Mariah Kelly on the start line at the Coffee Cup Classic in Victoria. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall/Athletics Illustrated

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Canada’s middle-distance running is enjoying a bit of a re-birth of international-level performances. During the Canadian track and field championships in Montreal last weekend there were some strong, albeit tactical performances. Most athletes were seeking either a 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships standard time or were looking to bolster their current position with a top-3 placing.

Sunday, all eyes were on Gabriela Debues-Stafford who the week prior took down one of Canada’s oldest records clocking a 4:00.26 in the 1500m. The previous record was held by Lynn Kanuka from 1985 at 4:00.27. In Montreal, Debues-Stafford, a Toronto native, won in the time of 4:09.09. She finished over three seconds in front of Jenna Rae Westaway. Close behind was Mariah Kelly. It was Kelly’s first medal from national championships. Westaway and Kelly crossed the line in 4:12.54 and 4:12.68, respectively.

“The race went out pretty quick. The first lap was run in 65 seconds but then slowed way down to 70. Gabriela tried to slow it down more but the field pushed,” said Kelly, who runs for Vic City Elite. “I was moving around from fifth to third most of the race, then with a lap to go I started to move and other girls started to die so it became two races in one.”

Debues-Stafford with the Doha standard already in hand just needed to line up with 200m to go and unleash her international-level kick to take the win; she did just that.

“With 200 to go, I got stuck in a little box but I managed to get out and chase down second and just missed her,” added Kelly.

For the win, Debues-Stafford earns an automatic nomination to the Doha World Athletics Championships beginning Sept. 27.

“It was a fun race; I just needed to be in a better position with 200m to go or even before that,” added Kelly.

Debues-Stafford is currently the only Canadian to run standard; however, athletes have until Aug. 24 to find an opportunity to qualify. The team will be named two days later.

For Westaway of Calgary and Kelly, they still need to run under the 4:06.50 world championships standard along with their top-3 finishes at nationals.

Melissa Bishop-Nriagu, four-time national 800m champion and Canadian record holder (1:57.01), finished second in the final behind Toronto’s Madeleine Kelly. Bishop-Nriagu continues to work on her fitness as she makes her comeback from taking time off to have a baby.  Kelly’s winning time was 2:02.37. Bishop-Nriagu recorded a 2:02.40, while Laurence Côté of Laval finished third in 2:02.50.

Kelly (not related to Mariah) works for Canadian Running Magazine’s online publication, won her first national championships.

“I have never won at the national level,” said Kelly. “I earned silver and bronze at U Sport (CIS) national championships when running for the University of Toronto, but never as a junior or at any level have I won, so I am very pleased with this one.”

It was a strong field. Five competitors finished within half a second of each other.
Bishop-Ngiaru was not the only competitor with a faster personal best in the field at the Claude-Robillard Sport Facility, Lindsay Butterworth owns a best of 2:00.31 and Westaway has run as fast as 2:01.61.

“I expected to medal, but I wasn’t really thinking that I could win, going into the race.”

Asked if she had an emotional finish, knowing that she won and defeated the national record holder head-to-head, Kelly said, “actually at first I had no idea who won. It was so close. After about 30 seconds the results were put up and I was very surprised. After I walked to the podium with Melissa, I had some tears. She is so gracious.”

The Doha standard for this event is 2:00.60. Butterworth is the only Canadian to run under that time during the qualification period.

Madeleine Kelly, shocked with the win. Photo:

For Brandon McBride, the national record holder from Toronto, it was business as usual in the 800m event. He won in the time of 1:44.63. McBride is a lock for Doha worlds with his qualifying time of 1:43.83, which he ran on July 12th coupled with the national win.

The second-place finisher was Marco Arop, who is the only other Canadian to achieve standard (under 1:45.80), however, finished in 1:46.93 in Montreal. The third-place finisher was Abdullah Hassan in 1:47.59.

All eyes were also on the men’s 100m final. Aaron Brown took the win over 2016 Rio Olympian Andre de Grasse, both credited with the time of 10.03. Third was Bismark Boateng in 10.25.

In the women’s 3000m steeplechase, as expected, national record holder Genevieve Lalonde won handily in the time of 9:34.85. Finishing second was Regan Yee of Langley. She competes for the Langley Mustangs Endurance Group. She finished in the time of 9:40.73.

In third place was Charlotte Prouse with London Legion Track and Field in the time of 9:43.73.

Maria Galea-Bernard finished fourth. She, along with Yee and Lalonde, has already run under the Doha standard of 9:40.00. Lalonde with Speed River has run 9:29.82, Yee 9:35.49 and Galea-Bernard 9:36.12.

The men’s edition was a tactical race. Matt Hughes, the national record holder in the event, simply needed to take the lead as he has run well under the Doha standard of 8:29.00, with an 8:17.36 two weeks prior. He has run as fast as 8:15.23.

Ryan Smeeton who is listed as representing Oklahoma State University finished second in 8:47.03, while John Gay with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds clocked a third-place 8:48.26.

Smeeton is the only other Canadian to run under standard with his 8:27.90 from May 2nd.

Although many Canadians ran well at nationals, many continue to seek faster times at the 2019 Lima, Peru Pan American Games and various track meets leading up to the Aug. 24 deadline.

As for Madeliene Kelly, she has two or three more track meets to travel to including one at McMaster University in Hamilton and a couple stateside, if need be.

“I think the Hamilton track is faster than some people think. I like running on it. I will continue to try to run under the standard, now that I have won nationals.”

Full results from nationals are available here>>

Details of Team Canada going to Pan American Games are here>>