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On April 11, at the 2000-seat, 38-year-old Cougar Athletic Stadium in Azusa, CA, ran the Bryan Clay Invitational. The meet was at the home of the NCAA’s Cougar football and athletics teams at Azusa University. The meet is named after 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medallist Bryan Clay who continues to haunt the stadium at age 44, enjoying the 10 events that make up the decathlon. He also earned silver at the Athens Olympics and three World Championship golds, two indoor, and one outdoor. Perhaps in their pursuit of the Paris Olympic Games Canadians Charles Philibert-Thiboutot and John Gay took inspiration from Clay’s heroics.

They indeed have the 2024 Paris Olympic Games on their minds.

Charles Philibert-Thiboutot

Philibert-Thiboutot, from Quebec City, is a 1500-metre specialist. Last year in Tomblaine, France, he clocked a new personal best going 3:32.94 for the metric mile on June 18 in Stade Raymond Petit. For the Paris Olympics, only 45 men (and 45 women) will be competing in the event this summer. Qualification is weighted on both global ranking and running faster than the standard of 3:33:50 or 3:35.40 in the mile (1609m).

The 2016 Rio Olympian has the Paris standard in his pocket and is currently ranked 27th. On July 2, Athletics Canada’s selection committee will meet to decide and then announce the nominated athletes going to Paris. From June 27 to June 30, there is the selection trials in Philibert-Thiboutot’s home province of Quebec in Montreal. He will also be required to finish top three at those trials, however, there are discretionary choices that the committee can make. Also, the International Olympic Committee and World Athletics may invite athletes who otherwise may not have been nominated. The emphasis though is on time and global ranking.

For Philibert-Thiboutot his 27:54.66 is a new personal best, which is a great sign. It was a strong performance for the 2023 World Championships competitor. Make no mistake, he will not be switching to the 25-lap 10K race distance anytime soon. The Bryan Clay Invitational may have been a personal best, but is 54.66 seconds from the Olympic standard for that event. The 33-year-old is the Canadian and North American record holder in the 2000m event at 4:51.54 from Brussels, last year. He will stay in his lane to focus on the 1500m.

However, Philibert-Thiboutot is known to dabble in longer distances. In 2018, he ran a half marathon in the time of 1:09:15 in Toronto, perhaps on a lark. Three years ago he ran his road best of 29:45 in the 10K. He was the 5000m national champion in 2022 and ran the 2022 and 2023 BAA Boston 5K in 13:35, then 13:32 respectively. Watching Philibert-Thiboutot’s season progression will be interesting as the Games near.

John Gay

In 2021, Vancouver’s John Gay competed in the Tokyo Olympic Games clocking a personal best in the 3000m steeplechase at 8:16.99.

Gay isn’t in that form just yet, and perhaps not expected to be. After some downtime, he came back to training and clocked an 8:25.33 at Bryan Clay meet, which is a seasonal best performance and solid effort leading up to qualification time. He has been racing since January, during the indoor season.

John Gay paces 10,000m at Pacific Distance Carnival in Vancouver, BC. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Athletics Illustrated

Gay will be looking to get into the same shape he was in 2021, when the Tokyo Olympics took place. He continued running very well into 2022 having set five new personal bests from 1500m to the 5000m and 5K. The Olympic fitness of 2021 carried over culminating in a fourth-place finish at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games in August. In the steeplechase, he clocked an 8:30.26. So close, but yet so far.

He was beaten by Kenyan Amos Serem who clocked an 8:16.83 performance for bronze, Avinash Sable from India who set a national record of 8:11.20 and the winner Abraham Kibiwott of Kenya with his 8:11.15.

For Gay, he will need to step up to a new level this season if he hopes to make Team Canada going to the Paris Olympics. As with most events, the qualification standards seem to become faster every global championships cycle. Gay will need to run sub 8:15.00 and or be ranked top 36 globally. The standard is within his reach, however, we know that half the field could easily be filled from a handful of nations sending three each from Kenya, Ethiopia, the US, the UK, perhaps Japan, China and Morocco.

Expect Gay and Philibert-Thiboutot to be ready and fit for the selection trials.

The Trials

From Athletics Canada’s website: When Canada’s best track & field athletes line up at the 2024 Bell Track & Field Trials, everything will be on the line.

When a star-studded field of World Champions, Olympic and Paralympic medallists, former national champions and future impact makers descends on Montreal’s Centre  Claude-Robillard June 26 to 30, the ultimate first class ticket to France is up for grabs, as is the undying title: Canadian Champion.

Five action-packed days of competition will help determine which Canadian track & field athletes will represent Canada at the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games

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