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Opinion: An emotional farewell to a university running career

"Most years do not go exactly according to plan, sometimes for reasons out of our control. But for me, this U Sports was a varsity dream realized: two golds to share with my friends and family."

U Sports Championships
U Sports Championships
Cole Peterson wins the men’s 1,500m at the U Sports Track and Field Championships. Photo: U Sports.

By Cole Peterson

We might not be used to the new name, but this year’s U Sports National Championships packed the same excitement as the CIS meets before it. All of the hallmarks of a good U Sports were present: the close-knit community fosters long-held friendships and rivalries contested on the track (Jenna Westaway and Rachel Francois in the women’s 600m would be one example); the depth of talent can result in surprise upsets (Sherbrooke’s Maïté Bouchard, not Westaway or Francois, won the 600m); and a lap miscount in the men’s 3,000m provided enough controversy to rile up the online message boards. The fields are talented and the roller derby nature of 200m tracks paired with close fields ensures exciting racing.

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This year’s U Sports Championships offered me a unique opportunity to finish my varsity career as a University of Victoria Vike in my hometown: Edmonton. Heading into the weekend with four national silver medals as a Vike, I was set on mining some gold out of the University of Alberta’s Butterdome. First up on my race schedule was the 4x800m relay, a race which holds extra emphasis for Vikes because we only have a middle/long distance program. We have no sprinters, no jumpers and no throwers. The reasoning is two-fold: it allows the school to focus resources into excellence in a few areas, but more importantly, it guarantees that our coach, Brent Fougner, will never have his school records in long and triple jump challenged.

When I joined the University of Victoria, the Vikes had won gold in the 4x800m for five straight years, but since then another gold has eluded us.

As had been the case for the last three years, it was a Victoria Vike and a Windsor Lancer neck-and-neck at the bell while everyone else in the field house watched, the outcome out of their hands. Yes, Windsor’s Corey Bellemore had eliminated the gap between him and Victoria’s Tyler Smith, but who had more left? Many times the Vikes had put themselves in this position, only to come up short. Bellemore, the announcer put it, was “looking dangerous,” but Smith surged to cover every one of Bellemore’s attempts to pass and secure the Vikes’ first national 4x800m win in years.

U Sports 3,000m
Jeff Tweedle, Connor Black and Cole Peterson during the men’s 1,500m. Photo: U Sports.

The next day, I toed the line against the nation’s top 1,500m talent for my last race as a Vike. Medals could come from any one of the 12 assembled for the final, not just the top seeds. The 1,500m, perhaps more than any other event, is a race where tactics and timing can produce medals regardless of the times posted in paced races earlier in the season. After a relaxed first half characteristic of a championship race, I prepared for a build-up into a sprint finish, running each lap faster than the previous. I took the lead heading into the bell lap and didn’t look back, finding more than anyone else in the last lap to cross the line and win my first national championship.

Before the gravity of winning sunk in, I saw the emotion on my teammates and coaches. After all, they have been witness to all of the heartbreak and glory, injuries and training sessions that led to this moment. I climbed into the stands to see my family, who were also ecstatic at the fairy-tale ending to my varsity career. My grandpa had tears welling in his eyes as I embraced him. Most years do not go exactly according to plan, sometimes for reasons out of our control. But for me, this U Sports was a varsity dream realized: two golds to share with my friends and family.

Cole Peterson is the 2017 U Sports 1,500m champion and helped the Vikes win the 4x800m relay title. He is finishing his fifth year of studies at the University of Victoria. He can be found on Twitter at @ColePetersons.