‘Whatever it takes to get there’: Gavin Stone resets with Olympic postponement

Would-be Olympian Gavin Stone discusses approach to postponement of Tokyo Games

Gael Gavin Stone was set to compete with Canada’s National Rowing Team this summer in Tokyo.
Credit: 
Supplied by Michael Bryenton
In Gavin Stone’s average day, few hours go wasted.
 
Waking up before 5:00 a.m., he’s at the boathouse by 5:30 for a gruelling row of up to 20km and does some form of cross-training in the afternoon.
 
This has been Stone’s daily regimen for the past four years, and it was supposed to culminate in a run for Olympic gold in Tokyo this week. That is, before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced this March that the Olympics would be postponed for a year due to COVID-19. 
 
Stone, who put his degree on hold part way through his fourth year to train full-time with the Canadian National Team, was initially chagrinned when it became clear the Olympics were not likely to take place.
 
“It was certainly a shock,” Stone told The Journal.
 
“When the news about Italy started coming out, we were like ‘Oh [we’ll be] in a different part [from the COVID outbreak], we’ll probably still go,’ and then when it got really bad, I kind of started to realize that we’re probably not going to race this summer,” he said. 
 
“So, we knew before it became official, [competing in Tokyo] probably wasn’t likely but hearing [the Olympics were cancelled] was certainly like, ‘Wow, how’s this going to affect us?’”
Stone first joined the Canadian national team in 2018, though it wasn’t his first time representing Canada on the water. The Gael was also a part of Canada’s under-23 national rowing crew in 2017 and 2018 where the team placed seventh and fifth, respectively, at the Under-23 World Championships.
 
Nonetheless, graduating to the Olympic squad was another step up in intensity. Stone, who was used to being the fastest guy on the water at Queen’s, found himself with new teammates who were equally fast—or faster.
 
“It certainly was a transition point […] it took a little while to like figure out [my] role on the team and everything,” he said.
 
“I’m a pretty competitive guy, and so it was just kind of even more fun, because once you do start beating some of the guys you’ve looked up to or are past Olympians, it’s kind of like […] that’s the fun part.” 
 
Getting a spot on the national team had been a goal of Stone’s since he started rowing in high school. He attributed much of his success to the coaching he received throughout his time at Queen’s, particularly when Phil Marshall—who coached at the Rio Olympics in 2016—took over the program in his second year.
 
“He had quite a high-performance mindset and had many individual chats with some of the higher performing athletes at Queen’s, who he helped come up with their long-term plan and their development,” he said. 
 
Stone disclosed to Marshall that making the national team was a major goal of his, and Marshall outlined how the second-year could make it happen. Stone believes he would have eventually made a boat on the national squad, but Marshall’s programming expedited the process.
 
“I think if [Marshall] hadn’t come and changed the way Queen’s kind of operated as a broken system, it probably would have taken a few years more years for sure,” Stone said.
Leaving his team for the National Training Centre in Victoria, B.C. part way through fourth year wasn’t a decision Stone took lightly, but was a necessary sacrifice to achieve his dream of rowing for Canada at the Olympics. 
 
“If I wanted to make the 2020 Olympics, I had to join the training centre in January 2019 because boats qualify the year before at the World Championships. So I knew I needed to make that boat, I couldn’t just come out [to Victoria] in 2020,” he said.
 
The postponement of Tokyo 2020 has had varying effects for Stone and his teammates. For some, it adds another year away from loved ones, while for others it means another block of gruelling training before retirement. 
 
For the 23-year-old, it means another year of deferring the last semester of his undergraduate degree. 
 
“[N]ow because of COVID it’s another year I have to put off. So it’s definitely going to be a bit of a difficult time going back to Queen’s,” Stone said. 
 
Despite the year’s unforeseen setbacks, Stone said Canada’s rowing squad is taking them in stride and is instead focusing on the positives.
 
“Overall, we’re all just looking at it as another year to get better technically, get more fit, and get stronger, and then just train hard and know the Olympics are still going to happen, so we need to put ourselves in the position to perform.”
 
Stone was able to find silver linings in the three-month period from March to July when he and the team were essentially unable to train. Being prevented from training toward a life goal would be testing to most elite athletes, but Stone believes his coach, Terry Paul, fostered a healthy approach to handling quarantine.
 
“[H]e told us not to worry, to stay fit but don’t try to get in better shape than you are right now because it’s not really possible on your own. So, enjoy the time off, and use it as a little mental reset,” Stone said. 
 
The break allowed Stone to spend quality time with his family and take up some new hobbies, a luxury he’s missed in his pursuit of the Olympics.
 
“I was home for three months, which is like the longest I’ve been at home since first year. So, it was really nice to get caught up with my family because I never really get to see them because I’m training in B.C.,” he said.
 
“I bought a road bike and I spent a ton of time on it and had a ton of fun learning a new sport, which I think was good for that part of me that likes different things.”
 
The rowing crew has been back at their training centre in Victoria, B.C., since the beginning of July and has resumed full-time training, but not without a couple COVID-induced hitches. Stone’s event is the men’s 4x—a 4-person boat with double oars—and current guidelines prohibit more than 2 people in the same boat at once, leaving them unable to train at full capacity.
 
It can be easy to focus on the inconveniences brought forth by COVID-19, but rowing is a sport of poise and discipline, and focusing on the pain of the moment isn’t the key to success—it comes through focusing on the finish line. It’s something Stone said he’s been able to carry over to his everyday life. 
 
“You have a goal and you do whatever it takes to get there,” he said.
 
Considering his goals for the 2021 Olympics, Stone paused for a few seconds, replying with a laugh.
 
“Um, a gold medal would be good.”
 

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