Paralympian Tammy Cunnington speaks at the Special Olympics Celebrity Breakfast in June in Red Deer. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate staff)

Red Deer’s Tammy Cunnington hopes Olympics and Paralympics can still go ahead in 2021

Three years ago, Tammy Cunnington was contemplating her future in swimming.

She was thinking about retiring, but eventually, the drive and determination to compete was too strong and she decided to give it her best shot to qualify for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Toyko.

That was all on track until earlier this month when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Now those plans are temporarily halted, with the 2020 Canadian Trials already postponed and Olympic postponement likely to come next.

“I’ve still been training the best that I could and still planning as it was going ahead. Now, things have shifted so we won’t know if Canada is going to be competing at all,” Cunnington said.

“Right now I’m just going to continue what I’m doing, which is just training hard anyway because I love it and it’s part of who I am and as things continue to evolve and decisions get made, I’ll be able to make my plan and personal decision.”

With most gyms and workout facilities closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, athletes also don’t have the opportunity to train in their discipline ahead of the biggest sporting event of their lives.

For Cunnington, that means no time in the pool. She said she usually spends only five or six days out of the year out of the water and figures it’s been 10 years since she’s been out more than two weeks.

Late Sunday, the Canadian Olympic Committee called on the International Olympic Committee to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympics until 2021, or else Canada will not attend.

“I definitely agree with them, it’s the right decision to make. I’m glad that they can be a leader and stand up for us because so far, it doesn’t look like IOC has been willing to do that,” Cunnington said.

“I think it’s great that COC and CPC decided to call it for us and also put some pressure on the IOC to do the right thing.”

The COC said in a statement that it is not in the best interest of global health or the health of their athletes to attend the games this summer in Tokyo.

“We are thankful to the IOC for its assurance that it will not be cancelling the Tokyo 2020 Games and appreciative that it understands the importance of accelerating its decision-making regarding a possible postponement,” read the statement from the COC.

“We also applaud the IOC for acknowledging that safeguarding the health and wellness of nations and containing the virus must be our paramount concern. We are in the midst of a global health crisis that is far more significant than sport.”

It was a drastic step by the COC, one that the athletes felt is necessary given that more than 50 per cent of competitors haven’t qualified for the Games and will not likely have the opportunity in the near future.

Both governing bodies for track and field and swimming in the United States have called on their Olympic officials to push for a postponement, and Swimming Canada later backed its American counterpart.

National Olympic committees in Australia, Brazil, Slovenia and Norway are among those pushing for a postponement until the global health crisis subsides.

With countless cancellations, only 57 per cent of Olympic qualification spots have been determined.

Since the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, the Games have only been cancelled during the world wars including 1916, 1940 and 1944.

Cunnington ultimately hopes that even if the games are postponed until 2021, she can keep her training going and be ready to compete for one last time.

“I’m still thankful for the last two seasons I’ve had and the hard work I’ve put in and depending what happens I still may put in one last run here for Toyko 2021, if that’s what happens,” she said with a laugh.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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Red Deer’s Tammy Cunnington was hoping to compete at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. (Photo Courtesy of Brian Cassey Cairns 2018 Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships/ Swimming Canada)

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