© Copyright – 2016 – Athletics Illustrated

The 2016 Canadian Track and Field Championships that are doubling as the Rio Olympic Trials are coming up Thursday, July 7 and run through until Sunday, July 10. They will be taking place in Edmonton’s Foote Field, dubbed TrackTown Canada.

There are great implications in certain events that must be watched. The competition will be viewable at athleticscanada.tv.

This is not meant to be a complete look at the entire competition, but a preview of some of the more compelling events. Sprints other than the men’s 100m and throws will be previewed separately.

Andre De Grasse, 2016 Harry Jerome Track Classic – photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

It has been years since Canada has been competitive internationally in the 100-metre sprints. That’s about to change. Although the competitive storyline may not be compelling or dramatic, the fans love their sprint stars and Andre De Grasse is no exception, having run 9.92, which is the fastest since the days of Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin, he is the new Canadian sprint star, no pressure intended.

One thing that De Grasse has going for him that Bailey did not quite fulfill, is a strong, but humble personality. Bailey had an edge. Surin, was just as fast, but for some unknown reason didn’t get as much media attention as Bailey.

De Grasse has that Canadian-ness to him. He is polite, displays humility and right now is a little awestruck by the groundswell of adoration that he is receiving from Canadian fans. For example at the Harry Jerome Track Classic, he was dragged and pulled to the media area in a walk that should take less than 30 seconds from the finish line, it took 20 minutes. After the media questions, which he answered politely, he was back with the hordes signing autographs. If he keeps up the great attitude, he can be the new Canadian media darling.

So his race at the trials does not hold much in the way of anticipatory drama, except for the possibility of Aaron Brown, a fellow Torontonian and a recent sub-10 runner. Perhaps Brown is today’s Surin. Few know who Brown is, but he is nearly as fast as De Grasse with his 9.96 personal best.

The others are Gavin Smellie with his 10.09, Akeem Haynes and Damian Warner at 10.15, while Justyn Warner owns a best of 10.16. Edmonton’s slight altitude and the need for athletes to finish first or second might change the order.  Everyone expects De Grasse to win.

De Grasse owns a 19.88 200m as well. Look for him to win both races.

Anthony Romaniw

The Men’s 800-metres currently has two athletes that have run fast enough to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games, Brandon McBride of Windsor with his 1:44.50 and Guelph’s Anthony Romaniw with his 1:45.94. Geoff Harris of Halifax ran in the 2012 London Olympics. His best is 1:45.97. The qualifying standard is 1:46.00. Unless there is an epic failure, McBride is a lock.

Athletics Canada has the final say of who gets to compete in the Rio Olympic Games. The qualification requirements also include that athletes demonstrate competitive readiness. Should an athlete have a rough race at the trials, they could, in theory, not be selected to represent the country. Judgement day is Monday, July 11th the day after the trials are over. The brass may have their work cut out for them.

The men’s 1500-metre event pits a wily veteran in Cambridge, Ontario’s Nate Brannen against a rising star in Quebec’s Charles Philibert-Thiboutot. They have run as fast as 3:35.42 and 3:34.23, respectivelyBrannenHHJ_Flash during the qualification window. The standard to run is 3:36.20 to qualify – so the two just need to finish top-two to be named to Team Canada, but there are many Canadians who are hovering around the 3:37 to 3:40 mark that would love to
make the team.

Victoria’s Thomas Riva could be that guy, he has run as fast as 3:37.34 and at last year’s nationals found himself in the most bizarre race, where the runners, apparently waiting for Olympian Cam Levins to dictate, ran at a ridiculously slow pace. Levins’ patented kick for some reason wasn’t there and with 300-metres to go, Riva lit up the track and found himself the national champion in a time that a handful of Canadian women could beat: 4:06.16. Will Riva be there with 200m to go?

Thomas Riva – photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

The men’s 5,000-metre race has a new contender in Vancouver’s Luc Bruchet. Bruchet pipped the Olympic standard this spring, by running a 13:24.10. He is the fifth fastest at this time; however, one of the athletes, Toronto’s Matt Hughes, who is Canada’s fastest 3000m steeplechaser, will likely not run at the trails or Olympics in the longer race. His 5,000m best is 13:19.56.

Levins told Athletics Illustrated that he will be running the 5,000m at the trials event and if selected, will compete in both the 5,000 and the 10,000m events at the Rio Olympic Games. His best during the qualification window is 13:20.68. His personal best is 13:15.19. He competed in both events at the 2012 London Olympics. His 10,000-metre best is the Canadian record of 27:07.51.

But all eyes will be squarely upon Toronto’s Mo Ahmed, who owns the Canadian record for the distance at 13:01.74. Tactical racing that often happens in championship events requires a different style of racing and often results in slower times. It is doubtful that at Edmonton’s semi-elevation and the need to place first or second that the times will be anywhere close to 13:01.74 or even 13:15.19. Expect a fast final lap and roughly a 13:40.00 winning time, but the question will remain, who will be ready on the day.

The women’s middle-distances races may be the most exciting. Currently Canada is deep in 800-metre and 1500-metre runners.

Melissa Bishop

In the 800-metre event Eganville, Ontario’s Melissa Bishop holds the national record at 1:57.52. She has been competing very well, nearly running personal bests while not being challenged in two National Track League meets recently in Vancouver and Victoria.

