TORONTO — As these unprecedented Olympic Games are set to begin without spectators for the first time, one Winnipeg-based Olympian is guaranteed to have her own cheering squad, as her coach is her father, and her training partner is her brother.
There is no quit in Skylar Park, a 22-year-old who has called the same Taekwondo dojang home for years.
“I grew up crawling around on these mats right here,” Park told CTV News. “Grew up training here with all my family, my cousins, my uncles, my aunts, so I think really that’s why I fell in love with the sport. I was here training every day with my family, just doing things we loved with the people I love.”
Her father is a grandmaster, as was her grandfather. There are 16 black belts in her family. Park got hers at just seven years old.
At 17, she took home gold at the World Taekwondo Junior Championships. She also won bronze as an adult.
Now, Park is taking the fight to the Olympics.
“I’m feeling really good and really excited to head to Tokyo,” she said.
This will be an Olympic Games unlike any other. Japan is in a state of emergency over increased COVID-19 variant cases and spectators were banned at the start of July after weeks of uncertainty about safety.
Prior to the ban, around 10,000 Japanese spectators were set to attend. Athletes are flying in just before their events and leaving right after. There will be no opportunity for families to watch the competition in person, with overseas spectators also banned from attending.
The Park family is the exception, as two members will be there as part of her Olympic team.
“She will have myself, her Dad, as her coach, and her brother as her training partner,” her father, Jae Park, said.
“Skylar being the first Olympian in the family to go, it’s a huge excitement for us and huge excitement for the whole entire family.”
The Olympics continuing on despite the pandemic has been controversial, but after being delayed in 2020, organizers were intent on ensuring the 2021 Games would occur and with the delays and the changes to schedule, it’s been a lot for the athletes and for Japan as the host country.
Although the events will feel very different this year, Park is looking at it in a positive light.
“Having it be my first games, I’m kind of lucky,” she said. “I have nothing else to compare it to […] whereas athletes who have been to games before maybe know what the crowd is like and know what to expect. For me, really everything is a plus because I’m just really excited to represent Canada and compete for that gold medal.”
She’ll be doing it with her family in her corner — both at home and at the Games.