In Canadian athletics, everyday is a different journey and everyday is a new chapter.
Every year, Canadian athletics fans have the opportunity to see Canadians race on the World stage (in some way) and battle it our in National Championships which occur from British Columbia to Manitoba to Ontario.
As we round out 2019, I thought it would be worth it to recap the year that was in Canadian athletics and cover my top five moments. I should preface this list by saying that it was very difficult to pick five, let alone rank them, so bear with me. One bias I clearly have is towards the distance races, so I apologize in advance to the sprinters.
Honourable mentions: Evan Dunfee‘s third place at the World Championships in Doha and Andre DeGrasse’s two medals at Doha were a comeback to behold. Natasha Wodak and Rachel Cliff went first and third at the Pan American Games in Lima after spectacular teamwork. Malandi Elmore surpirsed Canadian fans in Houston. Ben Flanagan winning the innovative Pacific Distance Carnival was a big accomplishment for both athlete and event organizer. Gen Lalonde finishing inside the top 20 at the World Cross Country Championships and setting a Steeplechase Canadian record. And finally, Lyndsay Tessier finishing 9th the World Championships in the marathon was quite a feat, and currently has her penciled into the Canadian Olympic team for the distance.
Here are my top 5.
- Dylan Wykes and Natasha Wodak win the Canadian 10K titles
As it has for the last few years, Ottawa hosted the Canadian 10K Championships and this year promised to be some of the best Canadian racing yet. On the women’s side, Malandi Elmore, Emily Setlack and Natasha Wodak were set for battle, where as on the men’s side, Evan Esselink, Dylan Wykes and Justin Kent led the men’s field.
The two races could not have been more different. Wodak broke away early, running with the East Africans for the first half. As the large lead pack began to dissolve later in the race, Wodak began picking them of one at a time, finishing 8th overall and first Canadian. The Canadian title was the first Canadian 10K title Wodak has won after losing out to Lanni Marchant and Rachel Cliff in recent years. Following the race, Wodak was ecstatic with her victory and it showed in her finish line quote: “I am so happy … after coming second four times in a row.” Wodak continued to say that “I went out with the Africans and believed I belonged out there and I believed I could race with the rest of the world.”
The men’s race played out a little differently. Lead by Wykes, the Canadian men’s pack decided not to go out with the East Africans. Wykes, Kent, and Balestrini ran together for the majority of race with Wykes putting in a big surge in the final kilometres to take the victory. 2019 was the first time Wykes has competed in the 10K Championships since 2014. In his post race interview Wykes said “I didn’t expect at this point in my life that this is something that I’d still be doing. It’s nice to be competing.”
- Dayna Pidhoresky and Trevor Hofbauer Qualify for Tokyo
After they both had tough times in 2019, Dayna Pidhoresky and Trevor Hofbauer rallied to win the Canadian Marathon Championships and book their tickets to Tokyo 2020.
Dayna Pidhoresky ran a brave and amazing race at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon where she quickly stormed ahead of the other Canadian contenders and just shy of the East African fields. At first glace, those I was watching the race with were skeptical; her pace was far inside of her personal best, but she looked strong and was tucked in behind her pacers. Through the second half, Pidhoresky was caught and no-women’s land and forced to battle; her paced suffered, but she pushed on and achieved the Olympic standard. With her National Championship win, Pidhoresky guaranteed her spot at the Tokyo Olympics. What is most impressive about her victory? Pidhoresky had admitted on her social media to personal and professional struggles throughout 2019 that included losing love for the sport of running. I think it is safe to say that the Olympian in waiting will not be going away anytime soon.
Trevor Hofbauer had a similar journey to Dayna Pidhoresky through 2018 and 2019. First, Hofbauer made the move back to Calgary after training in Guelph and Speed River. He also battled injuries, dropped out of races and changed how he trained. In the spring, Hofbauer ran a 2:16 in Hamburg – a personal best but far from his potential. The Canadian Championships however, would be a very different story.
