Slowly people are getting back out on to the water. Elite paddlers and recreational paddlers alike are wasting no time getting back to what they love as many governments and health authorities gradually ease coronavirus restrictions around the world.
This time next year, fingers crossed, our top canoe sprint and slalom athletes will march into Tokyo stadium, ready to be part of an historic Olympic Games that may also help to signal the globe has triumphed over a virus that brought the world to its knees.
Our athletes have shown themselves to be incredibly resilient. There has been disappointment, not just with the delay to the Games, but also at the inability to even get out on the water, let alone compete against other athletes.
There is still hope most athletes will be able to take part in international competition before the end of 2020. An ICF canoe sprint and paracanoe world cup is still scheduled for Szeged, Hungary, in September, and two ICF canoe slalom world cups are set to take place in Tacen, Slovenia, and Pau, France, in October and November.
For those who have already booked their tickets for Tokyo, the one-year delay has given them a chance to take a break, focus on family and domestic duties, while at the same time maintaining a level of fitness to ensure they won’t be too far behind when competition finally returns.
Those who are still waiting to earn their Olympic berth have had a tougher time. Constant calendar changes, uncertainty over qualification procedures, and health worries have added extra stress to what is already a nervous time for athletes.
For some athletes it has meant having to make big changes to their life plans. Some had earmarked 2020 as their final Olympics. Some had planned to have children straight after the Games, in time to get back into a boat in time for Paris 2024.
But not one ICF athlete has voiced opposition to the decision to postpone the Games. These are people who have been making sacrifices all their sporting lives, and this is but the latest. Slovenia’s Peter Kauzer, who was one of the athletes who was talking about retiring after 2020, now says the Paris Games will be so close he may decide to keep on going.
The Tokyo slalom and sprint venues have been ready for some time. The test events have happened, the respective courses have been given the thumbs up from the athletes and the officials – they now just need a chance to use them.
The Tokyo organising committee released the competition schedule last week, confirming exactly the same timetable as had been set for this year’s Games. The canoe slalom will be run during the first week, the canoe sprint the second.
12 months ago this week, everyone celebrated the one year to go milestone. This week’s celebration has a much more low key feel about it, but is that any surprise? No-one would be willing to predict what might happen in the next 12 months.
But like other sporting communities, canoe athletes have their fingers crossed that this time it is for real, and on July 23 2021 they will hold their heads high and march proudly into Tokyo Olympic stadium, part of perhaps the most important Games ever.