It has been a special season for many of Canadian athletes. From numerous record-breaking performances, personal bests, to triumphant returns, the Canadian track and field team descends into Doha for the season finale that is the IAAF World Athletics Championships.
Entering her second World Championships, Gabriela DeBues-Stafford is having a breakout year, personally and in her career. From marrying her longtime boyfriend Rowan DeBues, to finishing her Bachelors of Science in Psychology Research Specialist, to moving to Scotland, and of course her numerous Canadian record-setting performances, DeBues-Stafford still finds it hard to believe the year she has had as she prepares to close her season strong at the World Championships.
“2019 has definitely been the best year of my life,” said the 24 year-old DeBues-Stafford. “It is hard to put into words what it feels like to actualize your craziest goals and dreams in this sport, and it is really special for me to be able to share this journey with Rowan.”
On the track, she re-wrote the record books. To be exact, she did it a total of seven times this season spread over the indoor 5,000-metres, indoor mile, 1,500-metres (twice), 5,000-metres (twice), and outdoor mile events. She has earned the praise of former record-holders and has solidified herself as one of the leading Canadian athletes on the track. Heading into Doha, she hopes that her experience and success this season will continue.
For DeBues-Stafford, the race that stands out for her this season was the 1,500-metre race in the Zurich Diamond League meet. With a consistent race and strong finish at the end, she finished in third in that race, setting her latest Canadian record in that distance. It is so surreal for her that she still gets chills just thinking about it.
“That race felt amazing because I was in exactly the right place and held my ground,” recalled DeBues-Stafford. “I felt in control and powerful. The race came together so beautifully and then I saw 3:59.59 on the board. To be the first Canadian woman to break the four-minute barrier is an honour. I couldn’t have chosen a better way to do it.”
Looking to build off her 12th place finish from the 2017 London World Championships, the former University of Toronto Varsity Blue says she is more than prepared for the World Championships this time around.
“The success I’ve had this year is from the culmination of years of work that I started in Toronto and then recommitting to training at an even higher level by joining Laura Muir’s group and Andy Young’s program,’ said DeBues-Stafford.
“Fitness was a huge thing, and that was from hard work. An increase in confidence also had to follow. I still viewed myself as a tier below the world’s best at the beginning of the season, and more focused on time than racing. As I focused more on racing and less on time, I started beating more women and placing better, the time followed.”
She will be in a fast field of runners when she takes to the start line on next Wednesday, where 13 women have broken the four-minute mark. Rather than being intimidated, she’s ready to take on the challenge. With Tokyo less than a year away, DeBues-Stafford is ready to see what these World Championships and the next 10 months have in store for her and rest of Team Canada.
“The 1500-metres is insanely stacked right now but anything is possible,” said the 2016 Olympian. “All I can do is shoot my best shot.”
Canadian depth on the track and the field
With so many strong performances over the season, Canada will be bringing one of their deepest contingents to Doha. With depth in numerous events, Canada could find themselves on the podium, if not at the top of it.
Among some of the events with strong depth includes, Aaron Brown, Andre De Grasse, and Brendon Rodney in the men’s sprints, Canadian record holder Brittany Crew will be joined by Sarah Mitton in the women’s shot put, while Canadian record-holder Alysha Newman makes her return to the World Championships with Kelsie Ahbe in the women’s pole vault.
For Crew and Newman, they join DeBues-Stafford to form the trio of Canadian athletes in the midst of historical years. Crew began the season coming back from a foot injury, with a personal-best and Canadian record throw of 18.60-metres. She has now pushed that Canadian record to 19.28-metres, ranking the Mississauga-native sixth in the world according the IAAF ranking system. Newman on the other hand has soared in the women’s pole vault, bouncing back from her knee injury that took her out of the majority of the outdoor season last year. She pushed her own Canadian record to 4.82-metres last month in Paris and ranks her third in the world.
Michael Mason and Django Lovett will take on the men’s high jump field, while Justyn Knight joins the Canadian 5,000- and 10,000-metre record-holder Mohammed Ahmed in the 5,000-metres, not to mention the six athletes in the 3000-metre steeplechase led by Matthew Hughes and Geneviève Lalonde. Brandon McBride and Marco Arop will be pushing each other in the men’s 800-metres while Damian Warner and Pierce LePage will do the same in the men’s decathlon.
“Our expectations are for our athletes to come in and perform on demand,” said Glenroy Gilbert. “It asks them to come in and get a personal best, seasonal best, better their career event rankings, and go after the top 8.”
“We have athletes spread out, where we can see some positive experiences. We have potential, we have athletes poised to do big things, but again, what we have on paper and what we execute on the day is something different so we try to make sure we provide everything the athletes need.
Aside from DeBues-Stafford’s strong season, Pan American 10,000-metre champion Natasha Wodak will also look to continue her winning ways after also winning the Canadian 10,000-metre and 10K Canadian titles earlier this summer. Also going into Doha will be Rachel Cliff who broke both the Canadian half marathon and marathon record.
One of Canada’s most recent developments is the 400-metres. The team will have nine athletes in the 400-metre specialists in Doha, split for the women’s 4×400-metre relay and the new Canadian mixed 4×400-metre relay teams.
“This is a unique relay. It allows us to develop our 4×400-metre relay teams, whether it be our women’s team or as we continue to develop a men’s team,” said head coach Gilbert. “This mixed relay team is a strong team and the goal for them is to try to make the final and qualify the squad for Tokyo”.
With so many standout and record-breaking performances over the season, Gilbert believes the team will be coming in with momentum and will come down to how the athletes are able to capitalize on it once the competition starts. With a mix of experienced veterans and young talent. For the first time athletes, they have the experienced counterparts to lean on, while the also allowing a time for reflection on how far the older athletes have come.
With the 2020 Olympics less than a year away, the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar will set the bar for athletes around the world. For these Canadian athletes, it’s time to perform.
“This is the benchmark event,” said Gilbert, a two-time World Champions as part of the men’s 4×100-metre relay team in 1995 and 1997. “We have a lot of veteran athletes, veteran staff. At the end of the day, we want the athletes to be comfortable; don’t overdo it on the pressure. Go out there and try to relax, compete and look to better yourself.”
The 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar are set to get underway on Friday, September 27, with action beginning at 9:35 a.m. ET. Catch all the action on cbcsports.ca and follow along the all the action on our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages.