🏅This isn’t a game
The GIST: Despite the global pandemic, the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are somehow still a go. That is, unless the athletes have anything to do with it.
But aren’t they still so far away?: Sure, the Olympics aren’t set to begin until July 24th, and who knows what state we’ll be in then. But qualification for the Olympic Games is underway right now, with 43% of Olympic spots still undetermined.
- The International Olympic Committee (IOC) finally admitted yesterday that Olympic qualifiers will likely have to be modified (uh, ya think?). The problem is without outright postponing the Games, Olympic athletes are still forced to keep up with their intense daily training regimens, which is becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous in this new COVID-19 era.
So what are the athletes saying?: Nothing good about the IOC, that’s for sure. After the IOC told athletes that this isn’t the time to make a “drastic decision,” Olympic hockey icon, Hockey Hall of Famer and IOC member Hayley Wickenheiser went OFF on Twitter, calling the IOC “insensitive and irresponsible,” and saying, “This crisis is bigger than even the Olympics.”
- Other Olympic athletes joined in, including Britain's world-champion heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who pointed out that it’s impossible for athletes to properly prepare when “the IOC and the local government are at odds with one another,” and Greek pole vaulter Katerina Stefanidi, who told the IOC, “You are putting us in danger right now, today, not in four months.” Tell ’em, sisters.
The GIST: Can you believe it’s been only one week since all sports were canceled? Longest. Week. Ever.
Wait. Is everything actually canceled?: Okay, not canceled canceled, but super postponed. The NBA season is suspended until at least late April (though we have no way of knowing how realistic that even is) and the NHL is suspended indefinitely. The start of the MLB season, which was set for next Thursday, has been put off until at least mid-May.
What about other sports?: The ATP and WTA tennis seasons have been put on hold until June 7th, with the French Open Grand Slam moving from May to a tentative September 20th start. This summer’s UEFA Euro Cup, a BFD European soccer tournament held every four years, has been pushed to 2021 (no word on how that will affect subsequent tournaments), and the Kentucky Derby, the largest horse racing event in North America, is now set for September 5th.
How is this affecting the leagues and teams?: Financially, it’s a bit of a mess. The MLB could stand to lose the most because their March to October season is weather dependent. Meanwhile, the NBA is looking to extend its credit line (aren’t we all?) by $550 million to $1.2 billion (must be nice) to cover any potential expenses incurred over the next few weeks or months.
- And if the NBA is forced to cancel the season outright, Disney (the parent company of ESPN, which owns NBA broadcast rights) is projected to lose around $481 million in ad revenue. Ouch.
And have any other players been infected?: Unfortunately, yes. On Tuesday, the Brooklyn Nets reported that four of their players have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the NBA’s total cases to seven. Nets star and two-time NBA champ Kevin Durant confirmed that he was one of the four and is quarantining at home.
- And late Tuesday night, the Ottawa Senators revealed that one of their players has tested positive as well, marking the NHL’s first COVID-19 patient. They haven’t said who, but all NHL players had been asked to self-isolate before this case anyway.
How are the athletes staying healthy?: Tennis legend Serena Williams has gone full lockdown. She posted a video to say she’s going into a self-imposed six week quarantine to protect herself and her family, and, lucky for us, will keep us updated via Instagram.
- Other athletes, like Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly, have been posting hand-washing videos, while some, such as Pittsburgh Penguin Bryan Rust, have taken a page out of Lizzo’s book, working on their fitness and sharing their workouts (this one even includes a dog).
And how are they helping?: Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and his wife, Ciara, are following the Currys’ lead and donating one million meals to the Seattle community, and Swedish soccer superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović (pronounced EEB-RAH-HEEM-OH-VITCH), who plays for AC Milan, has started a fundraiser to help Italian hospitals cope during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Since the start to the Formula 1 season was canceled, the car engineers from four F1 teams have agreed to use their newfound free time to help the UK government build much needed ventilators and other medical equipment. Um, cool!
🏈Shipping out of Boston
The GIST: No one is enjoying themselves less than New England Patriots fans right now. Self-isolation, no St. Paddy’s parties, plus the loss of quarterback (QB) Tom Brady...it’s not a good time for Pats Nation.
Quick, give me stats on Tom: Brady was a Patriot for 20 years (aka his entire football career), where he won six Super Bowls (the most of any player in NFL history). Although his contract expired at the end of the 2019–20 season, there was still a small chance that he would re-sign for one more year.
- Until Tuesday, when, in a single Instagram post, the Uggs guy broke the hearts of millions, saying that his “football journey will take place elsewhere.” The end of an era.
So where’s he going now?: It’s not yet official, but he’s finalizing a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a rumored $30M per year. Yeah, we were kind of confused by that, too. Seems a bit random, since the Bucs haven’t been playoff contenders since 2007, have the worst winning percentage in NFL history and Brady, at 42, likely has only a few years in him to win one last Super Bowl.
