On a cold, blustery and rainy Sunday on October 4, 2020 — during the rescheduled London Marathon (due to the pandemic) — Canadian Tristan Woodfine raced to a personal best of 2:10:51. It was the fastest time during the Tokyo Olympic qualifying window to that date and put the Ontario native second on Team Canada. The first person to be selected was auto-qualifier Trevor Hofbauer from Calgary. He got in by winning the Canadian Championships as part of the 2019 Toronto Marathon. He finished in a new personal best time of 2:09:51. Each country can send three men and three women to the Olympic Games. The women’s winner that day was Dayne Pidhoresky.

Tristan Woodfine after winning the 2022 TCS Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon in a personal best 62:43. Photo credit: Canada Running Series/Joanna Bell

Two months later, Ben Preisner ran the one-off The Marathon Project in Chandler, AZ also attaining a new personal best of 2:10:17, moving into second position and relegating Woodfine to third, based on time alone.

Head-to-head competition matters

Meanwhile, Canadian record holder Cameron Levins was having a whale of a time trying to run a qualifying time, something that should have been almost easy for him to do. It wasn’t coming. First off, Hofbauer bettered him in Toronto. Levins had a rough day and finished in the time of 2:15:01.

Levins tried again in London only to drop out. Again, Levins tried in December in Chandler, where Preisner got him. Levins ran 2:12:15, after looking very composed at the 20-mile (32K) point. So far, he was bettered head-to-head by each of the three athletes who had qualified (so far). He needed one more go.

On May 13, Levins ran a marathon in Austria — nearly at the proverbial 11th hour, the window closed May 31. It worked, he ran 2:10:14 to be the second fastest of the four athletes within the qualifying time to only Hofbauer. Was it too much? Four marathons during the qualifying period? With the Fürstenfeld, Austria marathon in May and the Tokyo Olympic Marathon on August 8, making it five, some would argue yes.

Woodfine appeals

Woodfine appealed Athletics Canada’s decision to not send him as Levins was defeated head-to-head by all three athletes (DNF’d in London). According to the selection criteria, this matters. However, not so much according to Athletics Canada Commissioner Frank Fowlie who said, “In my review of the materials, I have seen no evidence of a conflict of interest, bias or improper consideration or ignorance of information by the NTC. Thus, the issue I am primarily concerned with is whether the selection process was followed, was fair and whether the decision is reasonable.”

He felt it was.

Woodfine had appealed on the basis that the selection committee was more knowledgeable about Levins’ training and nuances as to why he was not running well and not so intimate with his.

Since then, none of the three men ran particularly well in Sapporo (Tokyo Olympic location) however, Levins has gone on to better the national record to 2:05:36 — which is the North American record. The selection committee knew there was a chance Levins could run well again and they took a flyer on him. They were right, but it just didn’t come during the Olympics.

Woodfine is back

His pursuit of an Olympic Games berth resumes October 15th at the TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon. The event is once again a World Athletics Elite Label race and will also serve as the 2023 Canadian marathon championship. This presents the 30-year-old native of Cobden, Ontario with a splendid opportunity to earn enough valuable world ranking points to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics” writes Paul Gains in a press release for the Toronto Marathon.

For the past year, he has been coached by Reid Coolsaet, himself a two-time Canadian Olympic marathoner (2012 and 2016). The pair went about choosing Toronto for his Olympic attempt methodically.

“It minimizes travel so I don’t have to worry about jet lag,” Woodfine explains. “Second, the Canada Running Series puts on a great series. They take care of the elites well and it’s well run.

So that limits the unknown stress of doing a foreign race where you don’t know how things will go. I have complete trust in (race director) Alan (Brookes) and his team.”

The 2024 Olympic automatic qualifying standard is 2:08:10, a time which has been bettered by only one Canadian in history, Cam Levins. So the prospect of earning valuable points, which come with winning a national championship, on top of a fast time, was too much to resist.
Coolsaet pointed out that winning a national championship is worth an additional 45 points, which on the World Athletics scoring tables, is equivalent to running 2 minutes 30 seconds faster. In other words, if Woodfine were to run a personal best and win in Toronto it would be
like running 2:08:00 in a World Marathon Major like Berlin.

“You can hit Olympic qualifying standard,” Woodfine continues, “but if you have to get through on points there are extra points available because it is the Canadian championships. So for those reasons, it made sense.

“We were trying to figure out how to maximize the points. You want to maximize time and you want to maximize points and you try and find the balance. If you maximize the points but run too slow then it doesn’t matter. It felt like Toronto was the best of both worlds.”

“It would be great (to be Canadian champion),” he acknowledges. “I think I have won just one Canadian championship – the 2019 Canadian Half Marathon – so adding the marathon to that would be awesome.

“Everything is just focused on the 2024 Olympic cycle and doing everything I can to maximize performance over the next year basically. That’s my priority – I haven’t thought too much beyond the next summer.”

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