Figure skating-Canadian Olympic hopefuls play it safe amid COVID-19 threat

FILE PHOTO: Figure Skating - ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - 2021 Rostelecom Cup - The Iceberg Skating Palace, Sochi, Russia - November 27, 2021 Canada's Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro in action during the ice dance, free dance REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

(Reuters) - A number of Canadian figure skaters have become a reclusive bunch ahead of the national skating championships given the spectre of a positive COVID-19 test, which could ruin their dreams of competing at next month's Beijing Olympics.

The Jan. 6-13 championships in Ottawa, where Canada's figure skating squad for Beijing will be selected, will be held without spectators given the threat of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

"We have been so super careful. We haven't seen really too much of anybody at all," Kirsten Moore-Towers, who along with pairs partner Michael Marinaro won gold at the 2020 Skate Canada Challenge, told a conference call on Tuesday.

"Obviously we are wearing masks wherever we go and pretty much limiting ourselves to the grocery store, our training facilities and home and just trying our very best to ensure that we are not going to be testing positive."

Marinaro said he and Moore-Towers had originally planned to fly to Ottawa for the competition but in a bid to limit contact with other people will instead make the roughly 4-1/2 hour drive there instead.

"There's not really anybody we are in contact with outside of our coaches and the grocery store. Pretty much the only problematic thing is the grocery store," said Marinaro.

"Outside of that, for the past three weeks there has been zero, zero contact and just trying to stay as safe as possible to the best of our abilities."

Those competing this week do not have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, according to media reports, but Piper Gilles, who won ice dance gold with Paul Poirier at 2021 Skate Canada International, said she trusts organisers will take necessary precautions to make sure everything is safe.

Gilles also said that she and Poirier are doing their best to stay focused on the things they can control rather than fret over the consequences of a positive COVID-19 test.

"We know how big of a deal this is and our Olympic dreams can be taken away within days if something like this happens but we can't really look at it because if we do that, we're gonna drive ourselves absolutely crazy," said Gilles. "And that's not good. It's not good mentally."

Poirier said they have plenty of experience competing amid the COVID-19 outbreak and have found ways to minimize their risk by finding quiet places for warmups and keeping distance from other competitors, coaches and support staff.

"We've been isolating from pretty much everyone besides going to the training rink for several weeks now and will be doing the same going into the Games as well," said Poirier.

"We understand how high the stakes are right now and how much COVID is really just being transmitted everywhere in the community around us."

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)

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