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Centennial Stadium track meet points to Tokyo

It was a prelude to the podium as Liam Stanley and Nate Riech raced Friday night at Centennial Stadium.

It was a prelude to the podium as Liam Stanley and Nate Riech raced Friday night at Centennial Stadium. The Island-based runners are expected to battle for the 1,500 metres T37/T38 gold medal next summer at Japan National Stadium in the 2020 Plus One Tokyo Paralympics.

Stanley and Riech, running in separate events, won their races in the first track meet held on the Island since March. Stanley set the world record (15:54.5) in the 5,000 metres T38 in doing so. The two have a great rivalry as Riech won gold and Stanley was fifth in the 1,500 metres T37/T38 at the 2019 IAAF world para track and field championships in Dubai. Riech won gold and Stanley silver at the 2019 Para Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru.

Stanley was silver medallist in the 1,500 at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, with Riech blossoming since then. Riech was hit on the head by a golf ball at age 10 in Arizona and suffered a brain injury that affected the left side of his body with paralysis. Riech, who raced against able-bodied athletes during his NCAA career at South Alabama, is a dual citizen — dad Todd Riech competed for the U.S. in javelin at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and mom Ardin Tucker in pole vault for Canada at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games.

Stanley, who trains with the Western Hub and also two-time Olympic marathoner Bruce Deacon’s club, was an all-rounder who starred at Glenlyon Norfolk School in able-bodied soccer, basketball and track and led GNS to two Colonist Cup high school soccer championship game appearances and three B.C. Single-A titles. Stanley was two-time Canadian para-soccer player of the year. Canada failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Paralympics in soccer, so Stanley turned to track and won silver in Brazil.

The Centennial Stadium meet featured athletes from the Athletics Canada Western Hub training centre based at PISE, who train as a cohort.

“It gave our group an opportunity to run fast in competition after 10 months,” said Western Hub manager Rosie Kirkpatrick. “We are following all the guidelines.”

High-performance athletes who have been identified to a targeted athlete list with Canadian Sport Institute Pacific by their respective provincial or national sport organizations are exempt from the B.C. health order that currently bars sports competition for athletes 19-and-over to Jan. 8. The exemption basically covers athletes training for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Victoria, Whistler and the Richmond Oval.

It also covers national team development athletes.

“B.C.-based travel and training may occur without requirements for physical distance,” reads the exemption stipulation for those athletes.

The Athletics Canada Western Hub, supported by 94 Forward, includes 800-metre runners Laurence Cote, Vaughn Taylor and Olivia Romaniw, 1,500-metre runner Mariah Kelly and steeplechasers Gen Lalonde, Erin Teschuk and Kate Ayers who will be vying for the Tokyo Games through the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic track and field trials June 24-27 in Montreal.

Field athletes included in the Western Hub are Lambrick Park Secondary-graduate hammer thrower Adam Keenan, fourth in the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, and Canadian women’s discus champion Agnes Esser of Mill Bay, the Frances Kelsey Secondary graduate and a three-time all-American in the NCAA Big Ten for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.

The group aiming for the Tokyo Paralympics includes Riech, Stanley, Michael Barber, Zach Gingras, Thomas ­Normandeau, Tristan Smyth, David Johnson and Johnson’s guide Adam Paul-Morris.

Most of Canada’s top middle-distance runners will be in Victoria training for Tokyo at the Western Hub in an extended camp beginning in March, including Melissa Bishop, 2015 world championship silver medallist and fourth at the 2016 Rio Olympics in the women’s 800 metres.

“We are feeling the Tokyo Games are going to work,” said Kirkpatrick, a New Zealander who took over as manager in February, just before the pandemic hit. “The Western Hub has amazing facilities at PISE, and Victoria the best weather in the country, to help get Canada’s middle-distance and endurance runners there [Tokyo].”

The Athletics Canada Eastern Hub, featuring sprinters and field athletes, is in Toronto.

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