Heading onto the last lap, it looked improbable. After a quick start, the field had slowed to what many commentators would call a jog. Four athletes were cued up on the heels of Genzebe Dibaba. In the group was Sifan Hassan, Konstanze Klosterhalfen, Canadian Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, and American superstar, Jenny Simpson. At the bell, the pace rose. Incrementally athletes begin the fall of the pack. Then, as they rounded the final turn, Hassan found a new gear. She drove by the others with remarkable speed. Klosterhalfen tried to follow, but simply did not have the legs. Dibaba was spent, fading quickly into the field. But DeDues-Stafford charged after the others with remarkable turnover. In the end, Hassan crossed the line in 3:57 – a remarkable time. Klosterhalfen came in soon after. But right on her heels was the Canadian, Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, crossing the line in 3:59.59: a new Canadian record. Her last lap clocked in, according to my watch, at about 59.7 seconds.
Setting Canadian records is nothing new for DeBues-Stafford. She is, after all, in the middle of a breakout year. Her name has been the focus of many Canadian athletics fans since 2019 indoors and the best part is she is showing no signs of slowing down.
DeBues-Stafford is a graduate of the University of Toronto with a major in psychology and was born in London, ON. According to the UofT website, she was the 2012 OFSAA Senior girls champion and won gold and silver respectively at OFSAA track for the 3,000 and 1,500. As a Varsity Blues athlete, DeBues-Stafford continued to excel, winning OUAs in the 1500 in 2014, 2016 and 2017 as well as winning U Sports out-right in 2016 and 2017. She is also a 2016 Rio Olympian (no biggie).
Last year, DeBues-Stafford changed training camps. After getting married, she left Toronto and moved to Scotland to train with one of the best 1,500m runners in the world – Laura Muir. The coach of the group is Andy Young.
I titled this article “The Year of Gabriela DeBues Stafford.” Why? Because the new track sensation has set Canadian Records over FIVE different distances this year. On January 4th she ran 14:57 for 5,000m indoors, then that same month, she ran 4:24 for the mile. Skip ahead to May and DeBues-Stafford continued to roll. She ran 14:51 for 5,000m in Stockholm then ran a mile in 4:17 in Monaco. Finally, after so many close calls, she cracked 4 minutes for the 1500, running 3:59.59. Her move to Scotland obviously paid off.
Her reaction to breaking 4 minutes on twitter was emotional and well deserved:
Why the sudden success? DeBues-Stafford told Doug Harrison of CBC Sports that she credits the results, in part, to a change in attitude: “Last year, my race nerves were out of control and taking away from the enjoyment of running. … I was lost and unclear about what the future held for me, but I have recommitted myself to the sport and training seriously at a high level. I’m also not as timid making moves [in a race] and not second-guessing.”
Next up for DeBues-Stafford is the Brussels Diamond League Final where she will toe the line in the 5000m. Again, speaking with CBC Sports, she noted that the 5,000 was the ultimate goal entering this season and she hoped to break the Canadian record (which she did on her first attempt). She closed by saying: “I’m fit to run a good 5,000.”
Canada just announced its line up for the World Championships this September in Doha. DeBues-Stafford will go in both the 1500 and the 5000.
I think DeBues-Stafford does have a good chance at a medal in the 1500. As a 5,000m runner, the multiple rounds of competition (heats, semis and final) will be in her favour and may help to subdue the finishing kick of those around her. Having a reduced pack of East African contenders will also be in her favour as each country can only send three athletes to the Championships.
In the end, it comes down the pace of the race. If the final begins at a leisurely pace, the 800m specialists will capitalize on the opportunity over the last lap. If the pace is kept honest however, I think Debues-Stafford has a chance, especially with Laura Muir coming off injury and Genzebe Dibaba not looking like her former self.
In the 5,000, things will be tougher. Although she is a great 5,000 runner, the likes of Helen Obiri (Ken) and Almaz Ayana (Eth) plus the rest of East Africa will certainly make the challenge difficult. I still expect the Canadian contingent to be competitive in this race, but it could be difficult if the pace is taken out hard.
Despite what happens at Worlds, it is clear that this has been the year of Gabriela Debues-Stafford. I look forward to watching her in the final couple of races of the season before we enter an Olympic year.
Her outdoor personal bests:
|400 Metres||61.09||Toronto (CAN)||28 MAY 2013|
|800 Metres||2:02.48||Toronto (CAN)||29 JUN 2017|
|1500 Metres||3:59.59||Canadian Record||Zürich (SUI)||29 AUG 2019|
|One Mile||4:17.87||Canadian Record||Stade Louis II, Monaco (MON)||12 JUL 2019|
|3000 Metres||8:45.67||Olympic Stadium, London (GBR)||21 JUL 2018|
|5000 Metres||14:51.59||Canadian Record||Olympiastadion, Stockholm (SWE)||30 MAY 2019|