christmas packed her bags again and headed out east to Montreal to join her teammates for training.

“I believe this extra time will help myself as well as my team be even more prepared for the games,” said Christmas.

“One more year together will make us stronger as a unit and ignite more of a fire to compete than before. We are all itching to have those Olympic Rings on our uniform and to represent Canada again.”

Alanna Goldie

Sport: Fencing – Women’s Foil

Olympics: Tokyo 2021

Alanna Goldie, member of Team Canada and Olympic qualifier in the sport of fencing – women’s foil, poses at Gladiators Fencing Club in Calgary on July 31, 2020. CANDICE WARD / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Getting to spend extra time at home has been a bit of a pleasant surprise for Olympic qualifying fencer, Alanna Goldie.

“When I found out the Olympics were postponed I immediately knew it was the right decision. Safety comes first, but it was hard to accept,” she said.

“After a few days of mourning, I changed my goals and set my sights on 2021.”

Goldie’s original training plans were to train in Europe until the Olympics. When COVID hit she had to change plans to mainly be in Calgary.

Goldie makes Gladiators Fencing Club her home training base while she is in Calgary, but has found other ways to make use of the unique Calgary landscape.

“It’s been great adapting my training to utilize the mountains,” said Goldie.

While the extra year of training is great, Goldie said it does come with another set of challenges.

“Some of the challenges I face to stay on top of my game are lack of funding and injuries,” she said.

“Staying injury free is a challenge during the long season and it’s been a struggle to stay healthy all year.”

Trevor Hofbauer

Sport: Athletics – Marathon

Olympics: Tokyo 2021

Trevor Hofbauer, member of Team Canada and Olympic qualifier in the sport of athletics – marathon, runs the pathways near Dale Hodges park in Calgary on August 8, 2020. Hofbauer frequents these pathways during his training sessions. CANDICE WARD / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Not everyone was upset with the news of the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

As a first time Olympic qualifier, marathon runner Trevor Hofbauer said he felt pretty neutral about the news.

“I felt like postponing was the right decision to make and I am looking to representing my country when the time is right,” said Hofbauer.

While competing at the Olympics has been a dream of Hofbauer’s he said the postponement allowed him some downtime. It’s given him an opportunity to refresh mentally before going into 2021.

Hofbauer has continued with his usual training regiment to stay on top of his game.

“The Olympics is the highest level of competition I have been working towards for years. To compete at the Olympics means that I have fulfilled what I have set out to do,” said Hofbauer.

“It is a celebration of all the work and decisions made along the way. It’s a moment of intensity that will be like nothing else I’ll experience.”

Claudia Holzner

Sport: Artistic Swimming – qualified for Tokyo in the both the Duet and Team events 

Olympics: Tokyo 2021

Claudia Holzner, Team Canada synchronized swimmer poses in Chestermere Lake on July 30, 2020. Holzner would get in some light training sessions in here due to restrictions at many Calgary-based swimming pools. CANDICE WARD / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

For synchronized swimmer Claudia Holzner, the postponement of the Games has been tough.

Holzner has been on the Senior National Team for eight years (going on nine with this extra year). The Tokyo Games would have been her first Olympics.

“The Olympics have been a lifelong dream of mine. I wanted to go to the Olympics before I knew which sport I was going to compete in,” said Holzer.  
“It is something I have been working towards for over 18 years.”

In 2016, her team achieved the impossible, but narrowly missed qualifying for the Games by 0.7 points.

“It was heartbreaking,” said Holzner.

“After spending four years working towards something and to have it ripped out from under you… it’s devastating.”

To keep herself motivated and focused on 2021, Holzner spent months training in her apartment in Montreal. She was running, cycling – all things to keep herself in shape while she couldn’t be training in the water.

Now she is  back in the pool training –  with restrictions.

“I want to come out of this year stronger. I believe mentally I am. Now I need to build up my strength in these next few months so that I can train full time without worrying about injuries,” said Holzner.

This piece by Candice Ward was paid for by readers like YOU. Our journalism is crowdfunded, and for $10 per month, you can ensure that we continue to deliver high-quality, important, agenda-free Calgary stories.