How the use of performance enhancing drugs threatens the Olympics

Latest doping cases raise questions on anti-cheating methods

How the use of performance enhancing drugs threatens the Olympics

In the week leading up to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) overturned the lifetime suspensions for doping charges of 28 Russian athletes. In a brief statement, the CAS explained that the bans could not be upheld because evidence did not support rule violations by the athletes, despite the allegations of state-sponsored doping that had shadowed Russia since 2014.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) expressed concern over the ruling by the CAS, and it quickly rejected the requests of 13 of the newly exonerated athletes to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics. The IOC argued that although the CAS had overturned 28 lifetime bans, 11 were still being upheld — which the IOC cited as proof that there existed “systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system” within the Russian national team.

The use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is not a new phenomenon in the world of competitive sports. For athletes, the pressure associated with competing at the elite level is surely daunting. Having dedicated years of their lives to a sport, the seemingly minute risk of being accused and subsequently charged with doping in exchange for grand titles and records has always proven too tempting for some athletes. Lance Armstrong, for instance, was revered for years as the world’s best professional cyclist before he was accused of illegal doping, stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, and banned from the sport.

At the elite level, accusations of doping and the ensuing media attention can make the use of PEDs appear prevalent, though it may be an unfair exaggeration to claim that doping is somehow inherent in sport culture at large. Nevertheless, with the investigations into allegations of Russia’s state-sponsored doping program, one question surges to the top: how is the issue of illegal doping resolved?

When doping occurs at the Olympics, the IOC will become involved. Following a flurry of allegations claiming that Russian athletes had violated the Olympics’ rules against doping during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, the Schmid Commission was created to confront what the IOC called a “systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia.” Although Russia has continually denied that there was ever any coordinated state effort to provide its athletes with PEDs, the Schmid Commission’s findings have detailed the opposite.

The commission recommended a broad framework of action to the IOC, suggesting that it implement strong measures to deter the continued advancement of a doping program, defend the rights of clean Russian athletes to compete, and evaluate the costs of the two IOC-mandated commissions. The Oswald Commission, separate from the Schmid Commission, was established to investigate the alleged doping violations committed by athletes who competed in Sochi. In accordance with the recommendations, the IOC voted to immediately suspend the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), issue the ROC a $15 million USD fine to compensate for the costs of the investigation, and allow for Russian athletes to compete in the Olympics as an “Olympic Athlete from Russia.”

The use of PEDs across competitive sports on other elite levels falls into the purview of independent organizations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), an institution established to ensure athletes comply with consistent anti-doping regulations during competitions. WADA’s claim to impartiality is not without scrutiny. In July 2016 — mere weeks before the start of the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro — WADA released the McLaren Report, which accused Russia of state-sanctioned doping.

The report forced the IOC to ban dozens of Russian athletes from competing based on a previous history with PEDs, while hundreds of others were barred from competition until an IOC panel could approve their cases. IOC President Thomas Bach blamed WADA for its unfortunate timing. In a subtle critique of WADA’s supposed impartiality, Bach also remarked that despite receiving information years ago, WADA did not choose to further investigate those matters.

The organizations responsible for enforcing anti-doping regulations do not seem to shy away from implementing wholesale participation bans, but these bans come at the cost of subjecting a large number of athletes to humiliating penalties usually intended to punish only a few.

Vicky Sunohara’s Olympic journey

Blues head coach talks coaching and Olympics

Vicky Sunohara’s Olympic journey

As the 2018 Winter Olympics draw near, University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s hockey head coach Vicky Sunohara reflects on the highs and lows of competing in the Olympics.

Twenty years ago, as a member of the Canadian women’s hockey team, Vicky Sunohara lost to the United States in the inaugural women’s hockey tournament during the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.

Sunohara says she was devastated after losing that hockey game, a combination of not only the magnitude of the event but the personal importance playing in Japan meant to her.

Sunohara’s first Olympic experience brought her closer to home in a familial sense. The extended family of her late father — who passed away when she was only seven — lived just 80 kilometres away from where the games were being held.