There is little doubt that the 2015 IAAF World Track and Field Championships silver medallist will be named to Team Canada, in fact she is one of the stronger medal threats for Rio.

Who will be second and potentially third is a more interesting story. Athletics Canada will take the top two athletes in each event who have run under the respective standard and will take a third under subjective rules, likely related to apparent competitive readiness and demonstrating steadily improving times or ability to race tactically.

There are five women who have run under the benchmark of two minutes, three of them are still very active and have more of their careers in front of them than behind. North Vancouver’s Jessica Smith and Langley’s Fiona Benson have both eclipsed the barrier, neither have quite performed this year, as they have in the past, but they are not far off.

Jessica Smith

Benson in 2015 dropped jaws with a spate of performances that were at a whole new level, including running a 1:59.59 and competing in the world championships. Smith has run as fast as 2:01.07 during the qualification period, however, owns a 1:59.86 personal best. Although Canada can send three athletes, Smith and Benson will want to demonstrate that they are fit and capable. The standard is 2:01.50.

There are several others who are not far off the mark and in the right race could usurp the current leaders. One of those is Rachel Francois of Victoria. She owns a personal best of 2:02.18. She red-shirted the 2015-2016 school year to focus on training specifically for the making the Olympic team.

The more interesting of the two events and probably of the entire Canadian Championships is the women’s 1500-metre race.

Fiona Benson

Toronto’s Sheila Reid an NCAA champion has suffered through a few injuries and wasn’t able to run at her best for a few years. She owns a best of 4:02.96, which is the fastest of the current group of competitors for this event. Her time run during the qualification window is 4:03.96.

Winnipeg’s Nicole Sifuentes owns a bronze medal from the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships and has run a 4:03.97 in June of this year, which represents her lifetime best. Interestingly, like several of the top 1500m runners, she has run the 800m fast, 2:01.30, which suggests that a tactical race would suit her. Benson has run 4:05.24 in the 1500m.

Hilary Stellingwerff

Hilary Stellingwerff of Victoria is rounding into form. She competed in the 2012 London Olympics and is currently the fourth fastest in Canada during the qualification window with her 4:05.61. She is demonstrating as well as anyone that she is competitively-ready have run that time in June of this year.

Toronto’s Gabriela Stafford ran a 4:06.53 in June. The standard to run under is 4:07.00.

There are other athletes in Canada who are knocking on the door, including Toronto’s Sasha Gollish and Kate Van Buskirk. Van Buskirk earned a bronze medal during the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. She has struggled with injuries during 2016, which has affected her training.

Sasha Gollish

Van Buskirk owns a 4:05.38. Gollish has run as fast as 4:07.08 in 2015 and 4:09.68 this year. The former ski racer, then triathlete is always a threat; she needs to be in the right race and perhaps Edmonton, with all its implication may provide that opportunity.

In the women’s 5,000-metre event, Athletics Canada has not indicated that Vancouver’s Rachel Cliff has yet run under the standard of 15:24.00. She did, but AC is likely pondering whether they want to count her recent performance. The International Association of Athletics Federations – the world-wide governing body of the sport of athletics indicate that mixed gender racing in the 5,000-metre (and 10,000m) is okay, as long as there was no pacing provided by a male runner.

Vancouver’s Natasha Wodak paced Cliff in the race; however, Cliff was at times near male runners. She finished in the time of 15:23.94. Her Edmonton performance will need to be even stronger; first or second of course and fast.

Rachel Cliff – photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

Calgary’s Jessica O’Connell is currently the fastest in Canada at 15:06.44, which she ran last summer. Guelph’s Andrea Seccafien has run 15:17.81.

The 10,000-metres and the Marathon will not be contested at the national championships.

Monday, July 11th will be interesting. Athletics Canada will be faced with not only deciding who is on the team based on non-subjective performances, for example, recently running under standard and finishing first or second in Edmonton, but there is also subjective criteria that few fully understand.

Athletics Canada can send three athletes in each event who qualify, but are only taking the top two from the Edmonton competition in each event, who have also run under the standard within the time frame permitted. They will take a third in some cases, who that will be, is anyone’s guess.

There are also subjective choices; the third place finishers as well as Natasha Wodak, who Athletics Canada was apparently concerned about, being injured between running the national record in the 10,000-metre event at the 2015 Payton Jordan Invitational, which is 31:41.59 and her current, injury-free condition.

Lanni Marchant – photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

There is also the Lanni Marchant story, where she has run fast enough in both the marathon 2:28:09 and the 10,000-metre event 31:46.94 and had declared her intentions to compete in both in Rio, if selected. Apparently, she had a phone conversation with Peter Eriksson, the head coach of Athletics Canada, where he said something to the effect, “be prepared for a no,” in regards to running the marathon in Rio, 46 hours after the 10,000m race.

He subsequently denied telling her no.

Natasha Wodak

In an effort to prove competitive readiness, she competed in the 10K road national championships in Ottawa and won and then approximately 46 hours later ran a 30-kilometre time trial, in hot temperatures (like Rio will have) at marathon pace. She succeeded and now waits patiently to find out if she will be able to race both events, as do all of the athletes.

Edmonton awaits.

The trials can be streamed live at: www.athleticscanada.tv

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