TORONTO – Something is happening with the Canadian athletes on the Pan Am Games track – they’re winning, and in a big way.
Canadian athletes are making their mark in track events – a notable difference from previous Games. In 2011, Canada sent a threadbare track and field team to the Games in Mexico. They returned with four medals.
Fast forward to the Toronto Games, where – in just one day – Canadian track athletes more than doubled that total.
Oshawa, Ontario’s Matt Hughes won gold in the men’s 3,000-metre steeplechase, with Alex Genest, from Shawinigan, Que., taking the silver.
Mohammed Ahmed, from St. Catharines, Ont., won gold in the men’s 10,000 metres in 29:49.96.
On Wednesday evening, all eyes were on Markham, Ontario’s Andre De Grasse as he sprinted to gold in the men’s 100m. He won the finals with a time of 10.05 seconds.
De Grasse will also complete in the men’s 200m and 4x100m relay.
“Canadian runners are doing phenomenal things,” said running coach Bruce Raymer, who is also a Canadian marathon champion and former member of the national team.
Why the surge in success on the track?
One thing even the athletes themselves have cited is the general popularity of running.
New races and running clubs are popping up regularly. There’s an endless supply of running groups, “fun runs” involving beer, mud and paint, and races that throngs are willing to shell out cash to participate in.
In the last few years, Raymer has seen inquires about his coaching services double, from around three to four calls a week from potential clients, to eight or nine a week.
He’s seen increasing interest in half marathons in particular.
“Half marathons have grown in popularity so much, the half marathon is the new marathon,” he said.
“The marathon is so daunting, so time-consuming,” said Raymer. But the half marathon is still a major accomplishment, he added. “It still has the bad-ass word of marathon in the title.”
Running a half marathon means his clients still have time for their lives, their jobs, they can have a normal life.
“Running is so accessible,” added Raymer. You don’t need to go to a gym or court to participate — “you can do it anywhere in the world.”
Beyond the health benefits, another possible reason for the rise in popularity is that running is officially considered cool now. There’s the gear, the shoes, the apps – big business supports the trend of running as a ‘hip’ thing to do.
Success breeds success
Raymer also thinks seeing Canadian athletes achieve success contributes to the rise of the sport.
“We have a lot more depth than in the past few years, and that’s trickling down to younger, up-and-coming athletes,” he said.
Just a few years ago, the track community was worried of a decline in some women’s distance events, as fewer and fewer young women were choosing to compete. In 2009, the 10,000m was cancelled at the national track and field championships in Toronto, because too few women signed up to enter.
But after a race two years ago, things started to change. At the 2013 Toronto Waterfront Marathon, Canada’s Lanni Marchant broke Sylvia Ruegger’s 28-year marathon record. Another Canadian runner, Krista DuChene, came in under Ruegger’s record as well.
On Thursday, Marchant and Natasha Wodak will compete in the women’s 10,000m. Both are expected to compete in the event at the world championships.
With files from The Canadian Press