During the summer, he lounged in the winter at his home in Nova Scotia. This is unfamiliar territory for Canadian softball head coach Mark Smith.
For over four decades, Smith has traveled the world in pursuit of softball glory, first as a player and now as a coach. After these Olympic Games, he retires.
“I train a wonderful group of women that I could not be proud of. And if we can get to the Olympics when the pandemic dies down, I can’t think of a better way to end my career, ”Smith said.
This summer was to be Smith’s definitive last journey – a trip to Tokyo, the country’s leading softball team at the Games.
“Every morning when I wake up, I think about where we would be if the season were really happening,” Smith said from his backyard near Halifax.
“So, for example, today we finish our pre-Olympic preparation, and tomorrow we sit on the bus to the Olympic village.”
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Smith planned every day. And then, in early March, when the pandemic erupted in full force, all his plans were confused.
“On March 2, when we went through the fitness test and had 89 personal records, we had to be the strongest softball team in the world, without excluding that. We aimed to win the gold medal, which we believe we are going to do in a year. All systems were up and running, “Smith said.
The system was closed. Not only for the 20 women who embarked on the journey during its inception years – softball hasn’t competed in the Olympics since 2008 – but for thousands of female athletes around the world.
This is a versatile fight for high-performance athletes who strive to go faster and be stronger – now, for perhaps the first time in their sports career, they must learn to be calm.
Smith told his softball team to take a day off, an almost incomprehensible consideration in preparing for the Olympics. He sees it as pressing the reset button.
But Smith, his team, and many other Canadian athletes are not going to sit back and feel sorry for themselves for too long.
The games, at the moment, are still in progress starting in July 2021. And again a year later.
The softball team plans to meet in September to increase training.
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For those athletes who have already qualified, who, according to the International Olympic Committee, make up about half of the participants, and those who have not done so, there are still many unknowns.
Having a specific goal is critical to reaching the peak at the right time – medal performance at the greatest of athletic stages is certainly centered around skill and preparation as well as timing.
“When you’re preparing for the Olympics, in the week after the Olympics, you want to be the strongest person you’ve ever been in your life,” said rower Jenny Casson of Victoria, B.C.
“And on an Olympic day, you want to be the strongest you ever intended to be in your life, and that’s what we selected our bodies for.”
Elastic rowers grow with confidence
If Smith is in the final chapter of his career, Casson’s story is just beginning. She is on the rowing team alongside Jill Moffatt, a duo who just skipped qualifying for their spot in Tokyo last year.
Their last hope of making it to the Games depended on one last chance, which they felt immensely confident of when it all ended in early March.
“I started seeing writing on the wall and it was like a strange dream. It happened so quickly, ”Moffatt said.
“I really don’t want to sit back and cry about it. I want to go as fast as possible and prepare for next year, but at first it was definitely difficult to change that mindset. “
They are finally back on the water again, they had to endure a strict set of protocols just to put their boat on the water at their training center in Victoria – they set the times at which they are allowed to train, they must disinfect all their equipment (including the boat) while wearing Team Canada’s signature masks.
“First, when we first heard all the protocols that I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, how are we going to do this? “Moffatt said.
“It was much easier than anyone thought, and everyone said that if we had to do it to get into the water, it would be worth it. And our boats are cleaner than ever, ”added Casson.
The two are optimistic and say everything right, bye. They lean on each other more than ever to stay motivated and focused. Their tolerance for flexibility and adaptability is being tested like never before.
At this point, they will have their last chance to qualify for the Olympic Games next May.
If athletes have a fear of how their bodies will react while away from the piste, out of the field or outside the pool for months, at least one Canadian athlete has done it all before and doesn’t worry too much about it.
Hayden’s experienced layoffs
At 36, swimmer Brent Hayden retired to take his final push to Olympic glory. He won bronze in the 100m freestyle at the London Games in 2012, retired from the sport for seven years and decided to return to Tokyo last fall.
He never thought he would have an extra year to prepare when he made a decision.
Hayden was to first earn his spot on the Canadian team in the trials that were scheduled for April. He was pleasantly surprised at how well his body worked after not swimming for so long. Age and experience may allow him to train smarter and faster.
“I was one step away from not only building a team, but I think I was on the move to perform really well at the Games,” Hayden said. “I trained a lot in the gym and I gained a lot of muscle mass. I have become much stronger. I think I could break my 50m freestyle record in Canada. “
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Perhaps this is what Hayden wants to share now with his colleagues from Canada: do not panic over the wasted time. He’s done it all before. Instead of a few months of top-notch training, Hayden has been away from it all for years.
He says the body is more stable than anyone could have imagined.
“The fact that my body was able to respond to my training not only outside of working hours, but also at this age, gives a lot of positives,” he said.
Now he’s here, with a completely different outlook – one that could lead to the podium nine years after he left London.
“There is a pandemic going on and it just makes you realize that there are more important things in life than sports,” he said. “Deep down, this was what I really wanted to do and I believe that anything is possible.”
A year later, the athletes look to Tokyo again. This time with a new appreciation of what they are doing and what it all means – and in the midst of their travels, learning about the redemptive power of sport.