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Gabriela DeBues-Stafford shifts focus to new event in track comeback

On Sunday in Portland, the multiple Canadian record holder ran her first 5,000m race in two years

GDS Pre Classic 2022 Photo by: Kevin Morris

For several years, Canada’s Gabriela DeBues-Stafford has reached 1,500m finals on some of the biggest stages. Now, the Canadian record holder and four-time national champion over 1,500m is giving up the event to try something new in her last efforts to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. On Sunday, she ran her first 5,000m race in two years at the 2024 Portland Track Festival in Oregon, placing 12th overall in 15:30.37—the sixth fastest time by a Canadian woman this year.

DeBues-Stafford had this to say on Instagram before Sunday’s race: “It’s not a secret that my 2024 outdoor season has not gone according to plan so far. The 1500m and I have not been clicking, and although we have some good ideas on how to get along better in the future, we’ve realistically assessed that we’ve run out of time to make it work in the 1500m to qualify for Paris.”

In her five 1,500m races this year, DeBues-Stafford has not been able to get back to her national record-setting times from before her injury. She has yet to break 4:15 for the distance this season, which is nearly 12 seconds off the Olympic standard of 4:02.50.

She said this about the 5,000m: “I don’t have a ton of experience in this event (with a total of 2 outdoor 5ks and 2 indoor ‘time trial-style’ 5kms). But it also makes me excited to have a relatively fresh start with a newer event. And obviously, I’m excited that the Olympic dream for Paris is still alive!!”

In 2022, the 28-year-old had a stress reaction in her sacrum, which kept her out of the 2022 World Championships in Eugene. After a few months off dealing with the sacral pain, she aggravated her SI joint to the point where she could no longer walk, forcing her to miss almost all of the 2023 season. DeBues-Stafford previously said the injury was “partly mechanical/strength related, partly due to under-fuelling, not enough consistent sleep/recovery, and also lots of stress.”

DeBues-Stafford and her Victoria-based coach, Trent Stellingwerf, have been working since the fall of 2023 to get her back to her previous form, to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics. DeBues-Stafford has until June 30 to hit the women’s 5,000m Olympic standard of 14:52.00, or to qualify via the World Athletics points system (which currently has 18 spots available via the rankings, 24 athletes having already achieved the standard). She will need to race another 5,000m, finishing faster than the 15:30.37 she ran on the weekend, to put her into the selection quota (which requires two races), and will likely have to win the women’s 5,000m at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Montreal in two weeks to punch her ticket to Paris; in her favour, selection for the event remains wide open, with no Canadian athletes currently having achieved the 14:52 standard.

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