Justin Kripps completed dozens of runs down Beijing’s sliding track before he ever got there.
The COVID-19 pandemic delaying test events and international training weeks at the new Yanqing Sliding Center for months, the Canadian bobsled pilot regularly strapped on a virtual reality headset to get in his track reps.
The Olympic track opened in 2020, but only the Chinese could get on it over the next year because of the pandemic. The international governing body of bobsleigh and skeleton distributed point-of-view video to international sliders to compensate for that.
Kripps estimated he’d done about 250 VR runs before he and his teammates set foot on the Yanqing track for October’s test event.
“I’ve got the track memorized,” Kripps said. “I can put that on and go down the track and get a sense a little bit for the timings of the corners, obviously which direction they go in, how many there are.
“Seeing the corners in person and going through on a sled, that’s when you really figure out what to do, but it’s nice to have a little bit of a baseline.”
As their summer counterparts did for Tokyo’s Summer Games delayed from 2020 to 2021, every Canadian athlete heading to Beijing had to pivot, adapt and perhaps learn something about themselves they didn’t know before.
“The pandemic’s been challenging for everybody,” Kripps said. “When I sort of realized how big of an issue this was going to be, I kind of thought about a quote from Darwin, and he says it’s not necessarily the strongest survive, it’s the ones who adapt the best.”
Some adaptations became permanent.
Kripps’s teammate Ben Coakwell estimates he spent $15,000 converting his double-car garage into a gym used not only by his teammates, but also by cyclists, soccer players and hockey players in the Calgary area while gyms were shuttered in 2020.
Drywalling, heating, weights and even a mini-fridge for protein shakes added up for the 34-year-old.
“It’s definitely permanent. It was an expensive endeavour, but at the same time it’s like ‘I don’t know what other countries have access to and I can’t take the chance to just work out with milk jugs, you know?’” Coakwell said.
“I would receive messages regularly, ‘I heard you have this gym. Do you mind if I work out?’ I said yes to everybody because I know what the importance and the impact of having the access during that time was.
“I put a bunch of sanitization stuff in there and I never saw half the people. I had a little lockbox with a key. It was a busy place morning to night.”
Women’s Olympic hockey team forward Blayre Turnbull of Stellarton, N.S., was a frequent user.
“It was something that was heavily relied upon,” she said. “He decked it out with top-of-the-line equipment. He had every piece of equipment you would need for some type of training.
“It was a huge benefit to have access to that and something that just mentally puts you a little bit more at ease, knowing that you’re still able to train as you need to. So I was really, really thankful and lucky that he allowed me to use that space.”
Dryland training a useful substitute for contact with snow and ice was a revelation to skiers and skaters.
Reigning Olympic moguls champion Mikael Kingsbury of Deux-Montagnes, Que., barely touched his skis for six months in 2020, but still won moguls and dual moguls world titles in 2021.
“I ordered a lot of gym equipment, made myself a very good home gym. I bought an Olympic trampoline,” Kingsbury said. “My body was in the best shape that it has ever been. I can be efficient training at home by myself.”
The national long-track speed-skating team endured the double whammy of the pandemic and no ice in Calgary’s Olympic Oval from September, 2020 to June, 2021 because of a mechanical failure.
The national team held domestic races at the oval in July to make up for lost race reps, which coach Bart Schouten believes is a practice the team might continue.
“We really wanted to get an extra race day in because we didn’t race that much last year,” Schouten said. “That’s something we actually feel sharpened the skaters’ focus after that.
“The months of August and September were better because they realized again what it took to race. It’s something we’re looking at keeping.”
Speed skater Laurent Dubreuil didn’t have an indoor oval at home in Levis, Que., where one was under construction, nor did he have one in Calgary in 2020-21.
The pandemic shutting down gyms in Quebec in the spring of 2020 limited him to backyard squats and lunges, yet he won world titles in the 500 metres and bronze in the 1,000 metres the following year.
“The extra emphasis we put on weight training really worked out for me,” Dubreuil said. “Not being able to skate at all made it tough during the pandemic, but me being a sprinter, I wouldn’t get on the bike more often. I would do a lot of weight training and I got a lot stronger.
“Usually at this time of year, we cut down a lot on weight training,” he said in October. “Now we keep it more later in the season because it really worked out well last season.”
A common cold can be a death knell to an athlete’s aspirations on race day.
Brian McKeever, a 13-time Paralympic gold medalist in cross-country skiing, says even if pandemic restrictions ease, he’ll continue to wear a mask in the future if he feels ill.
“I will do that in the future even if we’re not required to wear them. If I catch a cold, I don’t want to pass it onto anybody else,” said the Canmore, Alta., skier.
“Just a cold, but that sucks. Being sick sucks. Don’t want anybody else to be as miserable.”
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