CANMORE – Mathieu Bilodeau has been smiling ear-to-ear since word broke he'd be going to Tokyo.
The race walker who calls Canmore home officially qualified for the men's 50-kilometre at the Summer Olympic Games based on his world ranking less than two months until the biggest race of his life.
As Bilodeau puts it, his mindset and focus are back on track for Aug. 6 race day.
"The fire I usually have was kind of gone, but now, it's back," said a refreshed Bilodeau. "I'm super pumped, I'm super excited and I'm laughing all the time. I have a smile, it's kind of the mindset has changed dramatically and it's so good for me and my family."
The rejuvenated 37-year-old sharing laughs during Tuesday's (June 8) interview with the Outlook was a stark contrast compared to a frustrated mood a week prior.
Due to unplanned inactivity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2016 Olympian was left in the dark waiting for answers if he would qualify for the Games based on his world ranking.
What irked Bilodeau was that he had qualified to compete among the other best 59 race walkers a year prior, but everything changed in 2021 and his spot at the start line was no longer guaranteed. With races being cancelled and Canadians unable to travel and compete, Bilodeau had been left clinging to a world ranking that was slowly falling, as racers from other nations competed in qualification races.
"It was so much pressure," he said. "I left Alberta, went to Vancouver for a few months; I was training, but it was pretty hard because I had no motivation because I didn't know if I would race, if i would qualify, if the Games would go on ... being away from my family and my wife was difficult too."
Athletics Canada's head coach, Glenroy Gilbert, acknowledged the strenuous times Canada's race walkers went through.
“Our race walkers arguably faced the greatest challenge in qualifying for the Games,” said Gilbert in a press release. “Competition opportunities were limited due to the pandemic and it took a great deal of mental strength for Mathieu to persevere over the past several months. He deserves this opportunity and, based on his results at the World Championships in Doha in 2019, we anticipate a solid performance in Tokyo.”
On stand-by and still preparing for the Tokyo Games as best he could, Bilodeau relocated his training camp to his home province of Quebec.
In the lead up to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, Bilodeau trained in high-altitude around the Bow Valley and in Calgary. However, for Tokyo, he said Quebec's weather and humidity would better simulate the extreme conditions he'll face in the middle of Japan's summer.
Despite mental hardships, Bilodeau's found new motivation with the benefits of unwillingly resting his body this year.
"You can qualify with the ranking and by the time, and it seemed like everyone wanted to do the time to feel more confident, but we don't care," said Bilodeau. "We know Tokyo is going to be super warm and you need to be fresh and I think they've burned so much matches right now that they probably want to train, but probably the body's like 'OK, you did way too much earlier.' "
Bilodeau recently took two weeks off to enjoy life and reset his mind, he said. But now, it's time to turn up the training now the certainty is set he'll be in Tokyo. He'll likely travel to Japan on July 18, a few weeks before the race.
"We're trying to build the mileage and the intensity until the end of June," he said.
"I'm going to have at least 20 days in Japan to get used to the heat and get used to the food and just get myself ready, so that's the plan."