'I'll just keep training': As Olympics get closer, Edmonton athlete's dream seems further away

No coaches or trainers. No training facilities, for that matter. And each day that COVID-19 pandemic lasts, the Olympic dreams of Edmonton track athlete Angela Whyte fade a little bit more each day.

“If anything, COVID-19 proves that nothing is ever promised,” said Whyte, a 100-metre hurdler and heptathlete hoping that the 2020 games in Tokyo will be her fourth and final Olympics. 

After a disappointing, 30th-place finish at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Whyte decided that she had enough “left in the gas tank” to try to make the Canadian track team for 2020, Whyte told CBC Radio’s Radio Active on Friday.

Whyte, 39, quit her coaching job at Washington State University and moved in with a roommate in Toronto, to focus on her training. She’s battled through injuries and underwent a surgical procedure for the uterine fibroids that she worried were affecting her performance. 

Then on Jan. 25, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Canada. On March 9, the virus claimed its first Canadian victim. Two days after that, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic and governments of all levels began taking measures to bring the virus under control.

“Our training facilities out here in Toronto have all been closed flown, like they have been across Canada. We’re a little bit luckier because the weather hasn’t been too bad —  a little bit windy and cold … but I know some of my fellow athletes are in worse-off situations because there’s still snow on the ground,” she said.

“We’re not allowed to work with staff, whether it be coaches, or biomechanics, or strength and conditioning. … Now it’s just mentally trying to keep it together and take it one day at time as we get closer to the deadline.”

Track meets cancelled 

Whyte’s dream is to be the oldest female Olympian in heptathlon or hurdles — she turns 40 in May — but unlike some athletes, she hasn’t yet secured a berth on the national team. To do so, she needs to compete in qualifying competitions.

But those have also fallen victim to the coronavirus. “Meet after meet after meet” has been cancelled including the Harry Jerome Track Classic, a major event that would have taken place May 30 in Burnaby, B.C., she said.

The Canadian track championship is scheduled for the end of June in Montreal.

Whyte is among many athletes hoping that International Olympic Committee organizers postpone the Tokyo games, scheduled to start in late July, noting how compromised the athletic field will be as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

“If they can’t postpone then it just will be unfortunate,” she said. “We’ll miss out on athletes that were really putting it together and coming into stride.” 

The fact that her last shot at the Olympics might fizzle out is disappointing but she’s keenly aware that she’s already had three other opportunities — 2004 in Athens, 2008 in Beijing and 2016. For other athletes, she said, Tokyo could be their one and only shot.

“I’ve had an amazing career. Would I like it to end on a higher note? For sure,” she said.

“But there’s still some time and there’s still some hope so I’ll just keep training until we get a definitive answer one way or another.”

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