Rio Olympic Trials: Canada is rich in 1500-metre talent

July 10, 2016 0

© Copyright – 2016 – Athletics Illustrated

The Men’s and Women’s 1500-metre finals at the Canadian Track and Field Championships, that double as the 2016 Rio Olympic Trials lived up to their billing. In both events there was the ever-steady veteran presence up against the young up-and-coming talent. Some of that young talent demonstrated that they may already be of Olympic calibre.

The women

Canada is rich in 1500-metre talent, especially in the women’s category. On any given day, there are up to a dozen women who can threaten to run fast enough to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Three of the best, did not compete in the final today.

Toronto’s Sheila Reid did not show up to race, tweeting, “I can assure you that my team and I did everything we could to get me to stand upright on the start line, but simply ran out of time.”

She added that it was a calf injury with a compensatory knee issue that was causing problems. Reid had the fastest qualifying time at 4:03.96 and is the fastest active Canadian with a personal best of 4:02.96.

Fiona Benson of Langley had the season that dreams are made of last year and took full advantage, running huge personal bests in both the 800-metre and 1500-metre distances multiple times. She went on to compete in the 2015 IAAF World Track and Field Championships in Beijing. She is not having the same year in 2016.

Kate Van Buskirk of Toronto is a bronze medallist from the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Both Benson and Van Buskirk haven’t found their form this year – Benson failed to qualify, while Van Buskirk, wasn’t at the competition.

Those three athletes alone could easily – given different circumstances – represent Canada very well at the Olympics.

Two ace veterans were on the starting line in Victoria’s Hilary Stellingwerff and Winnipeg’s Nicole Sifuentes, both 2012 London Olympians, who competed in one of the dirtiest events in athletics history, they were robbed of an opportunity to show their true potential.

Sifuentes did end up earning a bronze medal during the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Track and Field Championships that took place in Sopot, Poland. Sifuentes is full value with her personal best of 4:03.97 run this season.

Stellingwerff’s Olympic semi-finals debacle has been well documented in all major media in Canada since the London games, given that she had the 15th fastest time, but there has been so many drug cheats caught that she has moved up to 10th. It is quite possible that she could move up further.

The race started off as typical championship races do, conservative. Stellingwerff quickly made her way to near the front, but let Sifuentes lead. Up-and-coming athlete Gabriela Stafford of Toronto hung smartly around the middle of the pack for much of the race. The race was slow enough that the entire field was within close proximity until the final lap. Everyone was within striking distance.

There was just half of a second separating dead last and first through the 800-metre mark, 2:05.94 to 2:06.49, first through 11th. The separation was almost the same through 1100-metres, with a lap to go, the wiley veterans Stellingwerff and Sifuentes, who was still leading, stepped on the gas and drew the field out. Coming out of the final corner, Stafford pulled up beside Stellingwerff, then Sifuentes, and then crossed the line as the 2016 Canadian Track and Field Championships gold medallist in the time of 4:18.51. She had the fastest final lap at 1:11.020.

The top-three finishers were Stafford, Sifuentes (4:18.65) and Stellingwerff (4:18.99). The top two automatically qualify to represent Team Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics, providing that they have run under the standard of 4:07.00 during the qualifying window. All three have with Stellingwerff having run 4:05.61 and Stafford 4:06.53. Sifuentes had run 4:03.97, this spring. It is likely all three will be named to the team on Monday.


Nate Brannen of Cambridge is a long-term veteran in the Canadian racing scene. He trains and races smartly, always in the hunt and close to the front, he typically manages to make Team Canada for major events. Known as an athlete who likes to peak, his best racing often happens at major competitions.

Charles Philibert-Thiboutot of Quebec City has really come around since spring of 2015, where he ran his personal best of 3:34.23 and ended up competing in the Beijing World Championships.

Justyn Knight is the next big thing on the Canadian running scene. Currently attending Syracuse University, the Toronto native has been lighting up the track and cross-country races over the past two years. Recently he set stellar new personal bests of 3:39.23 for the 1500-metres and 13:26.36 for the 5,000-metres. The qualification standards for the two distances are 3:36.20 and 13:25.00.

Today, he would open a few eyes.

Not wanting a repeat of the 2015 national championships, where the field ran in a pack that was so slow, it was referred to as “bizarre” and “very strange” by people who ran the race. The field had waited for Cameron Levins to dictate the pace, which is odd considering he is a 5,000-metre/10,000-metre specialist. He never did.

Nothing happened until there was 300-metres to go and the unsuspecting UVic grad Thomas Riva, who had seen enough, just let rip a devastating kick that no one could answer. He was an unlikely champion.

This year threated to get off to similar first 800-metres, as the group ran steady at just over two minutes for the first two laps. On the bell lap, Knight pulled up beside Brannen, Philibert-Thiboutot took off and the field separated, with Knight showing excellent composure to just pip Brannen at the line.

Philibert-Thiboutot won in the time of 3:55.75, while Knight finished in 3:56.00 and Brannen was third with his 3:56.11.

During the qualification window only Philibert-Thiboutot and Brannen had the standard  3:34.23  and 3:35.42, respectively, so Knight will not be named to Team Canada despite finishing second.

There was a full day of sprints, throws, jumps, wheelchair events and middle-distance races. Sunday is the final day of competition and Monday, Team Canada will be announced.

Full results are here>>

The championships can be viewed, here>>

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