For most track and field athletes, fame and fortune isn’t a likely outcome. Even for the ones who achieve relative success — placing well in international competitions, qualifying for the Olympics — sponsorships are likely to cover equipment costs and some travel expenses, but that’s it.
Compared to the Stanley Cup or the Superbowl, making it to the Olympics is important for solely non-monetary reasons. It justifies the time spent training, the sacrifices of family members and the careers put on hold.
The International Olympic Committee sets standards for each event which athletes had to meet to qualify for London. To decide which athletes to send, most countries hold trials sometime during the year leading up to the games. Canada’s track and field trials were held in Calgary June 27–30. With the track and field events in London more than halfway finished, the narratives from June until now are being written.
At the trials there were some broken hearts. The University of Calgary’s Sam Effah was hoping to qualify for the 100-metre sprint and the 4 x 100-metre relay, but failed to qualify with a disappointing last place finish.
“It’s unfortunate but I like to come out with no excuses,” he said. “I’ve been training for this and sometimes you just don’t always get what you want.”
Meanwhile, Justyn Warner made both the 100m and 4 x 100m team, with his brother Ian also qualifying for the 4 x 100m. On August 5 Justyn set a personal best of 10.09 seconds, but it wasn’t enough to qualify for the finals. With the relay still to come in London, Justyn is also looking forward to future teams.
“We’re going to have a good group these next four years, and by the time 2016 rolls around we’re going to have a good squad,” said Warner. “There are a lot of people out here [competing] — more than there was last year — and that’s a good thing. We need this for our sport,” he said.
The two most exciting medal opportunities for Canada’s track and field team were the men’s shot put and women’s 100m hurdles. In the shot put, Dylan Armstrong of Kamloops easily qualified at the trials. Armstrong was clear about his goal going into London: “I’d like to throw over 22 metres. That’s always the goal and I can definitely do that,” he said. Unfortunately, while he hoped to medal in London he finished in fifth with a best throw of 20.93 metres.
The women’s 100m hurdles was the most anticipated of the trials. All six women competing had made the qualifying standard, so the pressure was high. The biggest surprise at the trials was heptathlete Jessica Zelinka winning the event after Perdita Felicien, the Canadian record holder and a favourite for London, was disqualified after a false start.
Zelinka and Phylicia George ended up qualifying for the 100m hurdle final in London with George placing sixth and Zelinka placing seventh. Two Canadians in the top-10 will surely be viewed as a success for Canadian athletics.
As surprises go, one of the most spectacular stories of the last year has been distance runner Cameron Levins. Nearly unheard of one year ago, racing for Southern Utah University last season Levins won the Division 1 NCAA 5,000 and 10,000 metre titles.
In the 10,000m on Aug. 4 Levins placed the highest a Canadian has since 1912. He was in the lead group until the last lap, finishing 11th place. Athletics Canada coach Wynn Gmitroski said “I didn’t really know if I would ever see a Canadian run like this, especially in the 10K, in my lifetime of coaching.” At just 23 years old and with a new Nike sponsorship, Levins still has the 5,000m this week and a long career to look forward to.