- But the Bucs have a pretty solid offensive team with wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and head coach Bruce Arians has a longstanding reputation as a great QB coach. Tampa is also hosting the Super Bowl next season, so it could mean home field advantage for another ring...or it could mean bad luck, as a Super Bowl host has never even made it to the Super Bowl.
This is a pretty big deal: It’s a v. big deal. The struggling Patriots drafted Brady 199th in the sixth round of the 2000 Draft. And yet, somehow, this underdog became the greatest QB of all time and, with some help from head coach Bill Belichick, created a dynasty. All the best, Tommy — remember to lather up with SPF 60.
Any other NFL news?: A few other QB signings this week. Philip Rivers joined the Indianapolis Colts for a one-year, $25 million contract (wow!), Drew Brees signed a two-year extension with the New Orleans Saints, and the Jacksonville Jaguars traded 2018 Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles to the Chicago Bears for
basically nothing a fourth-round draft pick.
Stephanie Labbé is the goalkeeper for Canada’s national women’s soccer team, a 2019 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) champion, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, and an all-around incredibly driven and talented human. While Stephanie’s sights are set on bringing Canada home a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, she’s also keeping busy as a co-creator of Project Athlete along with her partner (another friend of The GIST) Georgia Simmerling. Let’s get to our interview with Stephanie:
Lexie, at The GIST (TG): Okay, you’re a goalkeeper! You could not pay us enough money to have shots fired at our heads. How did you get into that position?
Stephanie Labbé (SL): Growing up, I played lots of sports. My older brother played hockey, so I was always tagging along. I played hockey in the winter and soccer in the summer. But hockey is very time consuming. Then, by the time I was 12 years old, I was the only girl on my team, and had to start changing in my own locker room, so that was isolating.
Around the same time my friends from school said I should play indoor soccer. I couldn’t do both hockey and soccer though. But I totally loved indoor soccer, and had so much fun. So, in the summer I tried out for the rep team, and at the tryouts the coach asked if anyone would go in goal. There were about eight of us 12 year olds putting up our hands so we all rotated. Then, at the end of tryout, the coach asked how badly I wanted to be on the team, and if I was willing to be goalkeeper. I guess I was the least fearful of the ball.
c/o Stephanie Labbé
TG: And the rest is history. What did your parents think about that?
SL: Well, luckily growing up I played for a very good team. So, really just the extent of my mom’s nerves would be her leg kicking a lot as I played. The older I get, the better she is with her nerves. Now, she’s way more calm when I’m in net, and ironically she’s actually more nervous when our strikers are shooting during the game.
TG: That’s funny. Well, she definitely has a million reasons to feel calm about you in goal after seeing all the success you’ve had over the years…Do your own nerves ever affect you, or translate into weird soccer dreams?
SL: So, I actually never get to play soccer in my dreams. I do have recurring nightmares where I’m about to start a game and I don’t have a cleat or can’t find a glove, and something’s gone wrong. It’s probably why I am soooooo particular about checking my bag. *Steph chuckles*
TG: Reading your Player’s Tribune article, you talked about playing men’s soccer being a really mentally and physically challenging part of your career. Do you ever find it difficult to speak candidly about the differences in men’s versus women’s games without feeling like you’re giving fuel to the haters to hold against women?
SL: I have never had a hard time comparing the women’s game versus men’s game. People can say what they want to say. I’ve heard a lot of negative things, but to be honest I wouldn’t be where I am if I put a lot of thought into what people care about what I say. I don’t give a sh!t to be frank (Editor’s note: preach sister!). I know that not all men have a genetic, biological advantage, but on average, most do. I’m aware and recognize that. There are anomalies out there and women who can come overcome those. And what should stop you from pursuing any challenge? The risk is yours. I understand that every time I go out and play with men, or women, who are bigger, faster, stronger than me that I’m putting myself at risk. You can say that about anything in life.
If you’re going to live your life being scared of the negative things that can happen, then you aren’t going to go anywhere.
I always try to live optimistically.
TG: Amazing! So, a huge story with women’s soccer has been what’s going on with the U.S. women’s team and the fight for equity. What is the relationship like pay equity-wise with the women’s program in Canada and with Canada Soccer?
SL: Unfortunately in Canada, it’s a bit untalked about in a sense. We, as a national team, have a fairly good relationship with Canada Soccer. Year over year, our talks and contracts get better and better, so it’s moving in a positive direction. But it’s still nowhere near where it should be.
The words “equal pay” and “equality” get thrown around interchangeably, but equality is a very complex issue, and it’s not just about getting paid equally — it’s marketing, support and investment.
