Is Marathoning in Canada Headed Back to the Dark Ages
“The 2009 race in Berlin appears to represent a pivotal shift in marathoning in Canada; Wykes and Coolsaet are now the second and third-fastest marathoners in Canadian history, both having run less than a minute off Jerome Drayton’s 2:10:09 mark.”
Reading Athletics Canada’s standards for the 2017 world championships in London, I started to fear that marathoning in this country is about to fall into the same cycle that plagued selection for the Athens through Beijing Olympics. Both events were without a Canadian entrant, despite the iaaf standard being met. Rather, Athletics to be competitive at the world level.” He continued in saying, “With the Berlin 2009 World Cup coming up, the timing is right… to send a signal to our developing and ambitious distance runners, providing a path to excellence in marathoning.” Intent on entering full teams for the World Marathon Cup, which would be awarded based on the Canada insisted on significantly faster qualifying times than the world governing body, which no Canadians ended up bettering. In a particularly stark example of what athletes trying to qualify were up against in those years, the women’s standard set by Athletics Canada for Beijing was over a minute faster than the then-Canadian record.
For the 2009 world championships, Athletics Canada shifted their approach. Then chief high-performance officer Martin Goulet stated, “Ultimately our objective is to re-establish Canadian marathoning… aggregate times of the top three finishers for each county, qualifying spots for up to five men and women were made available. The iaaf standards of 2:18 and 2:43 were set as the benchmark, with a minimum of four members required to send teams. Reid Coolsaet was coming off nearly a year of injuries that had kept him out of the 2008 Olympics in his preferred event at the time, the 5,000m, when he declared he was entering his first marathon. He justified his decision in saying, “I have been interested in running a marathon for the past couple of years, and with the possibility of Canada sending a full marathon team this year to Worlds it seems like a good time to take a crack at it” Coolsaet would later run 2:17 in Ottawa to qualify.
Dylan Wykes ran his first marathon at Rotterdam i n 2:15 i n 2008. This performance was the fastest in the qualification window and earned a spot on his first senior national team along with Coolsaet, Gitah Macharia and Andrew Smith.
At the London Olympics three years later, Wykes and Coolsaet made up two-thirds of the trio that qualified under the tougher standard of 2:11:29. The 2009 race in Berlin appears to represent a pivotal shift in marathoning in Canada; Wykes and Coolsaet are now the second and third-fastest marathoners in Canadian history, both having run less than a minute off Jerome Drayton’s 2:10:09 mark.
The third member of the London trio, Eric Gillis, first competed in the Olympics in 2008 in the 10,000m. Interestingly, Gillis only qualif ied because of AC’s “rising star” criteria, which allowed athletes aspiring to compete at their first global games to meet a weaker “B” standard twice for selection. Despite meeting the requirements, Gillis was init ially not named to team, and was only re-inst ated following an appeal. Gillis only finished 33rd on the track in Beijing, yet by his third Olympic appearance in Rio, his experience paid dividends. Unfazed by the magnitude of the event, he ran the best race of his career to place 10th overall. It was Canada’s best finish in the Olympic marathon since 1976.
The performances of Coolsaet, Wykes and Gillis since 2009 suggest there is something to be gained from allowing athletes to develop by competing. Unfortunately, it seems Athletics Canada has chosen to revert back to the mentality that led to a drought of marathoners competing at the highest level every four years.
ABOVE Reid Coolsaet racing the Marathon in Rio 2016