A reliable veteran and a rank outsider accentuated a heavy Island presence in the women’s 3,000-metre steeplechase Saturday in the Tokyo Olympics.
Victoria-resident Gen Lalonde, who made the final at Rio 2016 to become the first Canadian to do so in the women’s steeplechase, was across in a Canadian-record 9:22.64 in sapping 37 C conditions to place fourth in her qualifying race to advance to the 15-runner Olympic final on Wednesday. She trains at the Western Hub national training centre located at PISE on the Camosun College Interurban campus.
“The vibe in our Western Hub is really elevating. And also to be surrounded by sports people such as we are in Victoria – the rugby players and rowers — really elevates all the athletes,” said Lalonde. “We have shared goals and shared experiences and that really helps.”
About her race Saturday she said: “I ran my heart out and tried my best to get there without wasting too much energy [for] the final. I’m very satisfied with the training I’ve put in and preparation I’ve gotten for these Games. Once I stepped on the line I knew it was going to be something special. Props to my team and my coaches for getting me ready for this race.”
There are big hopes for the final.
“We were prepared for making the final and knew it was going to take a lifetime best to get there,” said Lalonde.
“I’m ready. I’ve done the training to be prepared for back to back races. I have two days to rest and get ready to run even faster in the final. ”
Meanwhile, Alycia Butterworth’s Olympic journey to Tokyo in the steeplechase began in Parkville on what she describes as “the worst cinder track anybody has ever seen – mostly dirt with grass growing through and rocks strewn about.” It led Saturday to the best track money can buy on the biggest stage.
Butterworth was 10th in her preliminary race in 9:34.25 and did not advance to the final to join Lalonde. But in many ways the Islander Butterworth represents the best among the Canadian athletes competing in Tokyo and exemplifies that elusive Olympic ideal that everybody talks about but so few realize in practice.
Butterworth has a career as a data scientist for TransLink and largely trained for, and is competing in the Olympics, on holiday time.
“It’s not been easy, for sure, as I’m not sponsored and am fully self-supported,” said the Ballenas Secondary graduate.
“You have to be able to afford things like physiotherapists and chiropractors at this level of sport.”
“So, I’m kind of in shock by it [being in Tokyo] and beyond excited to compete in the Olympics because it’s something you dream about your entire life. It’s pretty cool considering we had no real track in Parksville – another oddity it was 407 metres and not the regulation 400 — and I had to go to Nanaimo and Victoria [the latter] to run with UVic and high school athletes.”
Butterworth used those sessions to improve to the point of receiving an NCAA Div. 1 track scholarship with the University of Idaho Vandals.
“I received a free education and got to go and see and compete at places I otherwise never would have been to,” she said.
Not bad for a runner who trained in Parksville over a homemade steeplechase barrier. With no water pit, she simply jumped over the makeshift barrier onto grass.
In another quirk to Butterworth’s story is that she was injured last year and never would have become an Olympian if the Tokyo Games had not been postponed a year by the pandemic. She was one of the few athletes to have benefited by the delay.
“If the Olympics were in 2020 as planned, I never would have had the chance to represent Canada because of injuries,” she said.
As for that old Parksville track Butterworth trained on, a fundraising effort, including on GoFundMe, is now underway to replace it with a new $1.5-million Oceanside Community Track.
Mike Mason of Nanoose Bay, a high jumper in his fourth Olympics at Tokyo, also came out of that old Parksville facility and is the goodwill ambassador for the efforts to replace it.
“It’s a small but mighty show in the Tokyo Olympics with two track and field athletes from Parksville,” said Butterworth.
Also in the Tokyo Olympics is a third Ballenas Secondary graduate from Parksville as Kai Langerfeld was an agonizing fourth in men’s rowing. A fourth competitor will be Parksville swimmer Nicholas Bennett in the upcoming Tokyo Paralympics this month.
They are among the more than 75 Island or Island-based athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics, and later, Tokyo Paralympics.