National Post (National Edition)

The inside track for gold



The dominant Team Canada trend suggests women will win 80 per cent of the country's expected 20 or so Olympic medals in Tokyo, but podium appearance­s at track and field venues might be limited to Canadian men.

The 57-member athletics team features 33 women and 24 men. Those best positioned to win individual medals are sprinter Andre De Grasse, 800-metre man Marco Arop, distance runners Mo Ahmed and Justyn Knight, decathlete­s Damian Warner and Pierce LePage and 50-kilometre race walker Evan Dunfee.

“Sport operates on an ebb and flow, ups and downs. It's just a cycle,” said Athletics Canada head coach Glenroy Gilbert. “We have to look at where these things could happen for our female athletes, but yes, when you look at athletics, it's a bit different.”

Canadian women with an outside shot at the podium include 1,500m runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, who sits 11th on this year's World Athletics top list, as well as the 4x400m relay team, drawn from a pool of seven athletes: Alicia Brown, Kyra Constantin­e, Lauren Gale, Natassha McDonald, Noelle Montcalm, Madeline Price and Sage Watson. The team of Brown, Montcalm, Watson and Carline Muir finished fourth at Rio 2016, just .55 seconds from a medal.

The men's 4x100m squad should also make the eightteam final, given that three of the four members of their bronze-medal winning squad from Rio 2016 — De Grasse, Aaron Brown and Brendon Rodney — are in the pool and running well. Also in the pool are Gavin Smellie, Bolade Ajomale, Jerome Blake and Bismark Boateng. In Rio, the Canadians crossed the line in fourth place but were upgraded to bronze medals when the Americans were disqualifi­ed for an early baton pass.

Canada did not qualify teams for the women's 4x100m, the men's 4x400m or the mixed 4x400m relay.


Canada has won 60 Olympic medals in athletics — 14 gold, 15 silver and 31 bronze — the country's highest total for any sport, summer or winter. There have been nine medals in the 100m; eight from the 4x100m relay; six each from hurdles and high jump; four from the 800m; three from the 200m and 4x400m relay; two from the 400m, 3,000m, long jump, race walk, hammer throw, pole vault and decathlon; one from the 1,500m, 3,000m steeplecha­se, triple jump, shot put, weight throw, heptathlon and pentathlon.


The athletics meet can be a test of endurance, even in the shorter races. There are three rounds — heats, semifinals and the final — for all track events 1,500m and shorter. The 3,000m steeplecha­se, 5,000m and relays have two rounds; heats and a final. The 10,000m is only a final, entry limited by a qualifying standard time and a maximum of three athletes per country.

The field events are no walk in the park, either. Throwers compete in a three-attempt qualificat­ion round, the top 12 advance for three more throws, after which the top eight get another three attempts to improve their standing. The same format applies to long jumpers and triple jumpers. High jumpers and pole vaulters can enter the competitio­n at any height and pass on any height. They are eliminated after three consecutiv­e misses, and the medals go to the final three athletes standing.


Canada's best male distance runners, Ahmed and Knight, both figured in the fastest 5,000m race this season, which unfolded June 10 in Firenze, Italy.

Ahmed finished third, which is something of an expected result these days, given the bronze medal he won at the 2019 world championsh­ips in Doha. Knight's fifth-place finish, however, was a bit of a breakout.

“He took a huge chunk off his PB in the 5,000m and he's in good form right now, real confident,” Gilbert said of Knight. “I think he certainly is a finalist and once you're in the final, who knows what could happen. I don't think we've seen the best from him yet but he's certainly moving in the right direction.”

Ahmed crossed in 12:50.12, Knight in 12:51.93. The top five finishers from that race are also the first five athletes on the World Athletics top list for 2021. Norway's Jakob Ingebrigts­en won it in 12:48.45.


Though the Americans are expected to win about 35 track and field medals, running away with the competitio­n yet again, podium sweeps might still be a rarity. Their best hopes to pull it off look to be in the men's 100m, where Trayvon Bromell, Ronnie Baker and Fred Kerley will represent, and the women's 400m hurdles, with Sydney McLaughlin, Dalilah Muhammad and Shamier Little in good form.

