Canada’s top track and field athletes are about to converge in Montreal for the Canadian Track & Field Championships, and as expected, this marquee event features multiple storylines within each discipline.
This year’s event will represent the return of some house-hold names who are back in full form and ready to shine, while others look to ride the momentum from a great showing in 2018.
One of the marquee events in the sport, the men’s 100-metre final, will feature the best of the best competing for the title of Canada’s fastest man.
Andre De Grasse has made it clear that he is back, and on top of his game, by dropping some of the fastest times we’ve ever seen the triple Olympic medallist run. But last year’s Canadian champion, Aaron Brown, is no pushover either and will be ready to defend his title in Montreal.
“For Andre, we’ve seen that he’s been running well,” said Athletics Canada’s Head Coach Glenroy Gilbert. “A lot of what he’s doing is in preparation for the World Championships, and these athletes are looking at the Canadian Championships as a way to ready themselves for the World stage and Olympic Games. You will see them rounding into shape.”
Brown and De Grasse have gone head-to-head throughout the season, with both coming up on top on different occasions. Brown set a new personal best (19.95-seconds) in his bread and butter 200-metre event in Switzerland, while De Grasse has run a sub 20-second race on multiple occasions for the first time since 2017. De Grasse is also coming off his fastest time (9.99-seconds) in the 100-metre dash in London, dipping under 10-seconds for the first time in two years. The 100-metre final at this year’s Canadian Championships may go down as one of the most memorable in recent history with both of these men in top form.
And speaking of an athlete who’s on top of their game, Toronto’s Gabriela DeBues-Stafford is arguably one of the hottest athletes heading into this year’s Championships. Breaking her fourth Canadian record this year, Stafford is reaping the rewards of making the jump to train in Glasgow, Scotland.
The 23-year-old is coming off an outstanding race in London, where she broke her latest Canadian record in the 15000-metres. Her time of 4:00.26 broke Lynn Williams’ (4:00.27) record that set in 1985. In Monaco, she clocked in at 4:17.87 in the mile, smashing the previous record set by Leah Pells (4:23.28) 23 years ago. DeBues-Stafford now holds the indoor and outdoor records for both the 5,000-metres and the mile, all set in 2019.
After taking the 2018 season off following the birth of her daughter, Melissa Bishop-Nriagu is set to regain her 800-metre title and her spot on the World Championships team.
At 30 years old, Bishop-Nriagu is the Canadian record holder in the 800-metres with a time of 1:57.01, and will make her return ready to reclaim the title that’s rightfully hers. This season, she sports a season’s best time of 2:01.10 to put her in second in the Canadian 800-metre rankings. She trails only 2018 Canadian Champion Lindsey Butterworth (2:00.31), while Jenna Westaway (2:01.80) and Madeleine Kelly (2:01.90), are hovering around the 2:01 mark, setting up a competitive race in Montreal.
Being the Selection Trials for the IAAF World Championships team, the results from the Canadian Championships will determine who will represent Canada in Doha, Qatar. Some hard decisions will be made, especially in events where Canada has depth in numbers.
“When you look at the fields, we have to look at the matchups within each event,” said Gilbert. “Athletes vying for spots on the relay teams, be it for Pan Ams or Worlds, the women’s 400-metres will be one of the hottest events of the summer. For the first year, we’ll see the mixed 4×400-metre relay contested at the World Championships, so that offers an opportunity for the men, who otherwise would not be on the national team, an opportunity to be a part of something special.
The women’s 400-metre pool is one of Canada’s deepest fields. Going into these Canadian Track & Field Championships, 13 athletes have met the Pan American Games standard, with three athletes (Kyra Constantine, Madeline Price and Natassha McDonald) already under the IAAF World Championships standard of 51.80 seconds.
Another event to look out for will be the men’s T53/54 1,500-metre race that will feature some of the best athletes in the world. Commonwealth Games gold medallist Alexandre Dupont will be joined on the start line by Joshua Cassidy and Tristan Smyth, with a difficult decision looming for the coaching staff
“We have four guys battling for three spots, including World and Canadian record holder Brent Lakatos,” said Carla Nicholls, Athletics Canada’s Para Performance Lead. “In our para team right now, we have so many classifications, but not a lot of depth, and these men in the 1,500- and 5,000-metres will be going for three spots at the World Championships.”
The para-athletes will look to showcase their talents at Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard, and those in attendance will experience some of the best in the world. “We have a handful of athletes in the top three in the world right now,” said Nicholls. “For the audience to see the new diversity that we have within our para program it will be very exciting with the World Championships right around the corner.”
