CANMORE – Mathieu Bilodeau wants to race and he's grudgingly waiting for an answer.
After a lack of competition over the past year, the Canmore race walker signed up to compete in South America next month to make sure he qualifies to the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics Games – should the prestige competition actually happen.
An answer on the Games' status is out of the hands of the fast-footed 37-year-old, but he's confident he’ll at least qualify to lace up in July, even if he feels like COVID-19 regulations in Canada have left him at a disadvantage.
“At this point, I feel like it’s not fair for everyone,” said Bilodeau.
“Like, I wish I could be European because I could race every weekend, and I wouldn’t have to travel to Europe and come back and do 14 days [quarantine] ... it’s difficult to be consistent and to be able to compete with the best when you know a U.S. guy or European could just go back home and he can go outside the next day and they don’t care if he has a PCR test. I feel like it’s just unfair for Canadian athletes.”
Due to inactivity caused by the pandemic, the Canadian dropped down in Olympic standings from 41st to 54th while other race walkers from different countries have been competing and gaining points.
He said it feels like he's lost everything built up from 2016-19, and is back at square one.
Bilodeau’s frustrations are centred around strict domestic regulations, lack of meaningful race opportunities nationally, and losing valuable training days from being quarantined.
The 2016 Olympian was unable to properly prepare for two weeks after returning from training in Europe earlier this year. He’ll lose another 14 days coming back from the Pan Am Race Walking Cup in Ecuador on May 9, should the qualifying race occur.
The start of the tentative 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games are a little over 100 days away, and 60 athletes have until May 31 to qualify for the men’s 50-kilometre race walk.
In fantastic shape last year, Bilodeau had qualified for the Games, but the rankings didn't carry over to 2021.
With nearly half the spots already spoken for, Bilodeau said a top-eight finish in Ecuador would punch a ticket to Tokyo.
“There were so many races in Europe; it’s just not fair, it’s not fair, people [are] passing me [in rankings] that we never heard about so that’s our only difference. We’re not super lucky in Canada, but I feel like I’ll be safe [for Tokyo], so we’ll plan as we go,” said Bilodeau.
"We’ll try to do a top 10 in Tokyo, that’s the goal.”
For the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, Bilodeau trained in high-altitude around the Bow Valley and in Calgary. However, for Tokyo, the athlete switched camps to Vancouver and Europe over the winter, and Quebec will serve him for the final 100 days.
“It was nice to be there [in the Bow Valley], but it didn’t go as planned in Rio because I was training in colder weather," said Bilodeau. "It will be more humid and a little bit warmer during the summer, so it will simulate the weather a bit more in Tokyo."
At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, the Tokyo Games were postponed.
For an athlete like Bilodeau, he liked the idea of having a bit more training time, but that quickly turned into more postponements, more money being burned, and his incentive slowly slipping away.
"I just realized I am getting older, too," he said with a laugh. "By getting older, sometimes it's more difficult, you recover a little bit slower, but now it's difficult because, like I said, it's good to have the extra time when you know you have a race. But at this point, after like four attempts, you kind of lose your motivation, right?
"I think when we know we’re going to go [to the Games] for sure, the motivation will come back."
Bilodeau added that should Tokyo be called off, or if Canada chooses not to attend, he'll set a course for Paris in 2024.
"I really enjoy doing it," he said. "I still have the fire and I still want to race, but I feel like I lost a year of my life and good moments and visiting countries. So I want to keep doing it."