Island athletes Jay Lamoureux, Gen Lalonde and Celina Toth cycled, ran and dove to fifth, 11th and 23rd place finishes, respectively, in the Tokyo Games on Wednesday. All will be able to tell their grandchildren they are Olympians.
How tough were their events? Lamoureux and Lalonde set Canadian records, lowering the standards they established in preliminary rounds, but that wasn’t nearly enough for the podium.
“Being able to run my best, considering everything that’s going on in the world, I’m just so lucky to be able to represent my country here and run two national records back-to-back,” said Victoria-resident Lalonde, following her 11th place in the women’s 3,000-metre steeplechase at Olympic Stadium.
Lamoureux of Victoria and his Canadian cycling men’s team pursuit mates Derek Gee, Michael Foley and Vincent de Haitre also lowered the national record (3:46.324) for the second consecutive time in the Games by besting Germany in the fifth-sixth place race-off in the Izu Velodrome.
“Yesterday we were super happy with our time and we didn’t think we had any chance of surpassing it again,” said Foley.
“We were cracking hard at the end and just to see the time was even better was crazy.”
Lamoureux came out of Oak Bay High, where he ran cross-country and played in the jazz band, to take up track cycling at the 1994 Commonwealth Games velodrome in Colwood, and now has helped Canada to its best Olympic showing in men’s team pursuit in nearly nine decades since Victoria riders Lew Rush and Glen Robbins led Canada to fourth place in 1932 at Los Angeles.
Italy beat Denmark in the Tokyo final and set the world record of 3:42.032 in winning the gold medal in the event for the first time since 1960 in Rome and medalling for the first time since 1968 in Mexico. Great Britain and Australia, both involved in crashes that dashed their hopes in Tokyo, have dominated the event in recent Olympics. So it won’t get any easier for Lamoureux and Canada next year at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games despite being top-five in the world.
Lalonde, meanwhile, bettered her own Canadian record, set Sunday in the preliminary round, by running and jumping for a 9:22.40 clocking in the women’s steeplechase final.
“Anytime I have the chance to race the best in the world, it’s an incredible opportunity and you just have to take it,” said Lalonde, who trains at the Western Hub national middle-distance centre located at PISE on the Camosun College Interurban campus.
Peruth Chemutai became the first female Olympic gold medallist from Uganda in any sport by crossing first in 9:01.45 with Courtney Frerichs of the U.S. the silver medallist in 9:04.79 and Hyvin Kiyeng of Kenya the bronze medallist in 9:05.39.
“I’ve never run that fast ever,” said Lalonde.
“To be able to run that two times in a row, I’m just so happy. I bumped up a few spots from the last Olympics [16th at Rio 2016] so I’m very satisfied with that.”
The 29-year-old Toth, meanwhile, outlasted her detractors by becoming the oldest Canadian diver to make an Olympic debut.
“It’s been a very long journey for me,” said the Victoria Boardworks Club veteran.
“I was told [by others outside Boardworks] you’re not the best and not good enough but I never let those things shape me,” said the University of Victoria psychology graduate.
“I’ve been persistent. I never gave up.”
A botched opening dive cost Toth dearly in the preliminary round in Tokyo and she was 30th in the 30-diver field after the first of five rounds. As befitting a battler, she fought back to 23rd place but it wasn’t enough in the unforgiving field as the top-18, including Canadian favourite Meaghan Benfeito at fifth, advanced to the semifinals.
“I’m so happy to be an Olympian,” said Toth.
No one can ever take that away from her.