Athletics Canada leadership announced today that Canada will not send a team to the 2021 Pan American Race Walking Cup in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on May 7.
This difficult decision was made due to potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus over the course of a complicated travel plan to Ecuador, as well as the risks inherent in staying and competing during the pandemic.
“It is very hard to judge from here what the COVID situation would be like on site. We are committed to our athletes’ and coaches’ safety and have worked hard to assess the risk associated with the event,” said Simon Nathan, Athletics Canada’s High Performance Director. “In the end, we can not confirm accurate case counts, infection rates, or other important details related to the situation in Ecuador. What we do know is that hospitals, and the health care system in general, are overwhelmed and the death rate is very high. Couple that with the prevalence of variants of concern and variants of high consequence, and we have had to make this decision for the safety and wellbeing of our team.”
Event host city Guayaquil has been one of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 in Ecuador. A state of emergency was declared this past weekend, with 16 of the country’s 24 provinces locked down in the face of new virus variants.
The country recently imposed a curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weeknights, as well as a total curfew on weekends, stretching from 8 p.m. on Friday night until 5 a.m. on Monday morning. Ecuador has reported more than 360,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 17,800 deaths.
Athletics Canada Chief Executive Officer David Bedford, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paddy McCluskey and Head Coach Glenroy Gilbert made the call in the best interests of the three athletes and one coach slated to make the trip alongside Nathan. The Canadian team consisted of athletes Mathieu Bilodeau, Alger Liang and Tyler Wilson, as well as coach Gerry Dragomir.
“The team is understandably disappointed. I know this event was the last chance internationally for Mathieu to achieve the Olympic Entry Standard and qualify for Tokyo. We are hoping to move forward with the Canadian 50km Race Walking Championships scheduled for May 23 in Montreal, but that will depend on the situation in Quebec at that time,” said Nathan. “We will continue to do all we can to support his Olympic goals in a way that is as safe as possible.”
The 20th edition of the Pan American Race Walking Cup is scheduled to host teams from throughout the Americas, competing in distances from 10 to 50 kilometres on a two-kilometre loop located within Samanes Park, which features more than 860 hectares of green space, a memorial to the ecological Riviera of the Guayas River and access to numerous sports and recreation activities. Countries scheduled to compete include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Puerto Rico.
Canadian athletes have captured 10 medals over the history of the event – three gold, six silver and one bronze – most recently in 2017 when Benjamin Thorne crossed the finish line in a time of 1:21:01 in the men’s 20-kilometre race walk, good enough for silver.