By Gary Kingston
They’re young, hungry and excitedly optimistic. But if a group of up-and-coming Canadian 400-metre runners want to qualify a 4×400 mixed relay team for August’s World Athletics Championship in Budapest, they’re also going to have to be exceptionally fast on Friday at the Harry Jerome Track Classic.
In fact, the eight one-lap sprinters (Athletics Canada will field two teams of two men, two women to run against a foursome featuring at least one international runner) are probably going to need personal best times all around to reach three minutes, 14 seconds, “I guess there’s a little bit of pressure,” says 19-year-old Savannah Sutherland, who has burst onto the Canadian track scene in a big way by already earning a spot at Budapest in the 400-metre hurdles with the 15th-best time in the world this year.. “But I’m really excited. I’ve always wanted to run the mixed. And it’s a great team with great potential.”
All four women – Sutherland of Borden, Sask., 20-year-old Ella Clayton of Calgary, 22-year-old Alyssa Marsh of Toronto and 24-year-old Grace Konrad of Edmonton – have run 400-metre personal bests this spring, as have Myles Misener-Daly, 22, and Michael Roth, 21.
And the greybeard of the group, 29-year-old Nathan George of Coquitlam, B.C., ran his 400-metre personal best at last year’s nationals on the quick McLeod Stadium track in Langley, B.C., where the Jerome will be held.
“It is a really fast track,” says George. “The surface is nice and if it’s not too windy . . . I’m excited for it, for sure.”
Since a surprise silver medal at the 2019 IAAF World Relays, Canada hasn’t been a factor in the relatively new event at major championships.
Canada failed to qualify out of the heats at the 2019 world championships despite a national record time of three minutes, 16.78 seconds, then skipped the 2021 World Relays in Poland because of Covid concerns. And a time of 3:17.31 at the 2021 national championships in Quebec wasn’t good enough to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics later that summer.
The Jerome Classic is the last chance to qualify a team for the 2023 world championships.
The mixed relay, along with other mixed events in swimming, triathlon and archery, were introduced to the Olympic program in 2021 to create the appearance of greater gender equity, something of a controversial issue for Games officials for decades.
Sixteen countries will get a spot in the mixed relay at Budapest – the top eight finishers from the 2022 world championships in Eugene, Ore., and the top eight countries by time in the 2023 outdoor season. Great Britain and Kenya currently hold the final two spots with times of 3:14.27 and 3:14.64.
Misener-Daly of Hamilton, Ont. and UCLA, has the fastest 400 metre time this year by a Canadian male, his 45.25 clocking good for 59th best in the world. Misener-Daley was also part of the Bruins’ men’s 4×400-metre relay team that earned bronze at the NCAA championships in June.
“Honestly, I would rather run the relay (than individual events),” Misener-Daly said from Los Angeles on a recent Zoom call to promote the Jerome meet. “It gives you an extra bit of motivation. Instead of doing it just for yourself, you’re now doing it for your teammates.”
Misener-Daly, who won’t know who he’s actually running with until a training session Thursday at Langley with Athletics Canada sprint coach Glenroy Gilbert, says that based on the form everybody is in, he’s confident that one or both of the teams can go under 3:14.
“As long as we put forth our best effort on the day, I think we have a great chance of getting that time. I’m looking forward to it.”
Gilbert says meeting the qualifying standard is “more than doable,” especially now that the depth on the men’s side of 400-metre runners in Canada is starting to catch up with the depth on the women’s side.
“There’s a lot of belief in what can happen,” he says of the group headed to the Jerome “I’m a big believer in the idea that you show up and perform on demand. That’s the way the rest of the world works.
“Yes, (this group is) young, but they have a lot of NCAA experience and that bodes well. They’re used to relays, especially 4x400s.”
Says Misener-Daly: “I’m sure everybody’s going to be hurting at the line when it’s over, but as long as we give 100 per cent, we have a chance of making it. We can get one of those top eight times to qualify.”