Despite the uncertainty over the summer Olympics in Tokyo due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, London-born world champion swimmer Maggie MacNeil says she’s staying focused on getting herself prepared for Swimming Canada’s upcoming Olympic trials and, hopefully, for the games themselves.
MacNeil is among six athletes who the Canadian Olympic Committee and Swimming Canada provisionally nominated to Team Canada for the Tokyo games.
Trials are set to run from May 24 to 28 in Toronto, with an extra Olympic qualifier planned for June 21 to 23. Swimming Canada postponed its invitation-only trials after invoking the unexpected circumstances clause of its Olympic team nomination criteria.
The Olympics themselves are set to begin July 23 with the Paralympics a month later.
“I feel like just getting ready to be the best I can be at those dates, in general, will be the best way to proceed,” MacNeil said Wednesday on London Live with Mike Stubbs on 980 CFPL.
“I want to do the 100 free because I want to try to make the 400 free relay, and then I think I’ll do the 50 free as well, just for fun, but I think that will be it,” she said of the trials, which will also involve swimmers Kylie Masse, Penny Oleksiak, Sydney Pickrem, Taylor Ruck and Markus Thormeyer.
The Tokyo Summer Olympics were originally set to take place during the summer of 2020 before being postponed due to the pandemic.
A year later, doubt still lingers about the games despite assertions by the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo officials that they will go on.
Polls across Japan show that up to 80 per cent of respondents want the Olympics postponed or cancelled, with many seeing the games as a health risk in a country that has controlled the virus better than others. They also have spoken out on rising costs that may total more than $25 billion.
“Everything’s, kind of, changing on such a rapid basis,” MacNeil said.
“I think it’s just important to be really flexible and adaptable and able to change to whatever the situation is at that time.”
The 20-year-old MacNeil is considered a medal favourite for the games. In 2019, she won the gold medal in the 100-metre butterfly at the world championships, dethroning Olympic champion Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden.
“I was just saying to my parents the other day that now that I’ve accepted and gotten used to the world champion title, now I can, kind of, add Olympian to that,” she said.
“So that’s a new layer added to my swimming resume which I’ll have to come to terms with at some point as well. But that still is surreal and hasn’t totally set in yet.”
The next FINA World Aquatics Championships are set to take place next year in Fukuoka, Japan.
A student at the University of Michigan, MacNeil says the immediate challenge with the upcoming trials, training aside, will be coordinating time to come back across the border into Canada to quarantine.
“With (trials) being so close to the games, when I return home for my two-week quarantine for trials, I will not be returning back to Michigan until probably the fall,” said MacNeil, who is currently in Ann Arbor.
With that in mind, another concern arises: not forgetting anything stateside. When MacNeil returned to Canada at the start of the pandemic in March of 2020, she, like most, wasn’t sure exactly how long the pandemic’s pause would last.
“I anticipated maybe one or two months being away from school, but it turned out to be six, I think, by the end of it. I had left all of my summer clothes here at school, so I definitely don’t want to make that mistake again,” she said.
“Of course none of us anticipated this would happen,” she said of the pandemic,” but I think overall this is making me a better person and a better athlete, and I think the characteristics I found in myself over the last year will definitely help me when I enter the workforce and when my swimming career is over in life later on.”
On Wednesday, Tokyo organizers and the IOC released the first of their so-called “Playbooks,” detailing the ways that 15,400 athletes will enter and exit Japan when the Olympics open on July 23, and the Paralympics a month later.
Among the ground rules outlined in the Playbooks: no cheering or singing, no visiting bars and restaurants, take enough masks for the entire stay, and don’t use public transport without permission.
Late last month, a British newspaper, citing an unnamed Japanese government official, said the Olympics would be cancelled. For the last two weeks, the IOC and Japanese organizers have pushed back, and the Playbooks offer some concrete plans after months of vague talk.
The IOC and Japanese government will not require “participants” to be vaccinated to enter the country where vaccination is mandatory for residents. The games will be held as if no vaccine were available, relying on social distancing, masks, and testing.
— With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press