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Montcalm earns Olympic spot at track & field trials in Edmonton

Noelle Montcalm hurdles her way to a win ahead of Chanice Chase in the senior women's 400m hurdle final at the Canadian Track and Field Championships and Selection Trials for the 2016 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, in Edmonton, Alta., on Friday, July 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dan Riedlhuber

After months of chasing Canada’s Olympic standard, it all boiled down to just 56 seconds. One perfect lap over 10 hurdles.

Faced with one final shot at the Olympics, Noelle Montcalm laid down the perfect race when it counted most on Friday, both winning the women’s 400-metre hurdles and dipping below the qualifying standard, clinching her spot on Canada’s Rio-bound track and field team.

“That number is always there, everyone is in the sport for the Olympics, so you know the number you have to hit,” Montcalm said. “Being two hundredths (of a second) off the standard (in Thursday’s heats), I was pretty confident I could do it again.

“Thankfully did at the right time, and I’m super thankful for that.”

Montcalm’s magic number was 56.20 seconds. The 28-year-old from Windsor, Ont., made it look easy Friday, crossing in 55.83 seconds to win. And when her time was announced over the public address system, a cheer erupted in a small section of the grandstand at Foote Field.

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Montcalm was bent over, hands on knees, overcome by fatigue. But she heard the cheers.

“I think I know who it was,” she said with a wide grin. “My boyfriend’s here, and my mom, and my sister, who lives in the Yukon, she came down to watch me with a niece I haven’t seen in a year.”

The timing was perfect for Montcalm — 30 minutes later, a thunderstorm rolled in that sent athletes and fans fleeing for cover.

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Athletes must achieve the Olympic qualifying standard and finish top two at this week’s trials to earn a guaranteed spot on the team. Athletics Canada has a discretionary third pick in each event, granted the athlete has the standard.

Three women in Friday’s 400-hurdles race went in with the standard. Montcalm wasn’t one of them.

Sage Watson of Medicine Hat, Alta., and Chanice Chase of Ajax, Ont., were second and third, respectively, earning their spots.

Liz Gleadle of Vancouver is also heading to Rio after winning the women’s javelin, while Erin Teschuk of Winnipeg, Maria Bernard of Calgary and Genevieve Lalonde of Moncton, N.B., took to the top three spots in the women’s 3,000-metre steeplechase to book their tickets to Brazil.

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The Olympics come after a tough few years for Montcalm, who paused a couple of times during her post-race interviews to say “I’m just overcome right now.”

Montcalm’s father Paul died in 2011 at just 45. Her uncle Claude died the same year.

“My dad and my uncle were huge supporters of my career and my goals, and I know they’re looking down super excited for me today,” she said. “This is especially for them.”

Montcalm said in the months after their deaths she found solace in the daily routine and grind of her workouts.

“It was tough, but the track is kind of my home away from home, so it was really a comfort to come from the track,” she said. “It was a tough time, but the track was where I needed to be, and where I had support. They really helped me through it.”

She ran for Canada at the 2013 world championships and Commonwealth Games a year later. But a lingering knee injury kept her off last summer’s national teams for both the Pan Am Games and world championships.

Friday’s race had its share of heartbreak as well. Sarah Wells of Toronto, who’s been sidelined with a torn hamstring, had the Olympic standard under her belt, but wound up fourth. And moments after the race, Wells couldn’t hold back the tears.

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“It’s really disappointing because I know I’m better than that,” Wells said. “You wait four years for this opportunity, so it’s pretty heartbreaking. Having the fastest qualifier last year and being the champion last year, then coming fourth and missing the standard, all because of an injury. . . it’s just heartbreaking.

“This is the sport, right? Highest of highs and lowest of lows.”

Teschuk, from Winnipeg, won a thrilling steeplechase race in which six women went in with the Olympic standard. She took the lead on the bell lap to win.

“It hasn’t even really sunk in yet,” Teschuk said. “I feel like it’s going to hit me maybe in an hour or something, when it hits my legs too.”

Canada enjoys a deep field in women’s steeplechase, which made for dramatic race.

“It’s pressure, but I think it’s a really positive thing,” Teschuk said. “Having steeplechase become more and more competitive. . . all of Canada’s middle-distance races are becoming so competitive — all the events really — and it’s a really positive thing because everyone is pushing each other to do better.”

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