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‘Something special happening’ in Canadian track and field ahead of July’s world championships

Coming off arguably their best collective performance ever at an Olympics having won six medals in Tokyo and finishing fifth out of 70 countries on the placing table, Canadian track and field athletes are now setting their sights on the upcoming athletics season.

It begins in earnest on Friday with the opening Diamond League meet in Doha, and peaks with the world athletic championships July 15-24 in Portland, Ore.

“I think Canadian athletics fans, Canadian sports fans, should be excited going into this year. I think the Olympics in Tokyo were amazing for Canadian track and field,” said David Moorcroft, a former distance runner and now long-time track and field analyst with CBC Sports. He competed in two Olympics for Great Britain.

“There’s confidence in Canadian athletics at the moment. And that’s a great thing. “It hasn’t always been there. It wasn’t all that long ago that medals were few and far between.

“There’s something special happening at the moment.”

Canada matched its medal haul from Rio, bringing home six medals from the Tokyo Games. The podium performances were one thing, but there were also 15 top-eight placings by Canadian athletes.

Canadians Andre de Grasse and Damian Warner were crowned Olympics champions in two of the marquee events of the Games — De Grasse in the men’s 200-metre and Warner the decathlon. 

London, Ont.’s Damian Warner earned the unofficial title of world’s greatest athlete with his gold-medal performance in the decathlon at the Tokyo Olympics. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Depth of talent

Along with a silver in the 4x100m relay and a bronze in the 100m, De Grasse equalled his medal total from his Olympic debut in Rio. The 27-year-old from Scarborough has won a medal in every race he’s competed at the Olympics. 

“He’s competed in six Olympic finals and has won a medal in every one of them,” Moorcroft said. “The vast majority of athletes get one or two medals at the most. And they have to earn their stripes by competing and getting knocked out. But in his first Games he came back with three medals and did it again in Tokyo.

“My goodness, when it comes to a championship he knows how to get it right.”

De Grasse will be competing in the first Diamond League event of the season on Friday, along with fellow sprinters Aaron Brown and Jerome Blake. The three of them, with Brendon Rodney, won silver in the 4x100m relay in Tokyo. 

The four sprinters hold the four fastest times in the 200m in Canadian history with De Grasse leading the way in a time of 19.62.

WATCH | Brown wins his 200-metre season opener in 20.05 seconds:

Aaron Brown closes strong to win 200m in Nairobi

The Canadian sprinter edged American Kyree King to take top spot at the World Athletics Continental Tour stop in Kenya. 2:45

But it’s not just one or two athletes carrying the load for Canada anymore. Moorcroft says there is a depth of talent across the board in Canadian athletics you don’t often see.

“It’s a wonderful story that’s unfolding,” he said. “Winter sports are so important in Canada and the country does so well at the Winter Games, but it’s lovely now that the summer sports are having their moment in the sun and celebrating incredible success.”

Moorcroft points to the evening in Tokyo when the Canadian women’s soccer team won gold and Mo Ahmed ran to silver in the 5000m. These are two events that are globally recognized and respected and people around the world are taking note that athletes from Canada have arrived. 

“There were two global medals that evening of the highest, highest calibre. I hope Canada felt incredibly proud that day. But it’s about keeping that momentum going,” he said.

With a jam-packed Diamond League schedule looming and a world championship in July, followed by the Commonwealth Games in early August, Moorcroft says schedule and training management will be crucial this year for Canadian athletes.

Canada’s Mohammed Ahmed poses with his silver medal from the men’s 5,000m at the Tokyo Games. (Martin Meissner/The Associated Press)

World championships in July

He adds that Athletics Canada is creating an atmosphere of delivering under pressure in the biggest moments. 

“The ability to peak at a championship is crucial. You can have athletes do wonderfully well at the beginning of the season but for whatever reason fall apart at the championships. That seems to have changed for Canada,” Moorcroft said. 

Also competing for Canada on Friday in Doha are Django Lovett in high jump and Marco Arop in the men’s 800m.

Arop has been on a tear the past couple of seasons but finished a disappointing 14th in Tokyo. Moorcroft is expecting big things from the 23-year-old this season.

“My goodness, what a talent he is. Very brave. He’s got the talent,” Moorcroft said. 

Moorcroft said while he’ll be paying close attention to times and distances posted by the Canadian athletes early in the season, he doesn’t always put too much emphasis on what happens in May and June. 

With two major meets this summer, Moorcroft says thinking about the season in two chunks will serve the athletes well so they are able to rise up on the big stage. 

“I’m always a little worried about performers competing really well in May or June. They have to hold it together for the world championships and the Commonwealth Games,” he said. “It isn’t a straight line from the beginning of the season to the end. There’s a peak, then you come back down a bit off that peak and then build again.

“In track and field the margin between failure and success is so narrow. And the margin between being your absolute best on any given day and falling off the peak is so delicate.”

But above all, Moorcroft says keeping the momentum from Tokyo going into this season and leading into Paris 2024 is going to be key for the program. 

“It’s important to keep that energy going and it’s important to keep the success going,” he said.

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