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Families left behind as Calgary athletes head to Tokyo Olympics

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics are right around the corner, but for athletes and their families alike it’s going to be very different compared to other years.

Tokyo declared a state of emergency, which came into effect on July 12 and will last the duration of the Olympics. It was also announced that no spectators will be allowed at any of the events. 

For athletes like Calgary resident Lynda Kiejko, a Canadian Olympic shooter, this means missing out on valuable in-person support from her family, specifically her husband Kevin.

Lynda is no stranger to the Olympic process. She traveled to London in 2012 to support her sister and competed herself in Rio in 2016. 

While Lynda didn’t get the result she hoped for, she’s incredibly grateful for the support her husband was able to provide.

“I don’t think I’d be able to do what I do without their support and encouragement. Without Kevin, I mean I wouldn’t be able to make anything work at all. He’s probably the most supportive, amazing husband, dad, friend, everything, so it’s pretty phenomenal,” said Lynda.

Lynda isn’t the only athlete facing new challenges in Tokyo. Artistic swimmer Claudia Holzner was born and raised in Calgary will be competing in her first Olympics.

Like Lynda, Claudia will be headed to Tokyo without any friends or family by her side.

“My parents, our biggest cheerleaders in the stands, are always at every single competition. They’ve come to every single international event that I’ve been to with the national team. So having them not here makes a big difference in the way I thought my journey would play out competing at the Games,” said Claudia.

Claudia’s mom, Michelle Holzner said the change in plans wasn’t a surprise, but was still disappointing.

“We’ve gone to every major competition, so the icing on the cake was of course Tokyo,” said Michelle. 

The show must go on

But for the 2021 Olympics athletes will have to go it alone with only their teammates for in-person support.

“The goal is still to compete in the Olympics. all of the athletes are still getting to do that so at the end of the day we’re still going to do exactly what we always have to,” said Lynda.

Claudia describes her journey over the last year as an emotional one, especially now that her family is unable to accompany her.

“It’s a little bit heartbreaking for everybody because you know this is the end of this specific journey that I’ve been working on for the last nine years. I think everybody really wanted to be there to see it through with me,” said Claudia.

The stands will be doubly empty since no spectators will be permitted to watch. Neither Claudia nor Lynda feel this will have much impact on their performances.

“There’s still the pressure in front of judges, you still want to perform really well. But we’ve prepared for this moment, we know that millions of people are watching on their TVs at home so I think it’s going to be exciting,” said Claudia.

Lynda Kiejko with her family. Lynda will be off to Tokyo without having husband Kevin (right) there with her.

For Lynda, the crowd can provide a more electric atmosphere for performers. She said that this will probably be the biggest change for athletes.

“It will be a little bit different because we’re not going to get those you know like those spectators who are just electrified because they get to be there to watch the Olympics.”

Athletes’ families will have to find alternative ways to cheer on their loved ones from home. Michelle said her family plans to wear their Canada gear and wake up early to watch Claudia’s events and make the most of the situation.

But not all events are lucky enough to be televised. Kevin Kiejko, Lynda’s husband, said that quite often the shooting events aren’t shown on TV.

“Unless somebody wins a medal we’re basically just gonna be watching the scores online I think,” said Kevin.

COVID continues to be a factor

Of course the main reason the 2021 Olympics will be so altered is COVID-19.

Lynda said her prep for Tokyo as far as safety measures began long before she’s set to leave. She’s done everything she can to make sure she stays healthy prior to the start of the Games.

“I have to be diligent about everything like, who am I seeing where am I going we are when am I washing my hands like how often am I sanitizing, you know, when am I changing my mask like who touched what,” said Lynda.

Claudia’s also confident in the safety of the games, saying it’s probably going to be one of the safest places you can be.

“We are still living in a global pandemic, and we need to be careful in general. Even though my team is double vaccinated, we really want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep everybody safe,” she said.

“Whether that’s Canadian athletes, all the athletes in the village, or the Japanese people so I think that at the end of the day it’s going to be one of the safest places.”