Toronto karate champ Rachel Wong on the Olympics

Jack Rogers —

The Olympic games have been surrounded by a lot controversy this year from the decision to allow Russia to compete in Rio despite doping allegations to the American swimmers supposedly being held at gunpoint, the road to Rio has definitely been one of the books. In an attempt to get an inside perspective on how Team Canada has been able to triumph over these distractions, I sat down for coffee with former Team Canada athlete Rachel Wong and we discussed the challenge and importance of international competition.

Having competed in the national and international circuit for years in the sport of karate, Rachel’s amateur athletic career has taken her all around the world and she has been recognized for her efforts by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, among others. I knew she would be a great person to talk to about the ongoing Games in Rio!

While Rachel has had the honour of competing in the International Goodwill Games and other large events, with karate not being an official Olympic sport, she never quite made it that far. Since rumours have been flying around that Karate might get its own even in the upcoming 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo, I started out by asking Rachel if she would consider training again. “Sadly, no,” she said. “I haven’t competed in a couple years and I guess you could say I ‘retired’ to go to school. I plan to pursue a career in law and it keeps me pretty busy these days. I do hope that we will get to see karate become an official event soon though. The Olympics is like the epitome of international competition!”

While the Olympics may be the mark for every other athletic competition, this year’s games have been filled with challenges. When news broke that Russia wouldn’t be banned from this year’s Olympics, Team Canada athletes weren’t shy in expressing their disappointment in the decision, but decided to focus instead on the Games ahead and making Canada proud. Olympic figure skater, Scott Moir, tweeted, “Turning my attention to the athletes of these games…the clean athletes who have busted their ass to make us proud. Go Team Canada.”

When I broached the topic of the Olympic Committee’s decision to Rachel she replied, “It’s disappointing for sure. It doesn’t seem like a fair decision, especially when you look at how hard our athletes work just to make it to the Olympics.” We can’t talk about hardworking Canadian athletes without looking at young athletes like Andre Degrasse and Penny Oleksiak who have already medaled at these Olympic games.

Rachel couldn’t help but gush over Degrasse and Oleksiak: “I actually just watched a recap of Andre competing in the 100-m Dash! He’s incredible! I mean, it’s his first appearance at the Olympics and he’s already representing Canada on the podium! Amazing! I’m so proud of all of our athletes killing it down there! Penny, Andre, everyone!”

Even though the American athletes have arguably gotten the most coverage down in Rio, it hasn’t been without controversy. After swimmer Ryan Lochte spoke of being held at gunpoint on the way back to the American pavilion in Rio, new reports are now being released insisting that the American swimmer fabricated the story.

If I’ve learned anything from following the soap opera-like drama that has surrounded these Olympics, it’s that nothing can deter our Canada athletes from going for gold! Watching our athletes represent Canada down in Brazil has made all of Canada, not only for their athletic talent, but also for their sportsmanship outside of the competition. Take Usain Bolt of Jamaica and Degrasee for example. They’re representing different countries, competing in the same event, in the same heat and still you can see them supporting one another with fist bumps, cheers and genuine well wishes.

The Olympics may be the only televised event where you can walk into any bar across the country and be cheering on the same team as the guy sitting on the stool next to you. Rachel speculated on the country’s vested interest in the Olympic games saying, “I think everyone gets so into the Olympics because it’s like a temporary break from all the dividers and barriers that we experience from day-to-day life. You know, politics divides people, religion divides people, language divides people in some of our provinces. But when it comes time to Olympics, everyone seems to forget about any differences and just band together to celebrate our athletes and our great country. It’s certainly what’s happening in the United States right now in the midst of a tense election.” She adds, “The Olympics is so important because it underscores the fact that at the end of the day we’re all one team,” (one team being a strong running theme of the Canadian Olympic committee).

Our Canadian athletes are doing an incredible job of representing Canada and I can’t wait to see what else they accomplish during these Games.

To find out more, connect with Rachel on Twitter: @therachw or Facebook