Athletes from the United States have won a total of 797 Olympic medals, almost four times as many as the country's closest rival, Great Britain, with 205. The Soviet Union clocks in with 193, Finland 114 and East Germany 109 to round out the historical top five.


Canada's Melissa Bishop-Nriagu was fourth in Rio, behind a trio of women whose high natural testostero­ne levels make them ineligible to compete at distances between 400m and a mile, after a controvers­ial 2018 ruling on athletes with difference­s in sexual developmen­t (DSD).

In order to qualify for those events, DSD athletes would have to take medication to lower their testostero­ne levels.

South Africa's Caster Semenya, who won 800m gold in Rio, shifted gears in the wake of the ruling to contest the 5,000m, but failed to qualify for Tokyo. Frances Niyonsaba of Burundi, who took silver in Rio, qualified in the 5,000m and 10,000m but doesn't look to be a medal threat in either race. The bronze medallist from Rio, Margaret Wambui of Kenya, was not named to her country's team for Tokyo.

“It would be good if a third category for athletes with high testostero­ne was introduced because it is wrong to stop people from using their talents,” Ugandan Annet Negesa told the BBC earlier this year. “We would be the first people to compete in that category, so we can motivate others who are hiding their condition.”

In the meantime, the absence of the three Rio medallists has opened up room on the podium, and there are newcomers ready to stake a claim.

“I think the 800m will be one of those events at the Olympic Games that will be a bit unpredicta­ble right now.

In the past you had Semenya who was pretty dominant, so everybody else was really running for maybe second or third,” said Gilbert. “Now when you really look at it, it can be anybody's medal, up for grabs. You've got that young girl out of College Station (American Athing Mu) who didn't run the 400 (at U.S. trials). She had one of the fastest times in the world in the 400 and didn't run it and is contesting the 800. She's one you have to keep an eye on.”

Mu has a world-leading time of 1:56.07 this year, ahead of Cuba's Rose Mary Almanza at 1:56.28. Bishop-Nriagu hasn't quite found her 2016 form. She's the 16th-fastest woman through 800m this year after running 1:58.36 on July 10 in California. In Rio, she ran 1:57.02.


If you're open to cheering for somebody other than a Canadian at these Olympics, we present Jesus Angel Garcia, a Spanish race walker

who will set a Games record by competing in his eighth Olympics. And he's just 51.

American sprinter Merlene Ottey has the record, with seven Games appearance­s.

Garcia was 10th in the 50km event at Barcelona 1992, didn't finish Atlanta 1996, was 12th at Sydney 2000, fifth at Athens 2004, fourth at Beijing 2008, 19th at London 2012 and 20th at Rio 2016. He will be part of the final 50km race walk in Games history, as the Internatio­nal Olympic Committee has scrubbed it from the program going forward. After the race, he plans to retire from competitio­n.

The men's 50km race walk, men's and women's marathons, and men's 20km race walk will all be held in Sapporo, 830 kilometres north of Tokyo. During the Games, it should be seven or eight degrees Celsius cooler on average in Sapporo, with much less humidity.


❚ Mohammed Ahmed (St. Catharines, Ont.), Men's 5,000m and 10,000m

❚ Bolade Ajomale (Richmond Hill, Ont.), Men's 4x100m relay

❚ Marco Arop (Edmonton), Men's 800m

❚ Mathieu Bilodeau (Quebec City), Men's 50km race walk

❚ Khamica Bingham (Brampton, Ont.), Women's 100m

❚ Melissa Bishop-Nriagu (Eganville, Ont.), Women's 800m

❚ Jerome Blake (Kelowna, B.C.), Men's 4x100m relay

❚ Bismark Boateng (Brampton, Ont.), Men's 100m and 4x100m relay

❚ Aaron Brown (Toronto), Men's 200m and 4x100m relay

❚ Alicia Brown (Ottawa), Women's 4x400m relay

❚ Lucas Bruchet (Vancouver), Men's 5,000m

❚ Alycia Butterwort­h (Parksville, B.C.), Women's 3,000m steeplecha­se

❚ Lindsey Butterwort­h (North Vancouver), Women's 800m

❚ Kyra Constantin­e (Brampton, Ont.), Women's 400m and 4x400m relay

❚ Brittany Crew (Toronto), Women's shot put

❚ Gabriela DeBues-Stafford (Toronto), Women's 1,500m

❚ Andre De Grasse (Markham, Ont.), Men's 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay

