When Marnie McBean heard a knee ligament ‘pop’ just months before the 1992 Summer Olympics, she thought her Games were over.
She overcame the hurdle and went on to win two gold medals in rowing that summer in Barcelona.
McBean brings first-hand experience of conquering challenges to her role as Canadian chef de mission at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. But rather than offering motivational talks for athletes as they train during the COVID-19 pandemic, McBean is encouraging them to focus on what they can do each day.
“The way to overcome challenges is you pick your new path, the goal doesn’t have to change,” she said.
The IOC and Tokyo organizers recently provided a lengthy virtual presentation on the Games for the over 200 chefs de mission around the world. McBean said she was pleased to hear they’re examining how all kinds of events are being run during the pandemic – from well-financed competitions to those with limited funding – and studying what has and hasn’t worked.
Many Olympic qualifications and test events are on tap this spring.
“We’ll see the counter-measures being tested then,” she told The Canadian Press from Toronto. “That’s when things are going to start moving from the in-pencil page over to the ink page.”
McBean called the IOC/Tokyo update a “massive presentation” with a lot of information. She liked how organizers framed the Games – now scheduled to begin July 23, 2021 – as being “simple, safe and secure.”
“One of the things that we took from this is that we feel really great that everything that was coming out is very much in line with a lot of the plans that we’re anticipating for Team Canada,” McBean said. “There’s a lot going on and there’s still a lot of unknown.”
Many big Olympic questions still remain unanswered. Specifics on how the Games will actually run – with thousands of athletes, officials, media members and broadcasters set to descend on Japan next summer – may not come until next year.
Pandemic developments over the coming months and their impact on sport are tough to predict. In the meantime, athletes are doing their best to maintain their training levels.
McBean has kept busy connecting virtually with hundreds of athletes and notes they’ve been making big gains even though competitions were postponed.
“Many of them were posting personal bests,” she said. “Whether it was in the weight room or in a training-type environment, which I think bodes really well for competition, which they really are keen and eager (for) and they miss. They miss competition, they miss having something in their calendar that’s real.”
McBean wants athletes to “turn up the volume” on the positive things that are happening in their lives. That could mean improved training sessions, getting through injuries, or even just communicating more with family.
“I’ve been telling my stories of my Olympic Games for like 20-plus years and they’re going to be telling this story for 20-plus years,” McBean said. “And so this is their story. Figure out how to be proud of the story that they’re living right now.”
She compared the situation to using a navigation app that is always recalculating while trying to figure out the best route to a destination.
“Take the next step,” McBean said. “You might not know what 20 steps from now is going to be but you know what the next step is going to be. You know what today is. You know you’re preparing for excellent competition. And the rest of the steps will be determined as we recalculate and figure it out.”
Another one of her main messages for athletes is that they are “going to come through this,” so be prepared to soar.
“I’m a rower. Somebody always wins when the conditions are terrible,” she said. “And so you want to make sure that you’re the person who can do that.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2020.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press