Run­ning De­bate

Is Marathon­ing in Canada Headed Back to the Dark Ages

Canadian Running - - FEATURES - By Pa­trick MacK­in­non Pa­trick MacK­in­non writes and runs in Hamil­ton.

“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

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