‘It’s just the state of the world right now’: Going to the Olympics during a pandemic

TVO.org speaks with Team Canada sprint kayaker Alanna Bray-Lougheed on the eve of a Games like no other
By Daniel Kitts - Published on Jul 22, 2021
Alanna Bray-Lougheed is scheduled to compete in the K-2 500 metres and K-4 500 metres kayak events in Tokyo. (Canoe Kayak Canada)

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This summer, The Agenda is revisiting notable interviews and discussions from TVO’s archives.

On Wednesday, the program re-aired a 2018 conversation about how athletes adjust to life after the Olympics. The discussion featured three former Canadian Olympians — figure skaters Elizabeth Manley and Craig Buntin and aerial skier Deidra Dionne — along with sports psychologist Rolf Wagschal.

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The upcoming Games, scheduled to kick off this Friday, will pose an unprecedented set of challenges for athletes — who have to mentally prepare for the first Olympics ever held during a global pandemic.

In March, TVO.org spoke to several Ontario athletes who were trying to ready themselves for the Games, even though they still weren't sure it would happen. One of those athletes was Alanna Bray-Lougheed, a sprint kayaker from Oakville. TVO.org decided to check back in with Bray-Lougheed to see how she’s feeling now that the big moment is almost here. We reached her earlier this week when she was in Montreal doing some last-minute training with her team.

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TVO.org: When we last spoke to you, the Games still weren't a certainty. But now they’re here. They’re happening. How are you feeling?

Alanna Bray-Lougheed: Honestly, I'm really confident in my mental and physical state right now. If anything, I think the postponement of the Games was a blessing in disguise for me. At the time, it didn't feel like that. But it really gave me a lot of time to focus on things that maybe I wouldn't have focused on had the Games happened in 2020.

TVO.org: I was never an athlete of any kind, but I can imagine you're thinking about a lot right now: your physical fitness, your events. But another thing you have to think about this year are the COVID-19 health protocols. How much are they weighing on your mind?

Bray-Lougheed: As we're getting closer to getting on the plane, it's something that's on my mind a little more. And if someone was to get COVID, most of the time it's not their fault: it can be something as simple as crossing someone in the grocery store. That being said, I am just following the rules, as I have been since the beginning of the pandemic. And we have pretty strict protocols at the Games. We won't have any interaction with the outside public. We have COVID tests every day. So I'm pretty confident in the COVID protocols. Our team is in a bubble the week before we leave, just to minimize any extra external contacts. It definitely can be a little stressful, because it is something that can alter your entire experience if you're not careful. But at the same time, you can't think about it too much or you’ll go crazy.

TVO.org: Is this your first Olympic Games?

Bray-Lougheed: Yes, it is.

TVO.org: So you're going to be an Olympian. But these Games won't be like the ones you watched growing up. There'll be no cheering crowds, for example. I've been wondering if some athletes feel the pandemic is kind of cheating them out of having a full Olympic experience. What's your reaction to that?

Bray-Lougheed: I don't feel like I'm being cheated at all. I'm really grateful that the Games are happening in the first place amid a global pandemic. It’s just the state of the world right now, and it's different for sure. But I'm really grateful that I'll be there and able to race. I think a lot about the people who are supporting me back home: my coach Adam [Oldershaw at the Burloak Canoe Club], my friends and family in Oakville, everyone across Canada who supports us. And that’s giving me a lot of motivation, going to Tokyo, even though there won't be any spectators.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.


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