“I encountered many family members and relatives [who] I didn’t even know existed. It was just pretty special to be there and it’s just funny how things happen,” says Sunohara.

Sunohara rebounded four years later, as Canada beat the United States in the gold medal game in Salt Lake City. The lead up to the 2002 Winter Olympics was a challenging one for Canada — who lost eight straight exhibition games to the Americans, not to mention that the games were held five months after 9/11, adding to the already heightened importance of the event. The taxing journey, however, made the end result all the more special for Sunohara.

“There were so many things that were a part of our journey that were difficult to manage,” recalls Sunohara. She describes the experience of beating the defending champions at home, as “a great experience, and very special.”

Sunohara returned with Canada for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, an Olympics she knew, deep down, would be her last. That year, she played on a line affectionately nicknamed the ‘Old Dogs’ alongside Cassie Campbell and Danielle Goyette, two other veteran players and Canadian legends in their own right. The fact that it was her last Olympics made everything feel all the more special.

The tournament marked a big year for the growth of women’s hockey; Canada defeated Sweden for gold, breaking up the prospect of a third consecutive Canada-US gold medal final, as the United States instead earned bronze.

In Italy, Sunohara was surrounded by her teammates and family. While her last Olympics would be memorable no matter what, Canada winning their second consecutive gold medal was the perfect ending to her Olympic career.

“I wanted the moment to kind of stand still,” she explains.

Sunohara brings the lessons learned from her Olympic experiences with her everywhere she goes, from her hockey camp in Whitby, Ontario to her current role as head coach of the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team. “Those Olympic values are what we hold here at the University of Toronto,” she says.

Sunohara believes in teaching what she defines as “Olympic values,” naming integrity, accountability, and commitment as a few key traits. “It’s more than just teaching a wrist shot or slap shot; it’s teaching the team, it’s teaching anybody that I have the opportunity to be in contact with those Olympic values.”

It’s a big responsibility to pass these values on, but it’s one that she’s happy to have. Being able to share her experiences with young players is one of the reasons that she became a coach. As she got older and felt less able to compete at the highest level, she turned to coaching and found that she loved it. “It was a whole different side of how I looked at the game and what I’ve done and what I can do.”

Sunohara has coached and mentored players at a variety of ages and skill levels, from national-level camps down to kids who just want to make their local rep team, and she finds it all gratifying.

“I felt it rewarding, being able to give back and to help these younger players possibly experience the dreams that I lived.” She tries to instil in her players more than just skills, and through Olympic values also endeavours to “teach them to be better people.”

The Blues have had an up and down season. Despite this, Sunohara feels that by pacing themselves, they’ll have a shot at the playoffs.

“We’re talking about having a playoff mentality right now,” she adds. “Every game is important.”

With the NHL opting not to send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics, there is potential for more focus to be centred on the women’s hockey tournament. Media coverage can be hugely influential in sports — Sunohara remembers what it was like following the inclusion of women’s hockey in the Olympics in 1998 and the boom of female registration that this inclusion in the media created. “I want to say 200 per cent or something, registration grew.”

As women’s hockey continues to grow, the focus turns to keeping girls involved in the game as they get older. For Sunohara, the key to continued involvement lies in creating opportunities for female coaches and mentors in the game.

Since Sunohara has started coaching in Ontario University Athletics, she believes that more female coaches have become involved, a step in the right direction. For her, it all comes back to the league creating the opportunities.

“The opportunity to teach, an opportunity to coach, to teach skills. I think that that definitely will keep females involved in the game.”

Recent Varsity Blues captain and U of T graduate Alessandra Bianchi highlights the success of the Blues women’s hockey program. Bianchi was selected by the Toronto Furies in the 11th round of the 2017 Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) Draft.

Sunohara takes pride in Bianchi’s growth but understands that playing hockey at the next level won’t be the case for all of her players.

“It’s really cool,” comments Sunohara. “I feel very fortunate to be a part of it… it’s not just playing hockey at the next level, it’s seeing what they do and how they’ve gone on and started their careers.”