You can see the direction it’s moving, but you also see Canada Soccer investing in a brand new , while we’re the only national women’s program ranked in the top 10 in the world that doesn’t have our own domestic professional league (Editor’s note: As Canada is hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2026, they are required to have a domestic professional league). That is still so heartbreaking. We have proven time and time again, since 2012 when the team won Olympic bronze, that we are performing and getting results (Editor’s note: The Canadian women’s national team is currently ranked eighth in the world, while the men’s team is 73rd).
I think the successful future of this program is based on developing players in Canada. And, as of right now, we have to go abroad and get contracts to play soccer in other countries. It hurts our depth. We don’t have a league to give players the chance to grow and shine and prove they can play on the national team. Women stop playing after university because they can’t get a contract abroad, but if we had our own domestic league those players wouldn’t fall through the cracks because they’d have a place to play to develop.
So, it’s moving in a positive direction, but there is still a long way to go. It’s amazing the U.S. team is using their platform to talk about it and bring this subject to light. They’re talking, they’re acting, and they’re paving the way.
TG: That is so important and so candid. Wow. Thank you for that. Looking ahead, what is your vision for 2020?
SL: Post-Olympics is a blur and unknown. The immediate thing that comes to mind is that January is Olympic qualifying. And, for the Olympics, we want to bring back a better colour than bronze. And, secondly, because I don’t just play for Canada full-time, I’m also looking forward to playing with my pro team (North Carolina Courage) and trying to win a back-to-back national championship with them.
Stephanie & Georgia Simmerling
TG: That’s great! Okay, let’s end on some rapid-fire questions!
TG: If soccer had walk-out songs (like baseball), what would your song be?
TG: Would you rather sing or act?
SL: I would love to have a great singing voice, but I’m terrible. AIso, I don’t know if the lifestyle of a singer would be what I want. So, actress.
TG: What is your favourite winter Olympic sport to watch?
SL: My gut is going to hockey. It’s such a passion of mine and part of mine and my family’s life. But I’ll be honest, after meeting Georgia, I really enjoy watching skiing and ski cross. It’s way more exciting for me when she is not racing, because then I am way less nervous. I got the chance to watch it live two years ago in the Alps. It was so fun and so much adrenaline. I have a short attention span so it caters to that.
TG: What is your favourite sports movie?
SL: Classic Mighty Ducks.
TG: What movie can you quote the best?
SL: Probably Billy Madison. “I got this shirt from Frank”... and Frank is written on the inside of it. I say it all the time. *Stephanie chuckles*
Two-time Olympian Dara Howell is truly amazing. At the ripe age of 19, Dara won a gold medal at the debut of at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. No big deal! Dara competed in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics before being sidelined in late 2018 with a . Now she’s back with a fresh perspective, a fresh podium finish at the most recent World Cup and...Dara wants to become the best freestyle skier in the world.
Lexie at The GIST (TG): Okay slopestyle skiing. You’re essentially tossing yourself off of cliffs and doing jumps while on sticks. How did you get into it? Were you a daredevil as a kid?
DH: I was always a daredevil! *Dara chuckles* My mom always thought I would go to the Olympics in something, but she never knew which sport because I was always doing different things.
Growing up, my family owned a small family resort in Huntsville, ON (Pow Wow Point Lodge). My parents had it for 27 years, and my grandparents owned it for 25 years, so skiing was very much a part of my family. My granddad is actually still a skier, and he just turned 96. He still skis at 96!
It was always in my nature to be adventurous. My older brother and I were always outside and active, plus we basically grew up on the water living in Huntsville.
I think my parents just kind of threw me on skis around 18 months old because my brother was already into it *Dara chuckles*.
c/o Dara Howell
LH: That’s so amazing. How did you get into slopestyle, especially given it was a new Olympic sport for Sochi 2014?
DH: I grew up ski racing and figure skating from an early age, those were my two biggest sports. I eventually quit those. I thought ski racing was too disciplined. And, it was cold! *Dara laughs* And figure skating I enjoyed, but I really just loved the jumps, and I wasn’t as good at the dance component. So when I decided to stop around the age of 15, my dad told me I had to get a job, so I became a Level 1 ski instructor at Hidden Valley in Huntsville and taught little kids. Then, on my off time I would hang out with my ski friends in the park (Editor’s note: the “park” is where all the jumps, half-pipes, etc. are), and got connected to doing tricks there.
Slopestyle skiing is basically downhill racing combined with the jumping aspect of figure skating, so it’s weird how it’s all come full circle and led me to this wild path.
TG: It was meant to be! In 2014, you won Gold at the inaugural Olympic slopestyle skiing event in Sochi, Russia, which is just unreal — what were your feelings going in?
