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When Cameron Levins hit the 35-kilometre mark during the S7 Marathon in Austria on May 23, a sense of relief began to lighten his stride. It wasn’t long after that he knew he had the Olympic qualification time covered. He ended up running his second fastest performance winning the race in the time of 2:10:14. His personal best is the national record at 2:09:25 from the 2018 running of the Toronto Marathon.

“It was after going through 35K that I knew I was good,” said the 32-year-old Vancouver Island native.

You could see the sense of relief on his face as he entered the finish chute, “It was, to be honest, an emotional experience as I finished.”

Levins had tried running the Olympic standard in Toronto in 2019 but had a rough race finishing in the time of 2:15:01. Meanwhile, fellow Canadian Trevor Hofbauer dropped the second-fastest Canadian time ever with a 2:09:51. Being the first Canadian, he was awarded the national championship

On the women’s side, Dayna Pidhoresky secured her spot and national title in that same race.

Levins waited after the initial qualification window had closed (interrupted by the pandemic) and for it to re-open before racing again. This time he went to London in October 2020. Unfortunately, the weather went sideways with pelting rain, wind, and cold temperatures — he dropped out late in the race. Meanwhile, fellow Canadian Tristan Woodfine clocked a 2:10:51. At that moment, two of the three spots were likely taken.

Two months later, Levins had run confidently to about 35K in Chandler, AZ. He looked like he was in position for a great race, and then suddenly, the fade hit him hard and he went from being on pace for 2:08 to closing in 2:12 — not what he was looking for at all. In that same race, fellow Canadian Ben Preisner clocked a 2:10:27 performance. Three athletes were potentially qualified and Levins was not one of them.

The qualification window was closing on May 31 and Levins would need to fit in one more marathon. If he didn’t roll the dice one more time, the team was already set: Hofbauer, Preisner, and Woodfine. Asked if there was stress leading up to the S7 Austria Marathon, with flying to Europe and committing to this event one week prior to the qualification window closing, he said, “yes, but there was almost more stress waiting for the June 3rd nomination announcement.”  

“Whoever the selection committee would have chosen between the eight athletes in the qualification pool (four women and four men) Canada would have sent a strong team to the Olympics,” he added.

Levins considered retirement

In 2018, Levins took Jerome Drayton’s 43-year-old national record of 2:10:07 set in Fukuoka. Levins accomplished it in Toronto with his 2:09:25 performance. But between 2015 and 2019, he was often dealing with injuries or was under the weather at big meets. He had already proved his talent by winning the 2012 NCAA championships in the 5000m and 10,000m events. He went on to compete in the 2012 London Olympics at both distances and earned a bronze medal during the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. In May of 2015, in Eugene, OR, at Hayward Field he took Simon Bairu’s national 10,000m record clocking a stunning 27:07.51; pre-super shoes.

That’s when the injuries and eventually a surgery hamstrung his career a little and he contemplated retirement.

“I was thinking after the surgery that I may not get back to the fitness that I had been at before and so had thought about retirement,” shared Levins.

It was a good thing that he didn’t. He now considers it a goal to go strong through to 2028 when he will be age 39. What a difference a great race makes.

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

Levins’s range

Levins is known for peaking well and debuting with strong performances. For example, in 2013, he ran 3:36.88 in the 1500m distance demonstrating great range. He couldn’t think of any other 1500m races that he had been in before that, that were significant.

According to the World Athletics scoring system, that 1500m performance is bettered only by his marathon and his former national 10,000m record of 27:07.51. Unofficially, on April 25 this year, Levins ran the half-marathon distance in the time of 61:04. If it was measured and timed officially, that performance would be the new Canadian half-marathon record. Jeff Schiebler continues to hold on to it with his 61:28 running at the 1999 Tokyo International Marathon.

It is possible that the Canadian marathon selection committee may have considered his strong performances over a broad range of distances as a factor. During a global championship race, there is more likelihood that a drastic change in pace can happen. Athletes need to be able to respond. Levins has the wheels. He has also run a 13:15.19 5000m and an official 62:14 half marathon from Houston last year.  

He wasn’t told the details of why he was selected over other talented athletes. The criteria are more than just being top-three nationally during the qualification periods and under 2:11:30. Head-to-head competition matters, as does international ranking among other factors.

Diet and shoes

Asked what had changed during his preparation he pointed to fuelling be a factor, not only during the race but leading up to it. “I usually worry about the taper and gaining weight before the marathon, but this time I had to put that aside. It’s one of the factors of a few that helped make the difference.”

There were a few minor details in his training program that were tweaked too.

“Running that virtual half marathon gave me some confidence. I was still lacking in confidence a little leading up to the S7 Marathon, but that half marathon indicated to me that things have moved in the right direction.”

Prompted about attempting to get the marathon down to 2:06 or 2:07 at some point in the future he nodded but suggested first he wants to improve the national half-marathon record. Asked if he feels that he could get it under 60 minutes he agreed. “I think so, it would be nice to get it respectable to international standards.”

Levins used the HOKA Carbon Rocket X shoe for racing the marathon.

“They have been good to me. The Carbon Rocket X is a very good shoe. The previous HOKA that I was wearing was good too. They certainly helped after my surgery. I think these may be even better.”

It appears that the Tokyo Olympics will be the first time that Canada has sent three men and three women to the event. Additionally, there were alternates to choose from in Rachel Cliff and possibly Lyndsay Tessier as well as Tristan Woodfine.

The Tokyo Olympic Games start July 23. The marathons and racewalk events will take place in Sapporo, 800K north of Tokyo. The road races were moved due to the potential heat issues that came up during the 2019 Doha World Athletics Championships.