Olympians get creative to stay fit in isolation


It had been four or five years since Eric Radford had done a burpee.

But Radford and his pair figure skating partner Vanessa James were forced to get creative with trying to stay in shape when they were forced into self-isolation with COVID-19 just a month before the Beijing Olympics. .

Radford was playing their free skate music — Harry Styles’ soulful “Falling” — and doing lung burpees for the four and a half minutes.

“It’s definitely a good way to get your heart rate up,” Radford said. “But it was very difficult. It’s not the same kind of motivation and it’s not the same kind of energy when I’m in my room doing burpees, trying to get my heart rate up. “

Or, James and Radford would play music and do high knees during transition portions of the program, and burpees where there was a lift or throw.

“Thinking of your downstairs neighbors,” James laughed. “The visualization, playing music with the cardio, I think that really helped.”

The last weeks before the Olympics are crucial for fine tuning. Being cooped up indoors, even without symptoms, is the last place athletes want to be. But the recent crash of COVID-19, amid a variant of Omicron that is spreading like wildfire, has forced many Canadian athletes into isolation, including 11 members of the Canadian bobsleigh team and para-hockey player Tyler McGregor, who is an amputee athlete and had his girlfriend’s parents’ elliptical trainer at his disposal alone.

Cody Sorensen and Cynthia Appiah were two of the bobsledders confined to hotel rooms in Sigulda, Latvia, for 10 days during the Christmas holidays. Not only did they miss races, earning valuable points for Olympic qualifying, but they lost valuable training time in a sport that demands explosiveness and therefore maximum muscle strength.

Sorensen leaned one of the twin beds against the wall to save floor space. Her daily routine included yoga in the morning, via YouTube videos, then bodyweight exercises like push-ups — up to 500 a day — and overhead squats.

“We were doing jumps and stuff too, you could tell when it was practice time because the walls were pretty thin,” said Sorensen, a two-time world championship bronze medalist. “It was very rudimentary exercises that we did for 10 days…that speed component is the one thing that was hard to replicate obviously in a 10ft by 10ft dorm.”

Appiah took the first two days to rest after a grueling nine weeks of training and racing.

“And then once I started fidgeting, I did yoga in my bedroom, ‘booty challenges’ on Pinterest, then push-ups, crunches, whatever I could do in that space. confined,” she said.

Appiah won bronze in the monobob World Cup final last weekend to secure third place overall for the season.

But the moment she received the news of her positive test, the 31-year-old Torontonian panicked. She worried about losing her fitness and missing races.

“But I’m always up for the challenge,” she said. “Once I had my woe pity party, I came back into this competitive mode and was like, okay, what do I do in the next 10 days to make sure that once back on the ice, I’m ready and it’s like I’ve never missed a day?”

McGregor, a two-time Paralympic medalist, fell ill around December 23 while he and his girlfriend were staying with her parents.

“So I was isolated there,” he said. “They have some small weights in the basement. And then I’m not really an elliptical guy – obviously, being an amputee, I struggle on the elliptical – but it’s the only form of cardio machine they have. “

“(The elliptical) targets different muscle groups that I usually use in my leg, it was quite painful,” said McGregor, who was a Triple A hockey player before losing his leg to of cancer at the age of 17.

While quarantine can mean a loss of fitness, its impact depends on the sport, according to sports physiologist Trent Stellingwerff. Whether or not the athlete has contracted COVID-19 or was just a close contact is also a factor.

“Where it gets really difficult is the sport specificity,” Stellingwerff said. “So if you test positive and you’re a professional cyclist and you have an indoor trainer installed, you can train very well. But if you’re a swimmer it’s very difficult, or if you’ As a snowboarder, you can stay fit through Zoom sessions, dumbbells and weights, bike workouts, but your ability to feel the snow, the technique and the technical stuff, it’s really tough.

“And almost all winter sports have a much more technical component than a lot of summer sports,” he said. “So that will add some challenge to the situation.”

At the Olympics last summer, Canadian Dayna Pidhoresky was forced to self-isolate in her hotel for two weeks at the track and field team’s training camp in Gifu, after she was told that she was in close contact with a passenger on her flight. The team gave him a stationary bike to practice on. Pidhoresky finished 73rd in the women’s marathon days after ending her quarantine, the last woman to cross the line, after 15 women dropped out. She called it a win for even finishing.

The potential for injury may also increase after quarantine. In 2011, after the NFL lockout, 10 players ruptured their Achilles tendons during the first 12 days of training camp.

Stellingwerff, who works with national team athletes in many sports, said he was pleased with Canada’s performance in Tokyo injury-wise.

“Touch wood, I hope the same thing happens for the Winter Olympics,” he said. “There are always injuries in elite sport. If you want to stay injury free, just go sit on the couch. The inherent nature of trying to beat the world requires some risk taking, but I have was pleasantly surprised that the injury rate that’s coming out of COVID for summer athletes with lockdowns and various things.

“All the stars, everyone did well.”

Omicron wasn’t even a thing a few weeks ago, and now he threatens to completely derail Olympic dreams. If an athlete now tests positive for COVID-19, they must provide three negative PCR tests and then submit this documentation to the Beijing Olympic Committee (BOCOG). It is up to BOCOG to authorize the athlete to travel to China.

So while quarantining for COVID-19 has been difficult for athletes who have been there recently, they feel lucky.

“It was both a really annoying and bad thing at the same time because it didn’t allow us to prepare (for the recent national championships), but now, compared to the athletes who haven’t got it yet, we can be a bit more at ease,” Radford said. He and James pulled out after the short program at the nationals, saying they hadn’t recovered enough to compete well.

“We will still be very vigilant. But I can tell you, talking to other athletes (who haven’t had the virus), that I know I’m more relaxed than them at this stage. We all feel both small sense of relief that we are done with this, and now we have a slightly clearer and less stressful path as we train for Beijing.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 20, 2022.


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