CANMORE – Canada's strong Para Nordic Ski team is sitting out from international competition until Beijing in March.
With less than two months until the Winter Paralympic Games in China, the decision to remain on home soil was made to lessen any additional risks when it comes to COVID-19.
"If we have any positive tests within the last sort of two to three weeks leading into the Games then we can't go," said Robin McKeever, head coach of Nordiq Canada's Para Nordic Ski team. "So we just have to be extra cautious and for our team, it's just safer staying at home and I'm not happy about it by any means 'cause racers and coaches and athletes are wanting to push and just keep the gas on, but it's not so easy in this day and age of the pandemic."
McKeever added he agrees with the decision and the team has strong ethics to follow. Part of it is keeping a watchful eye on how other nations treat the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I know that we're in the middle of a pandemic and it's really tough to balance out all those things, but in high performance sports still operating and most of the rest of the world and it gets shut down when too many people get COVID cases and we currently don't have those within the sports," he said.
Most notably, the Canucks won't compete at the Para Snow Sports World Championships in Lillehammer, Norway from Jan. 8-23, which would have been an opportunity to size up the international field in-person, including the elusive Chinese skiers, leading into the Paralympics from March 4-13.
Instead, domestic events and time trials for skiing and biathlon will occur for the team, including at the Olympic Trials starting Thursday (Jan. 6) at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
"It's obviously not the same thing as racing and you don't have your same measuring stick as you would normally have going into a Games, so it's about being confident in setting up the best program you can do and believing yourselves," McKeever said.
Disappointed but understanding, Beijing hopeful and Para Nordic Ski team's Christina Picton said the situation makes sense.
"When the target is Beijing and just the risk involved with training and travelling overseas and the risks of being exposed to COVID and what that could mean leading into Beijing I think that we made the right call for our team and our program at least," Picton said.
Canada's Para Nordic athletes have gotten in some international competition this season. This past December was the Canmore World Para Nordic Ski World Cup where more than 120 competitors from 14 nations competed at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
Canada's medal count was at 17 (nine gold, five silver, three bronze), including four golds and silver from Brittany Hudak, two golds and two silvers from Natalie Wilkie, two golds from Brian McKeever and gold, silver and bronze from Collin Cameron.