One of those athletes is Nathan Riech. The 24-year-old is having another break-through season, topping his Canadian and World records in the 800-metres (1:52.95) and 1,500-metre (3:57.92) distances.
With those performances under his belt, Nicholls believes that the para-athletes will be determined to bring some of those record-breaking performances to Montreal. “The Canadian Championships are fully integrated, with Paralympic and Olympic athletes competing side-by-side. We look forward to seeing a full grandstand, and I know our entire gang will be excited to showcase what they can do.”
In the field, Canadian shot put record holder, Brittany Crew, will look to bounce back after her seventh-place finish at the 2019 Summer Universiade in Italy. In May, Crew broke her own shot put record throwing 18.69 metres in Germany, highlighting what has been an outstanding season for the 25 year-old. After three competitions within eight days, which saw Crew compete in Folksam, a last minute invitation to Lausanne Diamond League, and the Universiade, Crew will be determined to give it her all at the Canadian Championships after having time to recover. She will go head-to-head against fellow Canadian and training partner Sarah Mitton, who is coming off a gold medal performance from the same Summer Universiade where she threw 18.31 metres. Both already have the World Championship qualifying standard of 18 metres, with Crew already reaching the 2020 Olympic qualifying standard of 18.50 metres.
The B.C. duo of Michael Mason and Django Lovett will look to raise the bar in the men’s high jump, with only centimetres between their results this season. Both Mason and Lovett have shown consistency in outdoor competition, surpassing the World Championship standard of 2.30 metres, with clearances of 2.31 and 2.30 metres, respectively.
In the women’s pole vault, fan favourite Alysha Newman will take to the runway, as she looks to improve on her Canadian record of 4.77 metres, a mark she set in Germany just prior to the Championships. Newman improved on her previous record of 4.76 metres set in June at the Speed Inferno in Guelph.
Newman, 25, holds both the indoor (4.73 metres) and outdoor (4.77 metres) records in the women’s pole vault, and will be going for more as she is determined to jump five metres heading into the Olympic Games.
Back on the track after a thrilling finish at last year’s NACAC Championships that saw them finish one-two, Brandon McBride and Marco Arop are set to matchup once again in the men’s 800-metres in Montreal. McBride, who holds the Canadian record in this event at 1:43.20, is coming off a near Canadian record-breaking performance in Monaco in Diamond League action that saw him stop the clock at 1:43.83.
Arop is no pushover either. The 20-year-old broke the Canadian 800-metre record indoors in February with a time of 1:45.90, besting the previous record set by Gary Reed at 1:46.47.
In the distance races, Mohammad Ahmed is back in the spotlight, after breaking his own 5,000-metre Canadian record in June. He dipped under the 13-minute mark, clocking in at 12:58.16 to surpass his previous record of 13:01.74. Matched up against the 28-year-old Ahmed will be Justyn Knight. At only 23 years old, Knight is in his first full professional season after graduating from the Syracuse program last spring. He seems to be coming into his own this season, setting personal bests in the 5,000-metre (13:09.76), 3,000-metre (7:46.63) and five-kilometre (13:46) races, and is sure to make a splash in Montreal.
Steeplechaser Geneviève Lalonde will have the crowd on her side when she takes to the start line for the women’s 3,000-metre steeplechase. The 27-year-old from Moncton, N.B., who broke her own Canadian record earlier this year in Shanghai, will look to capture her third consecutive Canadian title.
The Canadian Track & Field Championships take place in Montreal from July 25-28 at Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard.
2019 Canadian Track & Field Championships highlights:
Thursday morning: 200-metre wheelchair finals (T32-34 & T51-54); discus ambulatory finals
Thursday evening (Distance Night): 400-metre wheelchair finals (all classes); 400-metre ambulatory finals (all classes); women’s 3,000-metre final (U20); 3,000-metre steeplechase finals; 5,000-metre wheelchair finals (all classes); 5,000-metre finals; long jump ambulatory finals
Friday morning: 1,500-metre wheelchair finals (all classes); 200-metre wheelchair finals (all classes); discus finals (U20); seated javelin finals
Friday evening: 100-metre wheelchair finals (all classes); women’s 3,000-metre steeplechase final (U20); 100-metre finals; women’s shot put final, women’s high jump final (U20); women’s long jump finals
Saturday morning: 800-metre ambulatory finals; 1,500-metre finals (U20)
Saturday evening: 800-metre wheelchair finals (all classes); 800-metre finals; 400-metre finals; 110-metre hurdle finals; women’s triple jump finals; women’s pole vault finals; men’s high jump finals
Sunday: 400-metre hurdle finals; 200-metre finals; 1,500-metre finals; 4×100 relay finals; women’s high jump final; men’s shot put final