DH: Going into Sochi 2014, I was hungry. I was fighting so hard because I believed in myself so much and just wanted to do the best that I could do...and I knew anything was possible. I was definitely the underdog. I wasn’t really on the radar as someone who would win and it wasn’t supposed to be my time.
So there was no real pressure, no one really knew who I was, and I was just set on what I was doing.
I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from achieving what I knew I was capable of.
And, my family just bought in 100%. They have always supported me and told me I can achieve whatever I put my mind to. So I came in with no expectations, other than just wanting to do my best.
I look back on it now as a blessing. At the time, it was frustrating and hard. Luckily my family was amazing and supported me.
DH: It’s definitely better. I’ve really put in the work in myself, and my skiing. And I have a bit more perspective as I get older. I now appreciate my medal more, and what my family and community did to help me get that medal. I definitely was not bitter towards it, but I had some feelings after the Olympics. I think as you get older, you learn more about yourself, and to appreciate things more. I would never take my medal for granted, it’s taught me so much about myself, both good and bad, and it’s given me so many opportunities.
TG: How important is working on, and prioritizing, the mental aspect of being an athlete? What does your physical and mental workout regime look like?
DH: The mental side is huge! I think for any athlete it is. For me personally, I’m throwing myself off of massive jumps. So, the mental side is massive because of what you’re putting your body through. And I think that’s what really makes a good athlete — having that strong mental game. I really work at allowing myself to process and properly think things through. I try to be a very smart athlete. I listen to my gut a lot and learning to trust yourself is a really important thing. The stronger you are mentally, the better athlete you are. And the more prepared you are for success.
I work with a sports psychologist and I love it. She helps me become more aware of my thought process and what I need to do to bring the tension down. Just being more aware of what’s going through your brain and making changes as you go so that you are in a healthy mindset, that will really help you be successful.
DH: Honestly it was pretty wild! I tore my ACL last year in my first contest of the year, and that kind of put things on a different path for me. So coming back a couple of weeks ago with a podium finish was pretty special to me.
I think before I left for it, my dad was telling me, “expectations, not too high!” Obviously my expectations were still going to be high, but it actually went better than even I was planning. I surprised myself a little bit. Now it’s go time, and I have to find a way to keep building off of that.
TG: That’s awesome. Now, what’s next for you? What are you working toward?
DH: I’m just focused on coming back strong. I want to be the best athlete that I can be. I don’t want to let the injury take over. Going through last year, I had to think about whether or not I was going to come back, and why I was going to come back.
I love skiing, love pushing myself, and now...I want to be the best. And I know that’s a pretty bold statement, but I really feel if I continue to work hard and be smart, that’s a real possibility for me.
So going into this season I want to be smart with my expectations, but push myself to get on the podium. I really want to push myself in Big Air, that’s really where I see a lot of potential for me (Editor’s note: Big Air is generally one large jump versus slopestyle which is a series of jumps and tricks on a short course). I love to jump, and it’s a new discipline. It’s got this fun, intense vibe about it. Do those words even go together? *Dara laughs* But that’s where I’m at. I want to go to . I’m going to China for a competition soon. I just want to have fun, and set myself up for success. And it’s really important to have fun, because good things happen when you do.
DH: Yes! My family and I started “Dara’s Fund” a few years ago. I grew up in a small community where I had a lot of support. But in a small community, it’s especially hard to find the right facilities to excel in sports. You often have to travel for the sport, and there are a lot of extra costs versus in a larger city where the resources are more accessible. So, it was important for us to give back to the Muskoka community and encourage more girls to get into sport, and help them know they can succeed and excel. Coming from a small community shouldn’t hinder young athletes, especially young girls, in any way and actually with the right support, you should be even more setup for success.
It’s really cool to see the amount of girls that apply to the fund, and all of the different sports they play — it’s really inspiring. There is a fencer that has the potential to go to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and it’s so amazing to see. If we can help support them in any way possible, even in the smallest way, that’s amazing.
It’s important for me to give back when so many people have helped, and continue to help, me along my journey. So this fund really stems from that, and now I want to be able to pay it forward and help other female athletes.
TG: That is incredible, Dara! So awesome you’re doing that.
TG: Okay, let’s end on some rapid-fire questions.
TG: If you could be an athlete at Summer Olympics, what sport would you want to compete in?
TG: So on brand for you! What are you binge watching right now?
DH: Oh my gosh I watch everything on Netflix. I just watched Supergirl — it was good!
TG: Who is your favourite athlete?
TG: Do you believe in aliens?
TG: Ooh controversial! What stereotypical millennial item do you splurge on the most?
DH: Almond milk cappuccino
TG: What’s your all-time favourite concert?
DH: Hopefully tomorrow! *Dara laughs* I’m going for the longest drive after I’m done skiing. I’m going to get my ski coach to be my golf coach, he actually does both!