Alycia Butterworth
Photo: provided.

The women’s 3,000m steeplechase is shaping up to be one of the most competitive events in Canadian running as two more athletes hit the Olympic qualifying standard on June 12 at the Portland Track Festival in Oregon. Among the Rio hopefuls is Alycia Butterworth who ran 27 seconds faster than she ever has before thanks to a 9:41.26 performance on Sunday. That puts her in the mix for the Olympic squad.

“I had good improvements in the 800m and 1,500m this year and I knew I had done the training to run standard [9:45], I just needed to execute in a race,” says Butterworth. “My coach and I knew there were going to be some good women in the mix and my plan was to stick with them.”

Butterworth, 23, lives and trains in Boise, Idaho and graduated from the University of Idaho in 2015 with a degree in marketing and human resources. She attended high school in Parksville, B.C. and works part-time for a real estate brokerage and is part of a small training group in the state capital.

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“The Olympic standard was on the radar,” admits Butterworth, who is now back on Vancouver Island for at least a week, her first visit since Christmas. “I’ve been working towards this for so long.”

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It was her first steeplechase of the year (the track event where athletes hurdle four barriers and one water pit per lap) and Butterworth admits that not many athletes expected the race to go out as fast as it did. Canadian Maria Bernard also ran the Olympic standard for the first time in her young career.

Women’s Steeplechase – leaders made Olympic qualifying time #portlandtrackfestival

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“I still think I’m a little bit unknown for a lot of runners,” admits Butterworth.

The unsponsored athlete arrived in Portland by plane on Saturday, the evening before the race. Fortunately, her group stays in a six-bedroom house when in town because of a previous team connection and the host cooked them fresh salmon, garlic bread and salad for a pre-race meal. Extra carbo-loading came the way of a slice of cake courtesy a teammate’s birthday.

Because her race was at night on Sunday, she kept it simple on race day with a bigger breakfast, a snack-like lunch and a pre-race ritual of having a Clif Bar two hours before go time.

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The 23-year-old’s performance comes after a winter of battling a knee injury, which she overcame partially by switching Saucony training shoes and stayed fit, admittedly without really realizing it until the spring, with the help of her coach, Pat McCurry.

Running has always been part of the picture for the young athlete. She knew in grade eight that she wanted to go to university on a running scholarship, which are more prevalent at American universities than in Canada. Alycia, who is not related to world university games finalist Lindsey Butterworth, chose Idaho because the then-coach of the team is from Prince George, B.C. In addition, Moscow, where the University of Idaho is located, was close to home.

Looking ahead, Butterworth will be a pacer at the Harry Jerome Classic on Friday in Vancouver and will be running the 1,500m at the Victoria Track Classic two days later. High-profile races often recruit pacers to ensure fast times for the competitors.

The Idaho graduate is ranked second in Canada for 2016 in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase thanks to her June 12 performance behind only Geneviève Lalonde, the Canadian record holder. Five Canadians have the event standard as of June 14.

The Canadian track and field championships, which doubles as the Olympic Trials, takes place July 7-10 in Edmonton where Butterworth will need to place well to ensure her spot for Rio.

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