❚ Evan Dunfee (Richmond, B.C.), Men's 50km race walk

❚ Georgia Ellenwood (Langley, B.C.), Women's heptathlon

❚ Malindi Elmore (Kelowna, B.C.), Women's marathon

❚ Crystal Emmanuel (Toronto), Women's 100m and 200m

❚ Lauren Gale (Ottawa), Women's 4x400m relay

❚ John Gay (Vancouver), Men's 3,000m steeplecha­se

❚ Elizabeth Gleadle (Vancouver), Women's javelin

❚ Natalia Hawthorn (North Vancouver), Women's 1,500m

❚ Trevor Hofbauer (Burnaby, B.C.), Men's marathon

❚ Matthew Hughes (Toronto), Men's 3,000m steeplecha­se

❚ Madeleine Kelly (Pembroke, Ont.), Women's 800m

❚ Justyn Knight (Toronto), Men's 5,000m

❚ Geneviève Lalonde (Moncton), Women's 3,000m steeplecha­se

❚ Pierce LePage (Whitby, Ont.), Men's decathlon

❚ Cameron Levins (Black Creek, B.C.), Men's marathon

Django Lovett (Toronto), Men's high jump

❚ Michael Mason (Nanoose Bay, B.C.), Men's high jump

❚ Brandon McBride (Windsor, Ont.), Men's 800m

❚ Natassha McDonald (Brampton, Ont.), Women's 400m and 4x400m relay

❚ Sarah Mitton (Brooklyn, N.S.), Women's shot put

❚ Noelle Montcalm (Windsor, Ont.), Women's 400m hurdles and 4x400m relay

❚ Timothy Nedow (Brockville, Ont.), Men's shot put

❚ Christabel Nettey (Surrey, B.C.), Women's long jump

❚ Anicka Newell (Saskatoon), Women's pole vault

❚ Alysha Newman (Delaware, Ont.), Women's pole vault

❚ Dayna Pidhoresky (Tecumseh, Ont.), Women's marathon

❚ Ben Preisner (Milton, Ont.), Men's marathon

❚ Madeline Price (Toronto), Women's 4x400m relay

❚ Brendon Rodney (Etobicoke, Ont.), Men's 200m and 4x100m relay

❚ Camryn Rogers (Richmond, B.C.), Women's hammer throw

❚ Andrea Seccafien (Guelph, Ont.), Women's 5,000m and 10,000m

❚ Gavin Smellie (Brampton, Ont.), Men's 100m and 4x100m relay

❚ Julie-Anne Staehli (Lucknow, Ont.), Women's 5,000m

❚ Lucia Stafford (Toronto), Women's 1,500m

❚ Kate Van Buskirk (Toronto), Women's 5,000m

❚ Damian Warner (London, Ont.), Men's decathlon

❚ Sage Watson (Medicine Hat, Alta.), Women's 400m hurdles and 4x400m relay

❚ Jillian Weir (Kingston, Ont.), Women's hammer throw

❚ Natasha Wodak (North Vancouver), Women's marathon

❚ Regan Yee (South Hazelton, B.C.), Women's 3,000m steeplecha­se

 ?? IAN KINGTON / AFP / GETTY IMAGES FILES ?? Among the few Canadian women with an outside shot at the podium in track and field is 1,500m runner Gabriela
DeBues-Stafford, who is ranked 11th in the world.
IAN KINGTON / AFP / GETTY IMAGES FILES Among the few Canadian women with an outside shot at the podium in track and field is 1,500m runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, who is ranked 11th in the world.
 ?? ANNIKA BYRDE / NTB / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Sprinter Andre De Grasse is among Canada's best medal hopes on the track.
ANNIKA BYRDE / NTB / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES Sprinter Andre De Grasse is among Canada's best medal hopes on the track.

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