Damian Warner has always been able to pick his family out of the crowd at pivotal moments in his Olympic career. At the Tokyo Games, however, Warner’s family won’t be there.
The Canadian decathlete remembers walking into the 60,000-seat Olympic Stadium at the London Games in 2012 and immediately finding his mom and dad in the crowd. Four years later, he recalls scanning the crowd at the Rio Olympics and seeing his coaches, mom, sister and longtime partner Jen Cotten.
The Japanese government declared a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic on July 12, preventing any spectators from watching events at the Games in person. Even before that decree, Olympic teams from visiting nations weren’t allowed to have family travel with them and fans from other countries were barred from entering Japan.
Those overlapping rules have ensured that no Canadian athlete — or any other competitor from a visiting nation, for that matter — will have family in the stands.
“Even though they’re not going to be in the stadium, I know that they’re going to be with me,” said Warner, who became a father in March with the birth of his son Theo. “They’re going to be up at whatever hour they’ll need to be able to watch the 100 or the 400 or anything like that. But it’ll be different for sure.”
Warner isn’t the only Canadian Olympian who will be missing their families while in Tokyo.
Beach volleyball player Melissa Humana-Paredes said that a dozen of her relatives had planned to come to Japan to watch her compete before COVID-19 restrictions prevented them. Her father, Hernan Humana, was a volleyball player for Chile who later coached Canada’s men’s beach team, and so her participation in the Games were something of a rite of passage in her family.
“It’s my first Olympics and I know they wanted to experience it with me, especially with the Olympic tradition that’s already there in my family,” she said. “I think it would have been really special.
“It is a bummer. I think we all saw it coming though.”
Sailor Sarah Douglas said her brothers and a friend were so confident that she would represent Canada at the Olympics they had purchased tickets and made travel arrangements before she had even qualified.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the Tokyo Games by a year and ongoing restrictions kept them away.
“Luckily they were able to get their money back,” said Douglas. “I feel bad for sure. I know they were very excited.”
Women’s basketball player Kia Nurse joked that playing in the WNBA bubble helped her prepare for playing without family or spectators in Tokyo, but she feels for some of her teammates.
“These are going to be their last Olympics, and you want your family and your friends to be there,” said Nurse. “But I think we have a really great group of girls who are going to continue to bring their energy with one another, continue to have that family atmosphere, because we’re chasing something really, really special.”
The International Olympic Committee expanded its restrictions on June 30 to allow athletes who are breastfeeding to bring their children to Tokyo.
That was after Nurse’s teammate Kim Gaucher had fought back against the Olympics’ no-family rule which would have prevented her from breastfeeding her three-month-old daughter.
Gaucher made an emotional plea on Instagram asking the IOC to relax its rules so she wouldn’t be forced to choose between skipping the Games or spending four weeks in Tokyo without her daughter, Sophie.
“To all of the working moms out there who’ve had to fight this fight before, I think it’s just a really good day for women in sport today,” Gaucher said at the time.
The IOC said in a statement it was pleased a solution was found.
“We very much welcome the fact that so many mothers are able to continue to compete at the highest level, including at the Olympic Games,” the statement said.
— With files from Lori Ewing in Toronto and Donna Spencer in Calgary.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2021.