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In October 2019, during the initial Tokyo Olympic qualification window, Vancouver’s Dayna Pidhoresky and Calgary’s Trevor Hofbauer were the first Canadian runners to cross the finish line at the Toronto Marathon. The two athletes finished faster than their respective qualifying standards of 2:29:30 and 2:11:30. Pidhoresky finished with a new personal best of 2:29:03 and Hofbauer, likewise at 2:09:51, for the second-fastest Canadian result all-time. Only Cam Levins from Vancouver Island has run faster. During the 2018 Toronto Marathon, he finished in the time of 2:09:25, to break Jerome Drayton’s 43-year-old record of 2:10:09. Being Canadian champions, as per Athletics Canada’s criteria, Pidhoresky and Hofbauer are guaranteed to compete for Canada in the marathon at the Tokyo Olympic Games, barring injury.

Drayton set the previous record during the 1975 Fukuoka Marathon in Fukuoka, Japan. The Olympic marathon will be run in Sapporo, some 800 kilometres north of Tokyo, in an attempt to avoid the potential summer swelter of Japan’s capital and largest city. During the 2019 Doha World Athletics Championships, the marathons and racewalk events were run in intense heat, sending several athletes to the hospital with heat-related issues.

The women

The women in the mix are Malindi Elmore of Kelowna, BC, with the all-time fastest performance from Houston in January 2020 at 2:24:50. The second-fastest is Vancouver’s Natasha Wodak, who ran The Marathon Project in Chandler, AZ in December 2020 in the time of 2:26:19. It was her first serious crack at the distance and she ended up with one of the fastest Canadian performances of all time. Wodak also proved fitness last week with a 32:34 road 10K on the lower mainland of Greater Vancouver. Unless a Canadian runner clocks a faster time by Sunday, May 31, the two are shoo-ins.

Malindi Elmore at 2020 Houston Marathon

Two on the outside looking in are Vancouver’s Rachel Cliff and Toronto’s Lyndsay Tessier who finished the 2019 Doha World Athletics Championships marathon in the time of 2:42:03 in ninth place. She proved toughness as many athletes dropped out. Several going to aid stations and to the hospital by ambulance due to the extreme heat. However, she has not run faster than the qualification standard of 2:29:30. She did finish top-10 or better in Doha which puts her in the qualification pool. Her fastest performance happened outside of the qualification window and close, but not under the standard at 2:30:47.

Cliff has run well during the initial qualification window, however, has been passed since then by Elmore and Wodak. Cliff had the Canadian record at 2:26:56, which she ran in Nagoya, Japan in March of 2019. She is apparently running a half-marathon on the 30th or 31st of May, perhaps to prove fitness; to put herself in the running again.

The unique two periods or “windows” for qualification in the marathon and racewalks are January 1, 2019 – April 5, 2020, and September 1, 2020 – May 31, 2021. The initial window was closed or suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, citing the inability of athletes to compete. The re-opening was a blessing for many athletes including Wodak, Cameron Levins, Ben Preisner, and Tristan Woodfine.

The men

Cameron Levins pulled a rabbit out of the hat on Sunday in Fürstenfeld, Austria at the S7 Marathon one week prior to the window closing. Doing so, he put himself in the realm again with a 2:10:14 performance — however, is not a guaranteed member yet. The result is well within his ability, however, he had tried three times to run standard during Toronto 2019, London 2020, and Chandler this past Dec., to no avail.

Whatever was missing from his training and preparation apparently was sorted out with the help of coaches Jim Finlayson and Trent Stellingwerff. Levins would look great to 20 miles or 32 kilometres, however, the wheels would fall off. In Austria, he appeared very strong running in heavy rain. A smile crept across his face as he approached the finish chute. The 32-year-old 2012 London Olympian exhibited a sense of relief and talked openly about that on social media.

Photo: https://larasch.de/fotoportal?1

Two other candidates (again barring a performance happening by or before May 31) are Milton, ON native Ben Preisner and Toronto’s Tristan Woodfine. Preisner clocked a 2:10:17 in Chandler. It was perhaps a surprise result, however, just the same it is in the books as legitimate. His half-marathon best run in Toronto 2019 is 1:03:08, which is not quite the standard of his marathon, but also not too far off. He is just 25-years-of-age and has performed well internationally for Canada notably his 76-place finish at the 2019 Aarhus World Athletics Cross Country Championships. He was the fastest Canadian in that race.

“[I am] Definitely eagerly awaiting the team announcement. There are arguments that could be made for any of the three of us over the others right now,” shared Preisner. “[It] Really depends on what factors the National Team Committee prioritizes. The criteria have a list of factors they take into account, and World and domestic ranking are just one of them.

Personally, simply because the nomination is so late in the game, I am already well into my marathon build, with the hope things pull my way on June 3. I assume Tristan is in the same mindset, as we are less than 11 weeks to go to Sapporo. That being said, my training has always been public on Strava and the NTC is aware of that as well as my recent time trials.”

Asked if he is going to run one more proof of fitness event this weekend he said, “I feel like a rash decision to hammer a ‘proof of fitness’ would only hinder my build and current training block, without even really knowing if it would make an impact.”

Woodfine took 2:25 off of his personal best in London in October 2019 to clock a 2:10:51. Levins’ performance knocks him out of the running on paper, however, Athletics Canada does have the final say in nominating the two athletes who did not win the Canadian Championships.

After their training stint together in Kenya, Levins told the CBC, “I think he is going to surprise some people.” He did, however, like Cliff, perhaps he will make an attempt to improve his lot by running an outstanding half-marathon this weekend. He did make a good attempt in March in Mission, BC with a 1:03:19 performance.

It appears that Athletics Canada has some work cut out for them in selecting the marathon teams and perhaps some tough choices to make on July 1.