By Martin Cleary
As summer rolled into fall and winter appeared on the horizon, elite shot putter and 2021 Olympic hopeful Tim Nedow started to get concerned about where he would train indoors.
The Louis-Riel Dome, the indoor training base for the Ottawa Lions Track-and-Field Club for six months a year, has been closed for several months to external users because of restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s uncertain when it will reopen.
For the second time in nine months, COVID-19 has messed up training schedules for the largest athletics club in Canada. The pandemic shut Louis-Riel in March and the outdoor Terry Fox Athletic Facility only opened June 18.
In the past few months, Lions head coach/director Richard Johnston has been working feverishly to find indoor training venues, on the heels of a five-month, restricted-capacity outdoor season with five Twilight meets.
“I was getting a little worried,” said Nedow, who is 20 centimetres shy of the automatic Olympic qualifying standard of 21.10m. “I could have gone to Brockville (Nedow’s hometown), but I wasn’t sure they would allow me in.
“I saw there were other athletes with similar problems and they got it straightened out. I had a feeling all would work out.”
Nedow’s gut instinct was good as Johnston is slowly starting to secure training spots.
Nedow, who is ranked 12th in the world, has been able to train at the OZ Dome, an indoor soccer venue in Carp. Johnston has secured three, two-hour weekday sessions, plus Saturdays for the club’s throwing athletes.
“It has been great. They have been so great to me,” Nedow said about the OZ Dome staff. “They’re very friendly and super accommodating.”
After his 90-minute practice 3x a week, he stores his throwing circle at the Dome.
Johnston has tried a variety of approaches to return to renting the Louis-Riel Dome, but the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (the owner and operator) has kept the doors closed to the public.
The City of Ottawa normally closes the Terry Fox Athletic Facility at the end of October, but the Ottawa Lions got a break as the training venue remained open through November because of good weather.
There are nearby training facilities – uOttawa Dome, Royal Military College in Kingston, Abilities Centre in Whitby, Variety Village in Oshawa, McGill University – but they may closed or not taking outside groups.
“I’m not saying I’m giving up hope,” Johnston said in an interview. “I’ve sent a long email to the (Louis-Riel) Dome and school board with letters from Olympians. We’re trying every angle and pulling on the heart strings.
“There are hundreds of hockey rinks out there, but only one track-and-field facility designed for our athletes.”
The Louis-Riel Dome is home to the only indoor 400-metre track in Canada, and also has vertical and horizontal jump pits, and lots of space for throws.
Johnston has been able to rent the Carleton University Fieldhouse for a 4-hour time block on Saturday mornings from the end of November until Dec. 19. But the club will lose that spot when university resumes in January.
“We’re chasing as many non-traditional venues as possible,” added Johnston, who is in negotiations with the City of Ottawa to rent the Aberdeen Pavilion to give the speed athletes a temporary home.
The club would put down three strips of Mondo artificial surface under the pavilion’s heat lamps for the sprinters.
“It’s not insulated and not in prime condition, but we hope to use it three days a week,” he said.
“The Aberdeen Pavilion could be the home base for the distance runners. They could use the canal paths as they are salted and cleared,” added Johnston, who is short one venue for the jumpers.
“I’ve even tried industrial warehouses. The University of Windsor renovated its indoor track two years ago and moved into a long industrial warehouse. They got through the season,” Johnston said.
“Everyone is waiting for good news. Obviously, everyone is a little frustrated. We want to provide athletes with something. But we’re not in a situation where we were in March with nothing.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.