Ahead of Pyeongchang, Sunohara is excited by the prospect of the tournament. She highlights Canada’s decision to play in a midget-triple A boys’ league in Alberta as a key part of the team’s preparation, especially for the United States. In order for the team to win their fifth straight gold medal, Canada must first deal with the speed and skill of America’s high-powered offense, led by Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel. Sunohara notes that goaltending has been one of the team’s biggest strengths, a key factor that may prove the difference for Canada.

“From goaltending up, they’ve got speed, talent, depth. I think they really think that in the exhibition games they had to figure out the speed and the skill of the Americans… and their offense.”

Women’s hockey has grown exponentially since 1998, and Sunohara, who sits on the board of directors for the CWHL, is looking toward the future. This year, the CWHL is paying its players a salary, something that Sunohara says the league is trying to implement in the right way. In terms of the future, she is optimistic that there are enough players and talent to create one professional league where currently there are many, with the CWHL and the US-based National Women’s Hockey League among them.

“We’ve got to find a way to have all the best players playing, and I think that we could have a very successful professional league, and perhaps be part of the NHL.”

“I think that those things are coming… I believe that it’s a matter of time.”

Avoiding white elephants at the Olympics

How to make sure venues don’t fall into disrepair after the games

Avoiding white elephants at the Olympics

Later this week, 35,000 people will gather at the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium in South Korea to mark the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics. The $132 million facility will host the opening and closing ceremonies for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games before being torn down.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) still has concerns regarding the future of some of the other venues in Pyeongchang. It warned in a report that, without a plan for how these venues will be used after the games, these events could end up as white elephants.

The 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece were a prime example of what the IOC is worried about. In the years following the games, Greece suffered a massive financial crisis after its sovereign debt levels rose to unsustainable levels. Today, many of the venues built for the Olympics are abandoned and overrun with weeds, although one of the decaying venues served as a refugee camp in the wake of the refugee crisis.

‘White elephants’ was the term used by Brazilian federal prosecutor Leandro Mitidieri to describe many of the venues used during the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro. Mitidieri, who is investigating corruption at the games, slammed the organizers for having “no planning when they put out the bid to host the Games.” Among the troubled venues are the athletes’ village, which was repurposed into luxury condominiums that are over 90 per cent unsold, and the decrepit Maracanã stadium, which now has brown grass, no electricity, and has been looted and vandalized.

Closer to home, Montréal’s Olympic Stadium, which is known as the ‘Big Owe’ due to the cost overruns involved in its construction, is only seldom used for sporting events and concerts after the Montréal Expos relocated to Washington, DC in 2004. Québec taxpayers are footing $17 million per year to fund the Régie des installations Olympiques, which is the body responsible for maintaining the stadium, as well as $250 million for a new roof. The current roof is not strong enough to handle more than three centimetres of snow, meaning the stadium, like in Athens, was most recently used to house asylum seekers last November.

The Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing and the Fischt Olympic Stadium in Sochi were built for the two the most expensive Olympics — the 2008 Summer and 2014 Winter Olympics, respectively — and have also seen sparse post-Olympic use. Although these venues will be re-used in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, as with the Montréal Olympic Stadium, neither of the stadiums has professional sports teams permanently playing home games.

In Pyeongchang, venues with uncertain futures include the 10,000-seat Gangneung Hockey Centre, which was going to be the home ice for a professional hockey team before the team pulled out of the agreement, the Gangneung Oval, which will host speed skating events, and the skiing venues.

To avoid white elephants, cities should either have robust legacy plans prepared for any new permanent venues or rely on existing or temporary venues.

Los Angeles is on the right track with its plans for the 2028 Summer Olympics, which will almost entirely rely on existing facilities and will require no new permanent venues. Among the city’s proposed venues are the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — which was previously used for the Olympics in 1932 and 1984 — to host track and field events and the student residences at University of California Los Angeles and University of Southern California to house athletes and the media.

Calgary, which hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, is also considering a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, and the IOC has indicated that the city could easily reuse many of the 1988 venues.

Only time will tell if the new venues in Pyeongchang will find new life after the games or fall into disuse.

The geopolitical baggage of the 2018 Olympics

Can South and North Korea’s blink of peace lead to long-lasting change?

