Currently, if an athlete wants to compete internationally for Canada, there are several steps towards successfully being nominated to represent the country in their respective event. Competitive proficiency is just one of the factors governing their ability to go. It may be the only thing that they strive to achieve in their training, but there are several other hurdles that need to be accomplished along the way.
One example is the declaration policy. Athletes needs to declare to Athletics Canada that they intend to compete, should they qualify, for certain international competitions such as the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Pan American Games and IAAF World Track and Field Championships for example. There is a deadline in which to do so. Miss that deadline and the athlete misses the games. For example, the deadline for athletes to declare that they wish to compete in the 2015 Toronto Pan Am/Para Pan Am Games that is going on right now was May 1, 2015.
Athletes often have unforeseen breakthroughs.
Langley’s Fiona Benson did not declare that she intended to run the 800-metre during the Pan Ams event because until she had her jaw-dropping breakthrough, she had no idea she would be fast enough. She wasn’t. But on May 30th – one month after the deadline had come and gone – she stunned everyone including herself by dropping eight seconds from her personal best, to position herself as the fastest Canadian during the qualifying window. She got faster several times after that.
The Pan American Games are considered serious competition and they are, however, they are also viewed by Athletics Canada as a stepping stone towards the biggest competition, two of which are coming up in the next 13 months. There is the 2015 Beijing IAAF World Track and Field Championships in August and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Benson, in theory, should be in Toronto competing, to get that international competition that she needs. Instead North Vancouver’s Jessica Smith is going. Although Smith is a worthy athlete and is experienced internationally, she is the third fastest Canadian this year behind Benson and Eganville, Ontario’s Melissa Bishop. Canada sent two athletes maximum per event, but three for worlds. Benson will be going to the world championships, but Smith won’t be. Rather than being a stepping stone, Pan Ams are like a consolation prize.
Smith and Bishop are no slouches; the two are 2012 London Olympians and were the third and fourth Canadians all-time to run under the two-minute barrier. Benson was the fifth.
Another rule that appears to perhaps have flaws is the deadline in which to qualify for international competition. Athletics Canada coincides the final day of qualifying for the world championships with the final day of competition at the Canadian track and field championships. This makes good sense, as it provides the national event with a real purpose. To see Canada’s best athletes compete in a mandatory situation, to be the best in the country, or at least top-three, combined with having achieved the standard between January 1st and the final day at nationals, which this year was July 5th in Edmonton.
For anyone who watched the national men’s 1500m event, they saw a race that appeared to completely backfire. Here no athlete had yet run fast enough to qualify for the world championships. This was the final day to do so and the field was full of the necessary talent to get the job done. The expectation was that it would be a heck of a race.
The conditions were very windy. The standard to run under is 3:36.20. There was defending champion Cambridge’s Nate Brannen who was coming back from injury and was still seeking his sharpness. His personal best is 3:34.22. Charles Philibert-Thiboutot of Quebec was in the field. He is a developing athlete. His development took a quick turn for the better, but not until after nationals – very similar to Benson’s situation. The field also included Black Creek’s Cameron Levins. He is the national 10,000m record holder and oozes talent. But what was he doing in this race? He was working on his speed or so he thought.
“For myself, I missed a lot of training early on due to an Achilles tear so have been behind the eight ball all year trying to play catch up,” shared Brannen.
After the gun sounded, the athletes established positions over the first 100m and then proceeded to run slower than the women for much of the next 1200m. UVic athlete Thomas Riva who, possessing a very strong kick, smoothly went around the leaders with 200m to go and proceeded to outkick the entire field. The time was slow at 4:06.16. No one was going to the world championships. Mission not accomplished.
Philibert-Thiboutot on July 17th during the Monaco Diamond League meet dropped four seconds from his personal best by finishing in the time of 3:34.23. He is now the fourth-fastest Canadian all-time, behind Kevin Sullivan, Graham Hood and Nate Brannen.
“Oh man, it was such a crazy race. I knew the first 800m was really fast so I settled in to the back. I remember seeing on the board at 1000m the time of 2:22. At that point it was starting to get really hard, so I was just telling myself to hang on, it’s going to be fast!” shared Philibert-Thiboutot.
He added, “I feel truly lucky and blessed to have taken part in the deepest race ever in the history of the 1500m. When I crossed the line I could see that the clock was stopped at 3:26 (Kiprop’s time) and I knew I had just run in a very special race.”
Brannen raced the KBC Nacht Meeting in the Netherlands on Saturday the 18th and finished in 3:35.42 to take third position.
“I think with Charles and myself hitting the A standard now it definitely shows we are coming to form at the perfect time and ready to compete well at the World Championships,” shared Brannen.
Now Canada has two athletes that are legitimately fast enough to race in the world championships.
It is up to Athletics Canada to bend or adjust their own rule. They should. This is a great opportunity to forge the process of permanently changing the rule, by accepting that in the best interest in sending the most competitive team possible, they need to send two athletes who happen to be coming into international form, right on time.
“I’m more than ready to compete and I’ve proven that by hitting my World and Olympic standard. The decision is now in the hands of AC, but hopefully I’ll be lining up at the end of August in Beijing to compete in my fifth World Track & Field Championships,” said Brannen.