Many Canadians raced at the USATF Golden Games in California on Sunday, and three athletes hit Olympic standard for the first time. Justyn Knight, who has already run standard in the 5,000m, posted a huge PB in the 1,500m, running to a second-place finish in 3:33.41. Later on in the evening, Julie-Anne Staehli and Natalia Hawthorn lined up in the 5,000m, and they both charged to Olympic-qualifying times, finishing in first and third. Melissa Bishop-Nriagu and Gabriela DeBues-Stafford also ran under standard in the 800m and 1,500m, respectively, but both women already owned Olympic-qualifying results.
Knight’s second qualifying run
The Olympic qualification window originally opened in May 2019, and a month later, Knight ran under the 5,000m standard of 13:13.50, posting a time of 13:09.76 (the second-fastest time in Canadian history) at the Rome Diamond League meet. With the 5,000m qualifying time locked in, Knight shifted his focus to the 1,500m, and he has spent the past few months edging ever closer to the Olympic standard of 3:35.00.
In Texas in February, he ran a lifetime best of 3:36.62. In Oregon in April, he ran a PB of 3:35.85, and on Sunday in California, he shattered his previous best time and finished well under standard with his 3:33.41 run. Knight finished second to Australia’s Ollie Hoare, who ran to a PB of 3:33.19.
With qualifying times in two events to his name, Knight may have to choose between racing the 1,500m or 5,000m at the Olympics. While it’s possible for him to race both, the preliminary rounds for each event fall on the same day, August 3, and although the 1,500m is set for the morning and the 5,000m isn’t until the evening, it would still be tough to pull off. Ultimately, Knight’s problem of deciding which event to race is a sort of luxury, as it’s a dilemma many Olympic hopefuls would love to have right now.
Staehli and Hawthorn run onto the podium
On May 1, Staehli raced the 5,000m at the Kansas City Qualifier, finishing in second place in a PB of 15:24.66. The run got her a bit closer to the Olympic standard of 15:10.00, but she was still almost 15 seconds off. On Sunday, she made up those 15 seconds and more, running an incredible time of 15:02.34 and smashing her previous best by a whopping 22 seconds to finish well under standard.
Staehli rounded the final corner behind Mexico’s Laura Galvan Rodriguez, but she didn’t settle for second place, instead producing a blistering finishing kick to eke out the win. Rodriguez finished less than a second back, stopping the clock in a Mexican record of 15:02.48. Just a few seconds later, Hawthorn crossed the line to round out the podium in 15:05.91.
Like Staehli, Hawthorn had been inching closer to Olympic standard this year, running multiple PBs to start the season. She opened 2021 with a 15:31.27 at a meet in Victoria in March, and in April in Oregon, she ran 15:18.67. She crushed that time on Sunday, giving herself a shot at being named to the Canadian Olympic team.
Andrea Seccafien and DeBues-Stafford have also run Olympic standard in the 5,000m. Seccafien ran 14:59.95 at the world championships in 2019, and DeBues-Stafford ran the Canadian record of 14:44.12 in Brussels earlier that same year. They’re the only other two Canadian women to have run under 15:10.00 (although Jessica O’Connell ran an agonizingly close time of 15:10.64 in June 2019 and Regan Yee ran an unofficial PB of 15:08 in a time trial in 2020). Unfortunately, only three women can represent Canada in the 5,000m, which could lead to one woman (or more, if other Canadians hit standard in the coming weeks) being left off the team.
Other Canadian results
DeBues-Stafford had already run the Olympic 1,500m standard of 4:04.20 before Sunday (she ran her national record of 3:56.12 in October 2019), but she beat the mark again at the Golden Games with her second-place finish and season best of 4:00.69. If she chooses to focus on the 1,500m over the 5,000m, that could solve any issues in the 5K, making room for a Canadian team of Seccafien, Staehli and Hawthorn. Also in the 1,500m race on Sunday was DeBues-Stafford’s sister, Lucia Stafford, who got close to Olympic standard with a PB of 4:05.30.
In the women’s 800m, Bishop-Nriagu ran under the Olympic standard of 1:59.50 for the second straight week, improving on her season best with a 1:58.62. So far, Bishop-Nriagu (who finished in third on Sunday) is the only Canadian woman with a sub-two-minute result in the Olympic qualifying window. In the same race, Lindsey Butterworth and Madeleine Kelly finished in ninth and 10th, running 2:00.50 and 2:00.69, respectively.
For full results from the USATF Golden Games, click here.