As I sat down to watch the coverage, it was a surprise to me to see Hofbauer run in the lead group. Cam Levins had shown himself to be the best Canadian marathoner in the field and I thought 2:09 would be well out of Hofbauer’s range. Still he sat in the group and actually looked the most comfortable. In the end, Esselink dropped from the group at about 25K and Levins followed at about 30K. Instead of a slow down, Hofbauer actually accelerated, running his half marathon personal best in the second half of the race. Hofbauer only just missed the Canadian Record.
- Rachel Cliff – Canadian Record
Less reported then the races that occurred in Canada, Rachel Cliff set the Canadian record for the marathon in early 2019. Running in the Nagoya Women’s Marathon, which is a women-only race, Cliff finished 15th and shattered the Canadian record, taking two minutes off her personal best and over a minute off the Canadian record to run 2:28.
Following her race, Cliff told Doug Harrison of CBC Sports that it was “empowering to run a marathon only against women.” Her coach went on to say that “Rachel was made to [run the marathon.]”
In his article about Cliff, Harrison states: “three pacers led a group of eight to 10 runners, including Cliff, through 30 km of the 42.2 km race at a 2:25 pace, allowing the Canadian ‘to turn my mind off’ and relax for the first half of the race.”
Cliff, a Mile2marathon athlete, has not yet committed to running either the 10,000 or the marathon in Tokyo 2020, but her experience on Japanese roads seems to show she is a perfect candidate for the marathon. Cliff also set the Canadian women’s half marathon record in 2019, running a two second personal best.
- Moh Ahmed wins bronze over 5,000
Mohammed Ahmed had a 2019 to remember. Not only did he break the Canadian record over 5,000M, becoming the first Canadian to run under 13 minutes, but he also broke the 10,000M record at the World Championships.
Despite the fast times, his pinnacle achievement of 2019 was the bronze medal in the men’s 5,000M at the World Championships. The race which became the scene of Ahmed’s accomplishment also doubled as, perhaps, the best race of the entire World Championships calendar.
Ahmed ran this race differently than his fifth place at the Rio Olympics. This time, Ahmed went to the lead late in the game and took the bull by the horns as opposed to following along. With two laps to go, he battled with Jakob Ingerbritsen for position, was clipped and almost fell, but still he battled on.
Although he was passed by the two Ethiopians, Ahmed battled back from fifth with 200M to go to grab the Bronze medal, a first for Canada over the distance.
This year cemented Ahmed as one of the best Canadian distance runners, ever.
- Gabriela Debues-Stafford
Although many Canadian athletes had amazing years, none compared to the year of Gabriella Debues-Stafford. Unlike the other events and athletes above, I cannot just pick one accomplishment from her 2019 resume.
Debues-Stafford moved from Toronto to Scotland and at the end of 2018 to train with Laura Muir, Europe’s best middle distance runner. Results followed right away, including eight Canadian records over six events this year.
Perhaps the most impressive was her race at the World Championships in Doha, where Stafford ran to a 3:56 1500M which was a three second Canadian record.
Run the North complied the full list of records she broke in 2019:
- Indoor 5,000m, 14:57.45 — Jan. 4, Glasgow
- Indoor mile, 4:24.80 — Jan. 26, Boston
- Outdoor mile, 4:17.87 — July 12, Monaco
- Outdoor 1,500m, 4:00.26 — July 20, London
- Outdoor 1,500m again, 3:59.59 — Aug. 29, Zurich
- Outdoor 5,000m, 14:44.12 — Sept. 6, Brussels
- Outdoor 1,500m again, 3:56.12 — Oct. 5, Doha
Her achievements this year are difficult to put into words. They are simply, extraordinary.
With her range, from the 1,500M to the 5,000M don’t be surprised if Debues-Stafford walks away with some medals in Tokyo.
Thanks for reading!
I invite you to join the conversation in the comments or by following me on Twitter!