Paris Games come with promise of a French renaissance for the Olympic, Paralympic movement | CBC Sports

Paris Games come with promise of a French renaissance for the Olympic, Paralympic movement | CBC Sports

The life of a high performance athlete is always filled with unknowns.

It is part of the gig, trying to navigate daily training, always searching for that extra edge to peak for competitions. And in a many cases, it rarely ever goes as planned.

To be an athlete who has any level of success requires an immense amount of patience and trust in the process, as cliche as that may sound. Because there will be losses, there will be challenges and there will be things an athlete would have never predicted.

But all of those unknowns, that shifting landscape, ratcheted to an entirely different level three years ago in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics. At the 100-days out mark, Canadian Olympians and Paralympians were locked down like everyone else in the midst of the incessant pandemic.

There was panic and fear the Games in Tokyo, without spectators, would even happen. But the athletes pushed on in the face of that unknown.

They turned garages and living rooms into gyms, filled backpacks for weight training and did anything they could to keep up with their competition as those Games loomed. For many, it was a nightmarish situation. Sport performance took a backseat to vaccines and isolation — just arriving in Tokyo was in itself a big deal.

WATCH | 100 days until the Olympic Games in Paris:

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Maggie Mac Neil was one of those athletes who had to get creative with her training. She turned to a backyard pool in London, Ont., to prepare for her first Games. It was not how she imagined her first experience.

And yet, Mac Neil persevered. She captured Canada’s first medal at the Olympics in Tokyo in a stunning closing 50 metres to become champion in the 100-metre butterfly.

Mac Neil doesn’t really want to reflect too much on what the lead up to Tokyo was like — despite winning gold, there was a toll to it all.

“We’re in a really different place than before Tokyo with all the limited racing and training,” she said.

“I don’t know how much I want to compare myself to three years ago because I feel I’ve done so much since then.”

Back then feels like yesterday and yet also seems like a lifetime ago for many of the athletes.

But as if overnight, another Games is coming.

Tokyo lead-up ‘like a bad dream’

Canadian wheelchair rugby player Zak Maddell, who is preparing for his fourth Paralympics after helping the Canadian team qualify just last month, says it was especially hard for the team to prepare for Tokyo.

They were hardly able to come together to train ahead of those Games.

“Looking back at that lead up to the Tokyo Games, it all feels like a bad dream,” he said.

“This time I’m not going to be in my condo, sitting on a rowing rig by myself or filling backpacks with heavy objects. We have access to world class facilities now.”

WATCH | Madell eyeing 4th Paralympics with Canada:

Zak Madell on course for his 4th Paralympic Games after last-chance qualifier

Canada’s wheelchair rugby team secured its Paralympic berth in New Zealand in March with the help of team veteran Zak Madell. Madell hopes to be on the team chosen to compete in Paris and is excited about the potential the group has to reach the podium once again; this time on the top step.

For many of the athletes and fans during the Tokyo Games, it felt like everything had to be subdued. There were more pressing health issues in the midst of the pandemic compared to the athletic pursuit of athletes trying to make it to and excel at the Olympics and Paralympics.

And while there was celebrating and cheering and moments of pride after athletic achievements, it all felt just a little off.

But now in the wake of that bad dream, as Madell puts it, here comes another 100-day countdown.

The 2024 Summer Games in Paris come with the promise of a french renaissance for the Olympic and Paralympic movement. Fans will once again pack the venues and create electric atmospheres for the athletes.

Families will be able to attend — they are, afterall, the backbone to any athlete’s journey to the highest level of sport.

“I can’t wait. It’ll probably be the biggest crowd I’ll ever swim in front of. I always love swimming in front of a big crowd; the amount of adrenaline you get from that,” said 17-year-old swimming phenom Summer McIntosh.

Return to normalcy

In many respects, the Games are getting back to what they were always intended to be — a global celebration of the greatest athletic performances. And a chance for communities to gather and cheer on their sporting heroes.

Canadian gymnast and breakdancer Felix Dolci and Phil Kim are both preparing to make their Olympic debuts.

They don’t have the residue of that Tokyo experience clinging to them as they prepare for competition and are solely focused on ramping up during this last stretch and savouring every moment along the way.

“I take it one day at a time,” Kim said. “100 days is an exciting number but I’m just doing my best day-to-day to be ready.”

Kim’s parents will be in Paris, marking the first time they’ll watch their son breaking live in competition.

Dolci played an instrumental role in helping the Canadian men’s artistic gymnastics team qualify a full team for the Olympic Games for the first time since Beijing 2008.

The 21-year-old has achieved great success of late, including becoming the 2023 Pan Am Games all-around and floor exercise champion.

“It’s coming fast. For me, it’s motivating,” Dolci said. “Every athlete is unique. There’s no specific blueprint. The key is staying healthy mentally and physically.”

“I have a good routine. It’s proven to work. I’ll stick with that and stick to my success.”

‘A lot of work to be done’

Beach volleyball player Melissa Humana-Paredes, who is partnered with Brandie Wilkerson, is preparing for her second Olympics.

She is feeling a wide-range of emotions as the Games near.

“I’m sitting with mixed feelings of excitement, nerves, peace and fire in my belly,” she said.

“While 100 days doesn’t seem like much time, there is still a lot of work to be done before Paris. I’ve got my eyes set on Paris, focus is narrowing but we still have some goals to knock off in the lead-up to the Games which is so exciting. I believe we’re right on track.”

WATCH | Paris Pulse — CBC Sports’ weekly recap of Olympic, Paralympic news:

Paris Pulse: Canada’s Olympic attire revealed, a Paralympic spot in wheelchair basketball

In our weekly Olympic and Paralympic news update, we update recent Canadian qualifications look at what Canada will wear during the opening and closing ceremonies.

Canadian chef de mission Bruny Surin knows a thing or two about preparing for competition.

The two-time world champion and 1996 Olympic champion member of the Canadian men’s 4x100m sprint relay team is now starting to feel the rush of the Games as Paris comes into focus.

“I compare this all to the 100-metre sprint. It’s going to go fast. It’s fine tuning now and the athletes also have to prepare psychologically,” Surin said.

“I cannot wait to be in Paris.”

As chef de mission, Surin is doing everything in this final stretch to prepare Canadian athletes for the biggest competitions of their lives.

“I’m on the other side of it now. I’m a fan. I’m a cheerleader and I’m so excited,” he said.

“Every day you’re thinking about it. It’s coming. And you have to keep having fun. Never lose that fun because if you do, the pressure will be too much.”

The Paris Olympics begin July 26 and run until Aug. 11. The Paralympics start on Aug. 28 and finish Sept. 8.

WATCH | The complete Olympic torch lighting ceremony for Paris 2024:

Olympic Flame Lighting ceremony for Paris 2024

Watch the complete Olympic torch lighting ceremony celebrating the 33rd Summer Olympiad which will take place in Paris, France.

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