The geopolitical baggage of the 2018 Olympics

South Korea is no newcomer to the Olympics. In 1988, its capital city, Seoul, hosted the Summer Olympics. While the Cold War was thawing, the relationship between the northern and southern halves of the Korean peninsula was especially fraught. South Korea was eager to establish itself and move on from the legacy of the Korean War, but North Korea had its own ambitions.

South Korea made minimal efforts to incorporate the north, who originally wanted to co-host the games. South Korea refused, and the country instead offered to let North Korea host five minor sporting events. North Korea, angered and offended, declined. Tensions rose, and the international community began to wonder if North Korea might attempt to disrupt the games. Those fears were confirmed. On November 29, 1987, Korean Air Flight 858 crashed on its way to Seoul from Baghdad. None of the 115 individuals on board survived. It was soon revealed that two North Korean spies had planted a bomb in an overhead compartment in the aircraft before disembarking safely.

Thirty years later, North Korea is still shrouded in an iron curtain. Its government and people remain darkly mysterious to most of the world. However, the situation today seems even more perilous than it did in 1988.

While North Korean leadership appears willing to engage with major powers, US President Donald Trump wavers wildly in policy, and self-appointed Kim Jong Un whisperer Dennis Rodman is only getting older. And let’s not forget that North Korea now has nuclear capabilities, as well as the apparent will to use them.

In November 2017, North Korea tested a new missile that could reportedly reach the continental United States. In an interview with CNN, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis indicated that the missile launch showed North Korea now has the capacity “to hit everywhere in the world.”

But in the case of the 2018 Olympics, this staggering development seems minimal. Why? North Korean missiles would only have to fly around 80 kilometres to reach Pyeongchang. As thousands of athletes and international representatives flood into South Korea, the world will come to North Korea.

In recent months, South Korea has been incredibly active in urging North Korea to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. As the nuclear standoff intensified throughout 2017, fears of North Korean terrorism or intervention rose once more. The political situation in the United States did not help to assuage these concerns — nor did the rhetoric spewing from one infamous Twitter account.

As the unimaginable crept closer, South Korea grew increasingly conciliatory toward its Northern neighbours. The reasoning behind this is quite straightforward. If North Korea were to be involved in the Olympics in some capacity, it would theoretically be much less likely to attack the games.

In a strange twist, including a hostile nuclear power in an event focused on international cooperation appears to be key in securing that very event. The South Korean efforts came to fruition on January 9, after extended talks between North and South Korean delegations in the border village of Panmunjom. South Korea was represented by Cho Myoung-gyon, the minister focused on relations with the north, while North Korea was represented by Ri Son-kwon in a similar role.

Following their closed circuit television negotiations, North Korea agreed to send a large contingent of athletes to the games, as well as a cheering squad and a performance art group. It was also reported that the two Koreas would join forces to field a women’s hockey team together, which carries heavy symbolic connotations. This is reminiscent of the United States’ ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ efforts in 1971, which helped normalize relations between China and the US through a series of ping-pong matches.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Kim Kyung Sung, head of the South and North Korean Sports Exchange Association, explained that the “significance of the two nations that share a bloodline playing together on a single team cannot be overstated.” But at what cost? It is currently unclear what North Korea hopes to gain from these concessions — some fear that North Korea could use its participation as leverage to push for a lessening of sanctions.

Pundits and politicians alike hope that this blink of peace could lay the foundation for long-term change. South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo believes the 2018 Olympics are a “turning point” for the two Koreas, as the Straits Times reported. The South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, appears deeply committed to facilitating dialogue.

Others, such as Kim Sung Han, a former senior South Korean diplomat, are more pessimistic. The Atlantic reported his comments that, despite the symbolic power of the Olympic merger, “the best-case scenario would be this leading to high-level summit talks… multilateral dialogue for the denuclearization of North Korea.” In other words, the relationship between North and South Korea, as well as that between North Korea and the rest of the world, is much too complex to be solved through sport.

Nevertheless, the potency of North Korea’s participation in the 2018 Olympics cannot be overstated. This brief calm could create space for further discussion outside the Olympic sphere, or it could perhaps build constructive conversation between the US and North Korea.

