By Kieran Heffernan, Charlie Pinkerton, Dan Plouffe, Martin Cleary & Madalyn Howitt
No Ottawa athletes competed on Day 4 of the Olympics, which will likely be the only time that happens during these Games.
However, we’ve got good news about Day 5, which, of course because of the time change, begins tonight: Ottawa’s Joanna Brown is in action in the women’s triathlon in a race eastern time zoners can comfortably watch. It starts at 5:30 p.m. The race should take around two hours. Watch it here.
Ahead of the Games, Martin Cleary spoke to her about her whirlwind year and a half.
To participate in her 86 career international races, Brown has had to travel to 17 nations. But her last two trips — which are memorable for totally opposite reasons — and her latest trip to Tokyo, will all rank high in her list of athletic journeys.
On the heels of Brown’s successful 2019 World Triathlon Series season, which included a bronze medal at a race in Bermuda, a 5th-place finish at the world mixed relay championships, and racing on the Tokyo triathlon Olympic course, the COVID-19 pandemic landed with a thud.
In March 2020, Brown was living in the United Kingdom. Then, the world began tightening up and Canada’s government told its citizens to come home. The Olympics were postponed. Triathlon competitions were cancelled. Brown retreated to rejoin her family in Carp.
She spent two months in the rural community on the western edge of Ottawa, but when she had enough of being locked down, she decided to escape.
Brown flew to Seattle and met an American triathlete friend. They decided to become vagabonds and see the world from a completely different perspective. They lived in an RV van and travelled the West Coast of the United States. They had an awesome time with “no electricity, no water, out in nature and away from noise,” according to Brown.
(Our Kieran Heffernan — who’s authored each of our daily Olympic newsletters, so far, which is where this very piece was first published — wrote about Brown during her nomad days last year. Read that piece here.)
In the spring of 2021, Brown started to rebuild her life as a triathlete and travel again, in the way she was used to before the pandemic. Competing for the first time in almost 21 months on May 13, she placed 13th in the World Triathlon Championship Series race in Yokohama, Japan.
The good result wasn’t the only memory Brown carried from that eventful race. Before the race, she fractured her nose; after the race, a kidney infection was starting to turn nasty as she prepared to fly to the next meet in Lisbon.
“I’ve definitely recovered … it wasn’t ideal for a build up (to the Olympics),” said Brown, who had apologized to her own teammates for missing the key race. “Training for the next seven weeks taking antibiotics wasn’t ideal, but I fought back well.”
Brown had meant to race with the Canadian team to try to qualify for the mixed relay race at these Olympics, but the team had to withdraw. Despite that, Canada qualified because its top two men and top two women were highly ranked as individuals.
The team event will also be watchable for Ottawa viewers. It begins on Friday at 6:30 p.m. eastern time.
The trip to Tokyo is one that’s been much anticipated by Brown. She said beforehand she hopes the strict health and safety protocols in Japan will keep her and her peers in a positive environment before their races.
“I have been waiting to compete (in the Olympics) since the day I started triathlon,” said Brown, the 2010 world junior championship and 2012 world U23 championship bronze medallist.
Brown didn’t qualify for the 2016 Olympics because she had missed the entire previous season with injuries. Once ranked 7th in the world (after a breakthrough season we wrote about here), she’s currently considered the world’s 29th best female triathlete. She’s also contributed to Canada’s current No. 9 mixed relay classification.
The other Ottawa athlete also in action on Day 5 is:
Vanessa Gilles and the women’s soccer team play Great Britain tomorrow. Canada’s win on Saturday put them in second place in their group, and Tuesday’s game will be a battle for first place. Regardless of the result, it’s almost guaranteed Canada will make it to the next round.
All Ottawa Olympians’ schedules can be found here.
VIEW FROM TOKYO: Thoughts from an Olympic employee
Behind every great Olympic Games is a group of volunteers and employees working behind the scenes to make it all happen. Our Madalyn Howitt caught up with one of the Japanese staff members over the weekend for an insider’s perspective at how the Games have gone so far.
Sachiyo Sato is a high school English teacher in Tokyo. She applied to work at the Olympics when she was looking for a part-time job that she could take on during the summer break.
Sato’s main duties involve guiding people at the entrance of the Olympic Aquatics Centre, but during the first few days of the Games, she’s already been called to work the entrance to the media centre, and will likely have to perform other jobs too. She’s enjoying being a part of the Games because she’s been a huge fan of the event for her whole life.
“I liked watching Olympics as a child – it’s one of the reasons I wanted to study English,” Sato said. “When Tokyo was chosen as the host city, I was watching TV and was so excited!”
While she’s excited to take part, Sato said she understands why many Japanese people have protested the Games.
“I was very afraid of this virus (COVID) at first and I thought, if possible, they should postpone it one more year, but the government decided to hold the Games this year.” Sato said.
In Japan, many people including teachers like Sato, haven’t had the luxury of working at home, as many people Western countries have been able to do, she said.
“Many people [in Japan] have had to work for more than a year under the risky situation, especially at school,” Sato said. “Because parents want kids to study at school, most schools don’t use online lessons, we taught students in person. We had to go to the office even when the virus was widespread. Only employees of big companies could work from home.”
Currently, only about 36 per cent of Japan’s residents have received at least one COVID vaccine dose. Precautions against the virus are widespread within the actual operation of the Games, as Sato explained.
“Everyone has to have a health check every morning through an app called OCHA. It’s specially made for everyone involved with the Olympics, including volunteers,” she said.
Still, Sato admitted the decision not to allow spectators at the Olympics is a curious one, given that it’s inconsistent with how Japan has been holding many public events.
“Baseball games and other sports have been held with spectators this year. Why is it that only the Olympics can’t have spectators? We would do all the [same] preventions and support the Games.”
While she loves watching all the events, Sato said she’s particularly excited to watch Japan’s Naomi Osaka compete in women’s tennis. She also hopes that the English lessons she taught her students this year —about hospitality and how to welcome people from abroad — will eventually come in handy in the future if not at these Games.
This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.