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© Copyright – 2015 – Athletics Illustrated

The drama will surely continue in the Canadian women’s 800-metre event on Sunday, June 14th. This is the final deadline day available to qualify to make the 2015 Toronto Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, manifesting in the Portland Track Festival; it should be an almighty clash.

Athletes are also looking to run under 2:01.00 to earn a spot on Team Canada for the 2015 Beijing IAAF World Track and Field Championships. Run fast enough and they could be, preliminarily-speaking, in a good position to make Team Canada for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, although they each have next spring to start the process all over again (for Rio) and they have the 2015 Canadian Track and Field Championships in July to clash for Beijing Worlds qualification in Edmonton. For now though, Sunday has the makings of a legendary race, between the otherwise nicest and unassuming group of athletes anywhere.

But, to make the Pan Am Games, the athletes need to be either the fastest or second fastest in the country during the FrancoisVTC_Flashqualification window – there is no set standard and unlike other global championships there is no third body going.

The now defacto standard is 2:01.02.

Section 1 on Sunday night at 7:30 PM, PST will see the University of Victoria’s Rachel Francois attempt to break out. Her times this spring have gotten better with each race and she is getting very close to the qualification time for Worlds; however, one second can be a universe away from the brass ring or one great tactical move closer to it. She does have at least three competitors in Canada who have been faster, to date they are North Vancouver’s Jessica Smith, Eganville, Ontario’s Melissa Bishop and Langley, BC’s Fiona Benson. Other Canadians in the meet are Nanaimo’s Alyssa Mousseau and Victoria’s Casey Atkin, although they are running in a different 800m race.

Benson_FlashVictoria2015Benson came out of nowhere.

On Saturday, May 30th in Victoria, BC she dropped her own personal best time from 2:08.54 to 2:01.58, raising the collective Canadian track and field eye brows. Her performance leap-frogged her from where she anonymously sat far out in the periphery to become the fastest Canadian so far in 2015.

One week later at the Harry Jerome Track Classic, she improved again to 2:01.48 – a solid move forward, only 2012 London Olympian Smith did one better, running a season best of 2:01.40 to win the race. Bishop, who is coming back from a recent ankle sprain is fit, but was short on ankle power and sharpness, but ran well for third position. Her presence in third let everyone know that two nights later would be another step forward, so everyone must be on Smith_flashJerome2015their game.

Benson was on her game.

On Wednesday, June 10th, Smith finished last in a confusing performance that leads her on the road to Portland. Was she boxed in for too long? She was in the mix with less the 200-metres remaining in the race, she is better than that as she ran just 2:04.98. Francois improved again, this time to a near personal best time of 2:02.25. Bishop got beat again, but spectators had no idea as Benson and Bishop virtually tied at 2:01.02 – another personal best for Benson and another season best for Canada’s fastest 800m runner, Bishop.

The crowd had no idea who won, the officials had no idea who won, and the coaches had no idea who won but Bishop knew. Such is the finely-tuned awareness of an elite middle-distance runner. Seconds after the finish, she pointed to BishopVTC_FlashBenson and said, “She got it.” Benson won by 4/1000ths of a second; the camera nearly didn’t get it. Only those two could have known.

In that race, Benson and Bishop leap-frogged Smith, while Francois again inched forward.

Smith is capable of taking out the field again just as she did in Vancouver. She is one of only four Canadians (as is Bishop) to ever run under the two-minute benchmark. She could crush one person’s dreams in a two-minute blast of the track. So in respect to her talent and the desire for both Benson and Bishop to tick off two-one-hundredths of a second to take care of the World Championships standard, so go the three of them to Portland and so goes Francois who keeps inching forward.

The finish could easily end in any order, one-two-three between Bishop, Benson and Smith and the race could go out tactically, which could mean nothing to them as 2:01.02 is now the benchmark, 2:00.99 is secondary. And just as Benson dropped the wild-eyed seven second personal best less than two weeks ago, Francois could conjure something exciting too.

This Sunday, the women’s 800m, Section 1, could prove to be the most exciting race of the year. Although Benson does not appear listed, she is going.

Section 1 Timed Finals

1 Murphy, Samantha Unattached
2 Francois, Rachel U. of Victoria
3 Gall, Geena Unattached
4 Bishop, Melissa Nike
5 Smith, Jessica Nike
6 Mackey, Katherine Brooks Beast
7 Malasarte, Megan Brooks Beast
8 Rowbury, Shannon Nike Oregon Project

American Shannon Rowbury is also in the race. Although it has been five years since she ran her personal best time of 2:00.47, she had a heck of a 2015 indoor season, setting three new personal bests including an impressive 4:05.08 for 1500m.

The Canadian men who are running the 800m event include a few, very capable athletes in Speed River Track and RomaniwVTC_FlashField Club’s Anthony Romaniw, who owns a personal best of 1:45.60. He is in Section 1, while 2012 Canadian Olympian Geoff Harris from Halifax and the Halifast Track and Field Club with his 1:45.97 and Adam Paul-Morris from the University of Victoria (1:48.09) are in section 3. They may conjure up their own brand of drama, as young athletes like Paul-Morris can improve greatly in a single race, while Harris is in the third section only because his season to date has been softer than he is capable of. Look for an improvement from these two athletes.


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