Speculation aside, one of the few predictable things about North Korea is its unpredictability. It would make little sense to launch an attack while its own athletes are present, but no one can be certain of its true intentions. With the Olympics drawing ever closer, this story is one to watch.

She asked for more: Ashley Wagner, the sports media complex, and female anger

What the Wagner controversy shows us

She asked for more: Ashley Wagner, the sports media complex, and female anger

 

Ashley Wagner is a mainstay of US figure skating — a veteran of the international competition scene and a household name. She left the Sochi Olympics with a bronze medal, placed second at the 2016 World Championships, and is a three-time US National Champion. At 26, Wagner is one of the most senior athletes involved in the US figure skating program — which made her qualification bid for the upcoming Olympics all the more critical. But Wagner failed to qualify on January 6, coming in fourth behind rising up-and-comers Brandie Tennell, 19, Mirai Nagasu, 24, and Karen Chen, 18.

Besides her elegant and performative style, Wagner is known for her outspokenness — at the Sochi games, she broke with official US policy and openly criticized the Russian government’s discriminatory policies toward their LGBTQ+ citizens. This tendency was sparked again after her failure to qualify, unleashing a storm of media attention. Following the event, she told reporters, “For me to put out two programs that I did at this competition as solid as I skated and to get those scores, I am furious, and I think deservedly so.”

Wagner acknowledged that judges should be strict on technique, and she attempted to explain that her issue was with the specific segment of scoring that impacted her overall result — the subjective component score. Wagner received a 68 on her component, or artistic, performance, while winner Bradie Tennell landed a 69.71. Tennell, though technically strong, has the “emotional range… from the bottom to the top of a shrug,” according to journalist Dvora Meyers.

This discrepancy led USA Today columnist Christine Brennan to lambast the US Figure Skating Committee on Twitter, writing, “Tennell is an amazing jumper and talent, but not in Wagner’s league on components, not even close. Judges here clearly wanted to dump Wagner.”

The compelling aspect of this controversy is the broader reaction to it. Wagner has been virulently attacked on Twitter. This response exemplifies how frequently public expressions of female anger or frustration are vilified. Compounded by the institutionalized gender inequalities in sport — which include unequal distributions of funding, media attention, and a male monopoly on perceived biological norms that underscore athleticism — Wagner’s outspokenness is a challenge to general patriarchal norms of female behaviour and perceptions of female athletes.

Prominent women in sport are often treated as if they arrived by chance — and as such, should display eternal gratitude for being awarded the right to exist on such a plane. A strong consensus exists among the scholarly community, expressed by Eoin J. Trolan at the PSU-USM International Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences, that women are “still viewed as women first and athletes second, while their male counterparts have no such concerns.”

Moreover, the sports media complex is instrumental in the reinforcement of this gendered hierarchy of value. Today, sports media extend far beyond television to include endorsements, advertising campaigns, and the more general use of sport-based imagery or rhetoric as a commercial tool. The glut of advertising and overall spectacle of the Super Bowl is a clear example of the normalization of this phenomenon.

Janet Fink of the University of Massachusetts Amherst explains that since “mass media [have] become one of the most powerful institutional forces for shaping values in modern culture,” the images and narratives looped across the world carry incredible power. For example, the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles reports that 98 per cent of American boys between the ages of eight and 17 consume sports media. This means that generations of young men are shaped by misguided and damaging interpretations of sport and athleticism, as well as the role of women more broadly.

When female athletes are portrayed, the focus is rarely on their athletic achievements; rather it is on “their physical appearance, femininity, and/or heterosexuality.” Fink posits that these differences in media coverage create, foster, and disseminate stereotypical gender roles, “producing a variety of economic, social, and political limitations that intensify the patriarchal power structure still so sharply entrenched in our culture.”

