While these Olympics will be different with a lack of crowds, Mary Konstantopoulos shares why, for canoer Alyce Wood, it will be a family affair.
The 2021 Tokyo Olympics are certainly going to be different.
In a ‘Playbook’ released by the Organising Committee in April this year, specific rules were set out for all athletes who will compete at the Games. Amongst other things, athletes will be required to wear a mask at all times, even when standing on the dais, athletes have also been warned about singing, cheering and celebrating with their teammates and will unfortunately be unable to access spectator areas to watch other sports.
For many athletes, one of the toughest parts about competing at the Olympics will be the absence of spectators, meaning that for most athletes family and friends will not be in attendance.
That won’t be the case for Alyce Wood.
In Tokyo, Wood will represent Australia in the canoe-sprint events. This will be her second Olympic Games after making her debut in Rio alongside her paddle partner Aly Bull. Bull and Wood won both K2 selection events, defeating Naomi Flood and Jo Brigden-Jones to secure their place at Rio.
When Wood goes to Tokyo, she will be fortunate enough to be joined by her husband and her mother-in-law.
That’s because paddling very much runs in the family. Wood’s husband Jordan will also be representing Australia at Tokyo in the canoe-sprint events and Wood is also coached by her mother-in-law, Olympic medallist, Anna Wood.
“The Wood family is well known in the paddle community,” said Alyce.
“Jordan’s mum Anna and his late father Steve were both Olympic medallists, so some say that Jordan has been paddling since he was in the womb. He played other sports, but he always came back to paddling.
“My parents don’t hold up their end of the bargain, that’s for sure.”
Alyce, came to the sport a little bit later than Jordan.
Growing up, Wood aspired to be an Ironwoman. A proud member of the Maroochydore Surf Life Saving Club, she first decided to try kayaking when she was 15 years old to improve her surf ski paddling. She immediately fell in love with the sport.
Surf lifesaving is a common pathway for many athletes who eventually turn to kayaking. In fact, most of the kayakers that represented Australia at the Rio Olympics were part of Surf Life Saving Clubs.
Wood was also inspired by Clint Robinson, who was also a member of Maroochydore Surf Life Saving Club.
As well as being a surf lifesaver, Robinson is also an Australian sprint kayaker and has won three Olympic medals. He won gold in the 1992 K1 1000 metre event, silver in the 2004 K2 500 metre event and bronze 1996 K1 1000 metre event.
“It wasn’t just about Clint’s medals,” said Wood.
“He became a real role model of mine while I was at Maroochydore because not only was he a great athlete, but he was also someone who really encouraged the youngsters coming through.
“I was one of those youngsters.
One of the benefits of your husband also being an Olympian is that last year, when many athletes were facing challenges due to the pandemic, Wood had someone by her side that truly understood what she was going through.
“We dealt with it in a really similar way,” said Wood.
“We looked at the decision to postpone and we realised that it was the only decision that was realistic.
“It wasn’t until August, when we were due to be competing in Tokyo that I had some tough times.
“It was good to have someone next to me who got it and we were lucky that we went through it together.”
Whilst the pandemic was a challenge, particularly because Alyce and Jordan did not get to see their teammates for most of last year, there were some benefits.
“Pre-COVID, I had been on the team for almost nine years,” said Wood.
“I lived in a bit of a bubble and sort of did what I was told.
“All of a sudden we couldn’t be in our normal environments. We took our boats home and started training together, which was unusual because usually the men and the women train separately.
Because Alyce and Jordan were training at home, together, training could be more on their terms.
This gave the two athletes the opportunity to paddle in some new waterways and remember what it is that made them fall in love with the sport in the first place.
“We would go paddling and do the sessions we wanted to do,” said Wood.
“I love paddling and I love that we get to do it together.
“It reignited my passion for the sport again. We got to see different parts of this amazing country we live in, connect with other paddlers and just remember why we love the sport so much.
“It was a real reality check.”