For Julie-Anne Staehli of Lucknow, Ont. life changed forever on July 3, when Athletics Canada named her to represent Canada’s Olympic team in the 5,000m in Tokyo. At first, she couldn’t believe it. But once the list of athletes going to Tokyo was published, she knew her dreams were written in stone. Then she embarked on a four-week journey, which started at altitude training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz. and ended at the finish line in National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan where she finished in 32nd place in 15:33.39.
Lucknow is a small farm town of 1,100, 90 minutes north of London, Ont. On July 30, as Staehli made her Olympic debut in the 5,000m, she became Lucknow’s first Olympian.
We sat down with her to discuss her Olympic experience, trending topics and her journey to Tokyo.
Q: What was the defining moment of your Tokyo 2020 journey, where you realized, “I am an Olympian”?
A: On July 3, when the athletes going to Tokyo were announced by Athletics Canada, I truly felt my dream turn into a reality. I knew that I would be heading to Tokyo and my life would be changed forever. I achieved the Olympic standard back in May, and I did not know when to expect the announcement. I was hoping that all athletes got a phone call from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau!
Q: What was one thing you missed from Canada while being in Japan?
A: I missed the comfort of having your friends and family around you. When I finished my 5,000m heat, I just wanted to hug my family and go through this amazing experience with them.
Q: There was a lot of speculation on the high temperatures during events in Tokyo. Is the humidity comparable to an Ontario summer?
A: It was warm, but it was manageable. My coach, Steve Boyd, and Athletics Canada provided me with the tools and training acclimatization prior to arriving in Tokyo. We spent two weeks in Flagstaff, Ariz., which gets extremely hot and dry during this time of year, to get my body used to racing in a warmer climate. Once the team arrived in Gifu, Japan. Athletics Canada’s trainers made sure we were acclimatized leading up to the competition. If I had to compare to Ontario, it would be a similar temperature and humidity to Ottawa Race Weekend in the last weekend of May.
Q: What is your race strategy when you are making your Olympic debut and toeing the line against Sifan Hassan?
A: The key for me was to manage my emotion. Every race I go into, I tell myself that I’m racing people, not names, and anything can happen. My coach and I had a plan of 74-second 400s; the pace went out faster than that, and I gave it all I had on that day.”
Q: How was the support for you from your hometown of Lucknow, Ont.?
A: “Incredible… I couldn’t believe it. My mom created a Facebook group where people could share signs and messages, they completely decorated the town of 1,100 people. I could not believe the excitement from everyone and how the entire town rallied behind me.”
Q: Were you starstruck seeing famous athletes in the Village?
A: We didn’t see any of the U.S. men’s basketball team, but we did see ex-NBA legend Yao Ming from China in the Olympic village cafeteria. He is the tallest human I’ve ever seen. Even when he was sitting down he was taller than some of us. Another athlete was Canada’s gold medallist Damian Warner – he is such a gracious, kind and well-spoken individual.
Q: A hot topic at the Olympic Games was the sustainable cardboard beds. Were they comfortable?
A: Yes, everything was super compact and sustainable in the room. It was very high-tech cardboard, as you could adjust the bed to be super soft or firm.
After an incredible experience at the Olympic Games, Staehli will be taking some time off with her friends and family before training ramps up again in the fall. “2022 will be a big year with the Commonwealth Games and World Championships on the calendar,” she adds, “and I am eager to represent Canada on the world stage again.”