When Saltair’s Faith Knelson heard the Canadian Olympic Committee pulled out of the 2020 Tokyo games, she had “five million emotions all at once.” She knew it was the right call, but her heart was heavy with the weight of missing a chance at her first summer games.
Then, on Tuesday March 24, the International Olympic Committee postponed the games – just two days after Canada withdrew athletes from the Olympics.
“I was happy to hear the COC did so, it was more the happiness knowing that the IOC could postpone the games,” Knelson, 18, said. ‘I think with us pulling out it made them realize people aren’t prepared for it, and athletes don’t have anywhere to train at the moment.”
Three weeks ago, Knelson was watching the COVID-19 pandemic unfold in China. She thought about how close the crisis was to Tokyo, which gave her and her teammates concern.
“Then it hit Italy, and Italy announced all their sports trials were being cancelled. I thought it wasn’t fair even for one country for the IOC to still host. Then it hit Canada, and it hit hard when we had to give up our training facilities,” Knelson said.
“I got in the water last Monday, and I didn’t sleep well the night before because I was worried about the virus, and the anxiousness I had around being a swimmer, and having so many people at a public facility.”
That night, the High Performance Centre at Saanich Commonwealth Pool, where Knelson and her team trains, was one of the last facilities in the Greater Victoria area to shut down. Island Health later warned the public of a possible COVID-19 exposure at the facility.
“For us there was a lot of anger. This should have been dealt with a bit better. However, I’m healthy, and all my teammates are healthy,” she said.
Knelson and her team are keeping their fitness levels up with home workout programs, dry-land training, and yoga, but without access to the water it’s difficult to stay in peak shape. Before the facilities closed, Knelson trained eight times a week.
Although the team has ‘scattered’, there are conference calls every two days. Knelson said there are strong systems in place to check in with coaches about their physical and mental health. Her biggest focus is staying healthy for competition in 2021.
Back in August 2019, Knelson competed at the Pan-Am Games in Lima, Peru. She swam to a bronze medal in the women’s 100-metre breaststroke, and earned a silver medal in the women’s 4x100m medley relay on the final day of swimming competition. But for Knelson that success did not come easy.
She had been training with a hip injury in advance of the Pan-Am Games. Going into trials, she was feeling confident, even though she knew she wasn’t in peak shape.
“Heading into Pan-Ams, I knew I needed a couple of good months of training and I could at least put up a best time. That was the goal.”
Three weeks before she left for Peru, her knee started acting up. Knelson had to have her knee frozen to deal with the pain for competition.
“I was a bit nervous with everything that happened the year prior,” she said. “Going into the finals I was seeded seventh. I’ve always had the mentality of I want to have fun, race and see how fast I can go. It wasn’t until I got on the blocks and I realized, I didn’t come all this way to swim one race and not win a medal.
“I never had more fun racing. It was a pivotal point in swimming for me, and definitely pushed me toward this year.”
Knelson deferred a year of university at the University of Arizona in Tucson to train for the Olympics. She’s going to swim and compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association for the Arizona Wildcats on a full-ride scholarship while she pursues education in broadcast journalism.
Although the games have been postponed, Knelson cannot postpone school any longer. She is going to university in August and will have to balance school, sport and training in her first year.
Knelson is keeping a close eye on how the COVID-19 pandemic is developing, and she hopes the virus won’t disrupt her post-secondary plans.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next day, never mind the next month, or five months. There’s still some students down there who are cross training and living in student housing. Our coaches are down there. If the borders are still shut down by then, I’ll have to work around it. I don’t have any plans other than school right now,” Knelson said.
For now, she’s relieved the Olympics have been postponed and is thankful that she can keep herself and her family healthy.
“Having a start for July 24 was scary for all of us. The biggest thing for me was thinking about my dad, who’s had compromised health, and my grandma who’s 94 years old. Above all, I’m really thinking about my family.”
– with a file from Don Bodger, Chemainus Valley Courier.