Gar Leyshon wants to go to the Olympics in Tokyo this summer to see Damian Warner win a gold medal, but not at any cost.
The longtime personal coach of Canada’s top decathlete is adamant that if the Games run this summer, he will not attend without first receiving the COVID-19 vaccination.
“No way,” the Londoner said. “I’m 60 years old and I have diabetes. How early am I going to be getting the shots? Damian has a meet at Gotzis (Austria) in May and we’re hoping to be vaccinated by then. Realistically, we’re not comfortable in going there if not. Damian is having a baby in March and I have two people in my family who are immunocompromised.”
The International Olympic Committee hopes to ease fears around the world with the release of a playbook next week aimed at running a safe Games in the Japanese capital. The event has already been postponed from last year and it’s reaching the now-or-never stage financially and politically.
“Like everyone else, (Damian’s) been worried and keeping his eye on things. It’s a disruptive year and the athletes who adjust the best will succeed. This has been good preparation for that,” Leyshon said.
“We have no control over the outcome so what else can you do other than keep training?”
Even that is no guarantee these days.
London’s world champ Maggie Mac Neil, already named to Canada’s swim team for Tokyo, is back in a holding pattern for the time being. The University of Michigan is in the middle of a 14-day shutdown of its athletic programs to guard against virus spread.
Canadian IOC member Dick Pound recently suggested Olympic athletes should get priority access to vaccines to ensure the best chance of the Games occurring. According to The Guardian, athletes in Hungary and Serbia have already been receiving their jabs, even though the IOC disapproves a “jumping of the queue” mentality.
“There is an economic disparity about who will be able to get vaccinated before the Games,” Angela Schneider, head of Western University’s Centre for Olympic Studies and a former Olympic rower, said. “A lot of countries will not have access before the Games. Even in Canada, it will be the fall here before everybody does. You can see (Pound’s argument) of perhaps we should consider giving it to athletes who provide inspiration and to promote a greater social good if the Games actually happen.”
Canada was the first country to announce it would not send athletes to the Olympic and Paralympic due to the pandemic last year. Now, there are rising case numbers in Japan, limited vaccine supplies around the world and new variants to tackle.
“There is so much uncertainty,” Schneider said. “The majority of athletes who compete at an Olympics only ever go to one. If Japan doesn’t happen, the next one is in 2024 in France. In the career of an elite performer, what guarantee do you have you’ll still be at your peak?”
Warner has been to two Olympics, but his coach has yet to accompany him. Leyshon’s late father, Glynn, was supposed to go as Canada’s wrestling coach to the boycotted 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
“So it’s unbelievable and somehow, it’s not,” Gar said. “The good thing for Damian is he’s been to the Olympics before.
“I just hope he’ll get the chance to win gold and be able to come back again in 2024 and do it again. Only the greats in the sport have done that, so it’s three years to be the best in the world.”