words by: Gabriel Slythe-Léveillé
illustrations by: Sarah Cotton

From one day to the next, I saw my little world come crumbling down in one fell swoop, Canada will not be participating in this year’s Olympic games. Participating in the Olympic games has always been a dream of mine and an immense source of daily motivation. The simple fact that my objectives were becoming attainable helped me get through day after day of training and kept me laser focused on the target ahead. Even when many thought I was completely crazy in setting these objectives and thought my decisions were nothing short of irrational, that never stopped me from investing in what I believe is my destiny, taking my shot at the Olympic rings, no matter the cost. In fact, after I finished my studies at the University of Sherbrooke in 2017, I wanted to accomplish what both my parents had, having each themselves participated in the Olympic Games. Now being the Canadian champion in the 400m hurdles, I could begin to truly picture myself achieving this monumental goal, in a concrete and real way.

For me, 2020 was the summit of a long project in which I had invested a lot of time, sweat and energy. Since January 2018, I’ve been spending most of my time in Europe, more specifically in Montpellier in the south of France. The majority of my physical preparation has happened there, as well as the beginning of this season’s competition schedule. I only spent a few months in Quebec throughout the year. I joined a professional training group made up of a dozen athletes and one incredible coach with whom I shared the same passion, track and field, and similar goals. I was doing this knowing that whether I attained my final objectives or not, I was going to be able to prove to myself that I had gone all the way, that way I could hold my head high without any regrets.

Living abroad for such an extended period of time is not always easy. More precisely, isolating myself from my entourage, putting my career on ice, and maintaining my personal relationships with those I love most. I looked at all of this as being a difficult but necessary sacrifice. In the end I always kept in mind that doing what you love on the daily, is priceless. Not to mention the fact that the people I’ve met throughout this journey and the experiences I’ve had will remain engraved in my memory for years to come.

If we go back only a few weeks, a few weeks before my eventual return to Montreal on March 20th, I was in the middle of a training camp in South Africa. To be honest I had, surely like many others, a hard time comprehending the situation the world now presently faces. I could watch the news every day, but never could I have predicted the true scale of the events that would unfold. Naively calm maybe, but I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t in any immediate danger, and at times I was not even concerned at all. When all of this started hitting Canada and Quebec hard, I was still living in an environment where everything was moving at its usual pace, uninterrupted. South Africa still didn’t have a single reported case of Covid-19.

It wasn’t easy for me to accept the situation, even harder considering we were only months away from the games. To make things worse, for the first time ever I was enjoying a full training block in preparation for the season without any injuries, not even as much as a nick or scratch. This camp in South Africa was far from being the most demanding or intense physically or psychologically, which allowed me to be optimistic while facing the 2020 summer season. My first reaction to the news, being that I couldn’t see past the end of my nose, was only to worry about the impact this would have on my season and my fitness. I was immediately starting to question the reason why I had invested so much time and energy into the past couple of years. It got to the point where I was ready to do anything to stay in South Africa and continue to train for as long as I could. I was looking at the possibility of being able to train back in France, or in Montreal, slowly disappear, while here everything remained accessible. For that reason, I continually asked myself why I couldn’t just stay in the environment most favourable for me to attain my ultimate goals, while I still had the chance. It took my family and close ones to intervene for me to decide to come back and lock in my return to Montreal. This just goes to show you to what point I had tunnel vision. Thanks to them I was able to return safe and sound and get my feet grounded back in Canada, while I still had the chance.

Still, at the airport headed to Montreal on March 20th, I would have never envisioned that the cancelation of the Olympic Games was a possible option for anyone. I was trying to imagine ways I could keep training in the best way possible while everything is closed. What was haunting me the most, was imagining my competition training in places that were not touched by the same constraints I would be facing. Which would then put me at a significant disadvantage when competing against them. Once home, it took me a few days before realizing the reach of this virus. At that moment, I realized that this problem was much bigger than the simple impact on the tiny bubble that is my training. Although it’s a hard pill to swallow, I was beginning to imagine not being able to compete this summer.

Canada’s decision to pull out of the Olympic Games was a heartbreaking one for me. I could live with not participating after putting it all on the line and simply not qualifying. As I mentioned before, I would be able to proudly put an end to my career without any regrets. However not participating because of a decision taken that was completely out of my hands, one that I had no control over, one that immediately annihilated all of the hard work I had done over the years, that’s not something I could ever live with. Given a bit of pause, I of course understand and support the decision taken by the Canadian Olympic Committee. Despite the fact that this was not an easy decision for them to take, it was the only logical one. Making athlete and the public’s safety a top priority.

I’d be lying to you if I told you that the news that we received a few days later that the games were being postponed to 2021 didn’t comfort me and give me at least a bit of hope. It’s still too early to decide what the next 16 months ahead will look like for me. In fact, I’d like to make a well thought out decision. I’d like to wait until after these waves of emotion have subsided. Once this Covid-19 situation becomes a bit clearer I’ll allow myself to think this decision through.

Until then, stay home and stay safe!

Gab Slythe