The fallout of this patriarchal dominance extends beyond athletes to coaching staff, trainers, and even female reporters, as recent allegations against ESPN highlight. In the summer of 2016, a complaint against the media giant was filed at the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, alleging vast inequality between male and female employees. Beyond fair pay, the allegations included instances where “men have made unwanted sexual propositions to female colleagues, given unsolicited shoulder rubs, and openly rated women on their looks.” In one horrific example of the power of this culture, a former female anchor reportedly performed a scheduled broadcast while having a miscarriage to prove her commitment to the job — that she could ‘tough it out.’

In light of this, the response to Wagner’s comments make sense. In challenging the terms of her judgement, she violated the terms of her acceptable existence as a relatively prominent female athlete. She displayed unfeminine, unattractive attributes: she was not gracious, quiet, or grateful. She publicly voiced anger and frustration. She asked for more.

A conservative analysis of the situation might argue that no, this was not a factor of gender, but rather a violation of basic norms of sportsmanship. Wagner lost fairly, and she shouldn’t have run her mouth about it. However, Wagner never criticized other skaters and has been publicly supportive of the winners, tweeting “Congrats to the lovely ladies of the team, you’ve got me in your cheering squad now!” Further, in an interview with NBC on January 10, Wagner stated that the judges “absolutely made the right call with this team,” but she stood by her initial reaction.

University of Toronto Varsity Blues figure skating team co-captain Lila Asher agrees that it is “important for athletes to be gracious whether they win or lose, out of respect for their competitors.” However, she also explained that considering the timing of Wagner’s initial interview, which immediately followed an emotionally intense performance, “I think she is justified in expressing her genuine frustration.” Asher highlighted the intense pressures faced by female figure skaters to “perform a specific type of femininity,” and she mentioned how damaging this can be for young athletes, regardless of gender. She also pointed out the rampant homophobia in figure skating more generally, demonstrating how prejudice impacts the entire gender spectrum.

Thus the real nucleus of the Wagner controversy is not this obtuse notion of sportsmanship, but the backlash her post-performance comments generated — and the sports media that fed it. The complex is both a reflection of and a contributor to our patriarchal society, which is instrumental in reducing sport to a privilege too few can experience.

Women are not the only victims of these imbalances; men and non-binary individuals are also undermined by constructed notions of gender identity. As powerful men fall from grace across industries, the time is ripe for systemic change in sports media.

Return next week for Kate’s article on the steps needed to make significant and lasting change in sports media.

Kylie Masse: the Blues athlete of our generation

Masse discusses setting a world record, juggling school, and a hometown parade

Kylie Masse: the Blues athlete of our generation

Kylie Masse begins the first day of class differently than most Kinesiology students. At a mid-morning media avail, she’s flanked by University of Toronto Varsity Blues Sports Information Coordinator Jill Clark and Events & Marketing manager Mary Beth Challoner. The trio make small talk until the clock strikes 10.

Masse sits in the stands above the Varsity Pool, overlooking the sight where she dominated at the OUA Championships earlier this year, and recounts her eventful summer, headlined by her world record performance at the World Championships in Budapest and concluded by a parade in her honour in her hometown of LaSalle, Ontario in mid-August.

The event reminded the Olympic bronze medalist of her own childhood and how impactful it was for her at a young age to meet an Olympian or an older athlete. “It was pretty neat honestly, it was really eye-opening and meant a lot… I hope to continue to be that role model for kids out there, for girls and females in swimming and every other sport as well.”

The 21-year-old Masse understands the impact and importance of being the first Canadian female swimming world record holder. Almost two months have passed since her feat, but she’s still processing her record time of 58.10 and can’t recount the specific aspects of the race explaining that “it’s all kind of a bit of a blur.”

COURTESY OF THE VARSITY BLUES

“It happened so fast, I turned around and looked at the scoreboard a few times to double-check that I was seeing what I saw,” Masse says. “I did several interviews right after in a row and I didn’t really know how to process the information because I didn’t really know how I felt, but it was super exciting.”

After the race, Masse didn’t have much time to celebrate the accomplishment. She enjoyed her time on the podium but with a race the following morning, Masse needed to focus on her next challenge.

“Social media was crazy and my phone was blowing up which was awesome and [it] means so much to have that much support and recognition,” Masse says. “I had to put my phone down because I needed to go to sleep, I need to reset, and I still had to race like another five times. It definitely took more days to sink in then it probably should’ve, but I mean I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.”

