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Two Canadian women just became unexpected Olympic 5,000m threats

Two Canadian women ran within two seconds of the national 3,000m record last weekend. Their breakthrough performances indicate big things to come in Canadian distance track events

Nicole Hutchinson

Over the weekend, two Canadian women came within striking distance of the Canadian indoor 3,000m record. Julie-Anne Staehli (8:47) was one second off, and Nicole Hutchinson (8:48) was two seconds off. Staehli ran in Boston and Hutchinson in New York, but within hours of each other, both ran World Indoor standard and PB’d by huge amounts.


RELATED: Jessica O’Connell sets Canadian 3,000m record

Hutchinson in a B.C. native who did her undergrad at Villanova University and graduated last spring. She now trains in San Diego with the Mission Athletics Club. She said that finding a post-collegiate training group was much harder than she anticipated. “I had a really rough end to my NCAA career. For the first time in a couple years I didn’t make the NCAA championship. I ran terribly at regionals, so a lot of the options I thought I was going to have went away. My parents are helping me out this year because I’m unsponsored.” A good placing at NCAAs really opens up training opportunities after school, but Hutchinson didn’t have that as a marker of her ability.

Hutchinson’s coach at Villanova, Gina Procaccio, is a friend of Terrence Mahon, who now coaches Hutchinson, who says she owes a lot to her college coaching for getting her set up with Mahon. “She really stuck her neck out for me and told him I was worth taking on,” Hutchinson says. Mission AC has turned out some impressive results, most recently from Nikki Hiltz, who made the World Championships 1,500m final and boasts a 4:01 personal best.


Hutchinson says things are really different in post-collegiate running. Since she’s legally not allowed to work right now (being Canadian), she has no excuse not to get her training done perfectly. “The good thing is that my training structure in college was really similar to now. Since our coaches are friends, they share similar training philosophies.”

Hutchinson’s 8:48 3,000m in New York was a six-second personal best. This indoor season she’s only running one more race (a 5,000m in Boston), and then wrapping things up. This summer, she’s hoping to qualify for the Olympics in the 5,000m–something she never thought she’d be doing. She explains, “Terrence is training me strictly for the 5,000m. That will be my main focus. It’s a competitive event right now for Canadians. It’s exciting.”

Julie-Anne Staehli, winner of the 5K at STWM 2019. Photo: Maxine Gravina

Another Canadian who will be in the mix for one of those 5,000m spots is Staehli, who ran an 8:47 3,000m on the weekend. Paced by Canadian 1,000m and 800m indoor record-holder Jenna Westaway, she exceeded her expectations for the race. She wrote on Instagram, “Sub-nine was the goal but little did I know I was on track for something much more special.”

Staelhi says her performance on Saturday was the culmination of years of work. “My coach, Steve Boyd, refined my training plan last summer to focus less on mileage and more on intensity. We have also become more focused on the details and looking after all the little things that contribute to optimal performance. Running an early season personal best has opened up new doors. Now it’s a matter of sitting down and reassessing my goals for indoors and outdoors. The number one goal, as always, is to train healthy and happy. From there, we focus on building fitness and strength. If we can continue doing what we’re doing, I think I’ll be able to achieve some special things.”

The Canadian women’s 5,000m is heating up

There are seven women who stand a chance at an Olympic spot in the 5,000m (and that’s excluding those who could opt for the 5,000m over the steeplechase). Jessica O’Connell (2016 Olympian), Rachel Cliff, Andrea Seccafien (2016 Olympian), Kate Van Buskirk (Commonwealth Games medalist), Gabriela DeBues-Stafford (Canadian record-holder, 2016 Olympian), Hutchinson and Staehli could all be in the mix. While some of these women have another event they could opt for, they have all put down strong marks in the 5,000m in the past two years.

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