Track has high and low hurdles, but nothing has matched the metaphorical pandemic hurdle the sport has faced. It has resulted in less than half of the 60 expected Canadian spots filled so far for the Tokyo Olympics.
Athletics Canada knew something needed to be done, so Victoria will be part a nine-meet national track and field series to help athletes achieve qualifying times for the Tokyo Games.
“It’s really exciting that we will have high-level qualifying opportunities in our own country,” said running star Melissa Bishop, who has been training on the Island over the winter.
The Victoria Track Classic will take place June 9 at Centennial Stadium. The other B.C. events are the Harry Jerome Classic on June 12 with the track events at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby and jumps and javelin at UBC, and the Kamloops Throws Festival for the circle throws on June 5.
The series begins May 21 in Ottawa followed by meets in Toronto, Windsor, Ont., Guelph, Ont., Montreal and Calgary through June 29.
“With more than half of our national team athletes based in Canada, and spots on Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic teams on the line, we felt it was our responsibility to offer a series of quality domestic competitions,” said Simon Nathan, Athletics Canada’s high performance director, in a statement.
“Our athletes, including medal hopefuls, were facing a significant challenge knowing where to compete without crossing the border to the United States or boarding a flight to compete internationally – and having to quarantine upon arrival and return. We are thankful that our provincial branches, clubs and some of Canada’s most experienced meet directors stepped up to offer a great series of meetings, to provide our athletes with high-quality competition options right here in Canada.”
Veteran organizer Keith Butler is the meet director for the Victoria Track Classic.
“More races means more qualifying chances for our athletes and these Canadian meets are ranked pretty high [on the international rankings scale for track meets],” said Bishop, 2015 world championship silver medallist in the 800 metres and fourth place in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Bishop broke Victoria runner Diane Cummins’ Canadian women’s 800-metre record, which stood for 14 years, by going 1:57.52 in 2015 and improving that to 1:57.01 in 2017. But that doesn’t count for Tokyo. Bishop’s fastest time over the past year is 2:00.98 from February 2020 and that was run indoors in Boston.
“I have to get the qualifying standard for Tokyo [1:59.50],” she said.
The announcement of the Canadian series doesn’t preclude national-team level athletes leaving the country in pursuit of qualifying standards. Bishop will be among them but will also contest a portion of the Canadian series.
“There are more races in the U.S., and in warmer locales, and I am planning on racing those,” said Bishop, who hails from Ontario.
“I will also be taking advantage of the Canadian series, and will race in the Victoria and Harry Jerome meets, after returning to Canada and quarantining for two weeks.”
There are also the previously-set and separate national Olympic trials, June 24 to 27, in Montreal.