The four first place finishes she earned at the OUA Championships in February are almost incomparable to her more recent accolades, but her growth and development are a clear byproduct of U of T’s historic swim program. Masse believes she left LaSalle with a “good technical foundation,” but emphasizes that her coaches Byron MacDonald and Linda Kiefer have played a key role in her evolution in the pool and her ability to balance swimming and school.

“When I got here [my technical ability] just grew immensely and I think I gained a lot of strength and learned a lot about myself in the pool and out of the pool,” Masse says. “Byron and Linda have always been there for everything that I need in the pool and out of the pool as well.”

Masse displays flashes of her small-town roots, remarking on the vast availability of drop-in dance classes in Toronto in comparison to LaSalle. “I like dancehall, which is a Caribbean music, and beginner hip-hop,” Masse explains to the Kinesiology Department’s Communications Specialist Jelena Damjanovic when asked about what she does in her free time. Masse also admits that the day before the interview was her first return to the pool after a month-long layoff.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia are her next major objective for Canada. She laughs, “The official team hasn’t been named yet but I think I have a pretty good shot of being on the team.” Masse also looks forward to the U Sports Championships that will be hosted at the Varsity Pool on February 22-–24, 2018. She hopes her fellow students will come out and support the team.

“The most important thing for me is enjoying to swim, and that’s when you swim fast,” Masse says. “I kind of like to say a happy swimmer is a fast swimmer.”

U of T track stars attack Rio

Four U of T track and field athletes to represent Canada at Olympic games

U of T track stars attack Rio

Although they were missing from the opening ceremonies, Canada has sent, arguably, its best track and field squad to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Among the 65 athlete roster — including London 2012 bronze medalist in the men’s high jump, Derek Drouin, and 100m sprinter, Andre De Grasse, are four female athletes: Alicia Brown (women’s 400m and women’s 4x400m relay), Gabriela Stafford (women’s 1,500m), Andrea Seccafien (women’s 5,000m), and Micha Powell (women’s 4x400m relay), who are not only representing Canada, but U of T as well.

Alicia Brown

Graduating with a bachelor of Communications, Culture, Information and Technology from U of T in 2013, Brown had an incredible intercollegiate career with the Varsity Blues. In 2013, she was the winner of both the provincial and national 300m titles, and was also a member of the national record-breaking women’s 4x200m relay team. Brown was also named U of T’s 2013 female athlete of the year. 2013 was a breakout season for Brown, who, along with all of her university accolades, won the national championship for the 400m.

After graduation, Brown continued to train with Blues sprint head coach Bob Westman and competed for the University of Toronto Track and Field Club (UTTC) where, this year, she crushed the women’s 400m Olympic standard and won the national championship in a personal best time of 51.84. Alicia competed in the preliminary heats of the women’s 400m on Saturday, August 13, where she placed 28th. You can catch her again in the women’s 4x400m relay on Friday, August 19 at 7:40 pm.

Micha Powell

Joining Brown on the Canadian women’s 4x400m relay squad is 21-year-old Micha Powell. Powell, who trains with the University of Toronto Track Club, had a successful season competing in the NCAA Division I Track & Field championships for the University of Maryland, where she holds the indoor and outdoor 400m records. Although the decision of which four of six possible athletes will be chosen to run in the four-woman relay lingers, with a personal best 400m clocking in at 51.97, Powell is a strong contender to represent Canada next Friday in the 4x400m relay preliminaries.

Gabriela Stafford

Third-year U of T psychology student Gabriela Stafford is the third track and field athlete to represent Canada and U of T in Rio. The 20-year-old middle distance phenom will take to the track in the women’s 1,500m event where she has clocked a personal best time of 4:06.53. Stafford is no stranger to success — her career as a Varsity Blue has seen her win multiple accolades, including a silver at the 2015 CIS Cross-Country Championships, two individual golds at the 2016 CIS Championships (over 1,000m and 1,500m), as well as several provincial titles. Stafford booked her trip to Rio after finishing first at the Canadian National Track and Field Championships back in July where she dominated a field of senior athletes in the 1,500m final.

