In the space of ten days, Australian sprint paddler Alyce Wood rode an emotional rollercoaster that would make even those with the strongest constitution feel giddy.

It started with provisional selection to the Australian Olympic team after another outstanding performance at the national selection trials. It was not unexpected, as Wood has been the stand-out female canoe sprinter in Australia for several years.

But it’s still a relief to have it confirmed. But at the back of her mind was that nagging question which has been bothering athletes all over the world for months; will I even get to Tokyo this year, and if I do, will I be in the best possible shape to compete?

That answer was provided to Wood and her teammates this week, not by the International Olympic Committee, but by the Australian Olympic Committee. The AOC took the decision to follow Canada’s lead and pull their athletes out of the Games because of ongoing concerns about the coronavirus, or Covid-19.

Again, not totally unexpected, and according to Wood, widely understood and appreciated, despite the consequences. And still heartbreaking.

“We finished our national selection trials 10 days ago and I had just been provisionally selected to the Olympic team,” Wood said this week.

“To go from a high like that, to a week of constant change and uncertainty which culminated in Australia pulling out of the Olympics has been tough. So whilst we will have to completely change our preparations and potentially hold another selection trial, my ultimate goal still hasn’t changed, the timeline has just had to be adjusted.”

To go from a high like that, to a week of constant change and uncertainty which culminated in Australia pulling out of the Olympics has been tough

So while Wood and her teammates at least now have certainty that they won’t be going to Tokyo this year, what happens next is the big question. When will the Olympics be, how will qualifications work, and when does serious training start again? 

“It’s completely flipped our preparation on its head,” Wood said.

“The Australian Olympic Committee made the decision to pull Australian athletes out of a 2020 Games, so we are now operating under the premise that the Games will be run in the northern summer of 2021. This virus is bigger than sport, so the decision made was the right decision. 

“We’re still figuring out our exact plans since the Australian Olympic announcement, but I would say we will have a little break and then go into some really good base work.” 

It’s tough mentally for athletes who have spent the past four years preparing for an Olympics to suddenly find that dream might be taken away from them.

But almost without exception, every member of the international canoeing family has supported safety measures that have been put in place to protect lives. And they are doing their bit to spread the word, not the virus, about what needs to be done.

Many athletes have posted videos on social media showing different training and fitness programmes that can still be undertaken, despite isolation measures. And everyone is urging teammates, family and friends to take precautions.

Every time I see the numbers increase my heart gets heavier and heavier

I’ve been following the Australian Government advice to increase personal hygiene measures, practice social distancing, and where possible stay home,” Wood said.

“In addition to this I think it’s also really important to have open conversations with family and friends about the situation, so you can be sure that everyone is abiding by these safety measures and are comfortable with them.

I don’t know of anyone (who has the virus) yet, but every time I see the numbers increase my heart gets heavier and heavier.”

 The only positive out of all of this, and it really is not much of a positive, is that everyone is pretty much in the same boat. Sure, in some countries athletes are able to get out on the water and train, but most are not.

And with it becoming more likely with every day that passes that the Olympics will be delayed, everything will soon, with some luck, return to normal.

Canoe Sprint