Canadian para athletics world champion Nate Riech shattered his own T38 1,500m world record of 3:57.00 on Saturday, running 3:52.56 at a meet in Victoria. Riech was already a heavy favourite to medal in the 1,500m at the upcoming Paralympics, and his recent result only reinforces the fact that he will be the man to beat in Tokyo.
Riech competes in the T38 classification, which is a division of para athletics that features athletes living with coordination impairment. He first became classified as a T38 runner (para athletes must undergo several tests — such as range of motion and agility tests — to officially compete in a specific division) in 2018, and he wasted no time climbing to the top of the middle-distance world.
In addition to his new 1,500m PB, Riech owns the T38 800m world record, and in 2019, he won 1,500m gold at the Parapan American Games and World Para Athletics Championships. He says Saturday’s result is “the most satisfying record” he has run in his career, as it not only reflects what he knows he’s capable of running, but it also comes after a disappointing result that he ran just a couple of weeks earlier.
Running at another meet in Victoria, he raced a 3,000m, crossing the line in 8:50, which is about 20 seconds off his PB. “It was just a rough day at the office,” he says. “We’re all dealing with external things going on in the world right now, and I think I let them get to me.” Riech says he writes post-run debriefs for his Vic City Elite coach, Heather Hennigar, and he was almost too embarrassed to send his after the 3,000m.
After the poor showing, Riech says he “kind of gave up a bit,” and had dedicated some time toward working out his feelings. In the end, he managed to let the race go and focus on his training. That one bad race was the only negative of his season, and he says he has been training really well. A few days before Saturday’s run, another T38 runner posted a 3:58 result, running one second off what was, at the time, Riech’s 3:57.00 world record.
“I saw that and wanted to run faster,” he says. “I wanted to throw down a 3:55. My workouts have been trending toward 3:49 to 3:52 results, but 3:55 was my target. Anything faster would’ve just been icing on top.” Riech reached that goal and ran into icing territory, hammering out a four-second improvement on his world record.
As remarkable as his 3:52.56 result was, this isn’t even Riech’s 1,500m PB, as he ran 3:51.62 at a meet that wasn’t certified by World Para Athletics (the governing body of para track and field). Riech explains that setting an official para world record can be tough, as the WPA is picky about what events are record-eligible.
Although the Victoria meet wasn’t a WPA event, Riech says he is confident that his record will be ratified. He points to fellow Canadian para athlete Liam Stanley, who set the T37 (another para athletics classification for athletes with coordination impairments) 5,000m world record at a similar event in B.C. in December, when he ran 15:54.5.
“My and Liam’s records were at races with the same setup, and his was ratified, so that makes me think mine will be, too,” Riech says. Regardless of whether WPA makes it official, Riech has put the world on notice, and his competitors have undoubtedly already heard about how quickly he ran on Saturday and how strong he looks ahead of the fast-approaching Paralympics.