Andrea Seccafien

A member of the UTTC, 5,000m specialist Andrea Seccafien booked her ticket to Rio at the Canadian Olympic Track and Field Trials in July by winning the 5,000m event with a time of 16:00.41.

After sitting out last season due to injury, Seccafien, who is a University of Guelph Alumni, joined the UTTC and has had a stand-out season, winning the prestigious Hoka One One Middle Distance classic in Los Angles where she clocked a personal best 15:17.81 — placing her well below the Canadian Olympic standard. Andrea raced on Tuesday, August 16, at 8:30 am, in the 5,000m preliminaries at Olympic Stadium in Rio. She ranked 20th after the race.

A history of success

A timeline of Varsity Blues at the Olympic Games

A history of success

Ahead of the Rio Olympics, The Varsity takes a look at the history of U of T olympians.

Varsity Blues have been representing Canada in the Olympics since 1900. The Blues have been representated in sports like swimming, track and field, and women’s hockey. The very first Blue to compete in the games was George Orton. Orton was the first Canadian to medal at the Olympics, earning a bronze medal in the 400m hurdles and a gold in the 2,500m steeplechase.       

Orton’s successes came before Canada even had an Olympic team. In the early years of the modern Olympics, Canadian athletes competed as individuals in primarily track and field events.              

Although Orton was a Blue in his undergrad, his invitation to the Olympics came when he was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. Since Canada did not send a team, Orton competed with the American team. It took decades for Orton’s accomplishments to be recognized as a Canadian triumph; however, he has since been regarded as Canada’s first Olympic medalist.       

Allan Keith and Orville Elliot were two members of the Varsity Blues gymnastics team who represented Canada at the 1908 Olympic Games. That same year, Ed Archibald and Cal Bricker, members of the track and field team, each earned bronze medals.

Greater successes for the Blues came later. As the Olympics increased in popularity, the Varsity Blues represented Canada in greater numbers. In the 1924 Paris Olympics the entirety of U of T’s eight-man rowing team was selected to compete. The team more than held their own against the international competition, cruising to a second place finish.

U of T has since had a consistent presence at the Olympics. Members of the Varsity Blues hockey team were chosen to play for Canada in the 1928 Winter Olympic Games, earning a gold medal, Canada’s third straight gold in hockey.

This came during a very dominant period for Canadian Olympic hockey; the team was in the midst of a run that would see them winning six of seven gold medals from 1920 (the year hockey was introduced to the Games) to 1952. 

As dominant as the men’s team has been, Blues women have been just as successful. The women’s hockey team earned silver in 1998 and has won gold in every Olympics since.

Besides medals, another fixture of this team has been Jayna Hefford, who has represented the Canadian team in every competition since women’s hockey was introduced in 1998. Hefford, who played for the Blues as an undergraduate, recently retired to become an assistant coach at her alma mater. Her goal in the 2002 championship game won Canada a gold medal. 

In addition to our nation’s penchant for winter Olympic glory, the Varsity Blues have maintained a presence in the summer Olympics as well. The Blues swimming program has had a long history of success at the games. In 1972, five Blues represented Canada’s swim team. Erik Fish earned a bronze.

Current Blues swim coach Bryan MacDonald also competed in 1972. Since he began his head coaching tenure in 1978-1979, the Blues have sent 27 swimmers to the Games, representing Canada, Switzerland, Barbados, and Swaziland. MacDonald’s presence at the games has extended beyond his players — since 1984, he has been a commentator for the swimming events at nearly every Olympics. He has won two Gemini awards for his coverage, in 2004 and in 2008.              

The most recent competitors to represent Canada and U of T came in 2012 by athletes Sarah Wells and Rosie MacLennan. Wells, a former CIS gold medalist, competed in her first Olympic games in London in the 400m hurdles competition where she placed twenty-fourth. Current kinesiology  graduate student, and trampoline gymnast Rosie MacLennan competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and won Canada its only gold medal of the entire London 2012 games. Both Wells and MacLennan hope to represent Canada and U of T in Rio.