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Get to know Olympic hopeful Natalia Hawthorn

The 26-year-old from Bracebridge, Ont., had a breakout season in 2020 and is now a contender for the Canadian Olympic team

Before 2020, not many Canadians knew the name Natalia Hawthornbut in just one year she’s become one of our top female track athletes and an Olympic contender. After a breakout season last summer, Hawthorn hasn’t let off the gas and the proof is on the clock. In early May, the 26-year-old from Bracebridge, Ont., achieved Olympic standard in the 5,000m, and one month later she tied the standard in the 1,500m. We caught up with her to talk about her season, her training and her plans leading up to the Olympics.

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Last year, Hawthorn decided to drop down from working full-time to working part-time in order to focus more on her training, and she says the timing of that decision made the Olympic postponement a blessing in disguise. She was able to focus more on her running and prioritize rest and recovery, and it only took a few months for it to start showing up in the results. During the pandemic, there were no races, but she did a few time trials that demonstrated how she was progressing, which, she says, was really meaningful for her.

“Even though those time trials didn’t really count for anything, they showed that my training was paying off and I was moving in the right direction,” she explains. “They gave me confidence and allowed me to believe that this goal was becoming more real.”

The goal, of course, is to represent Canada at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Without a cross-country season or other races, Hawthorn says she’s had a year of perfect, uninterrupted periodization for her training, which allowed her to focus on the upcoming outdoor track season. After running a 32:38 in the 10K on the road, she and her coach decided she could do some damage in the 5,000m, and they were right. Coming into the season with a personal best time of 15:49.15, Hawthorn beat the Olympic standard (15:10) at the USATF Golden Games in California on May 9, cross the line in 15:05.91.

One month later at the Stumptown Twilight in Portland, Ore., she tied the Olympic standard in the 1,500m down to the hundredth of a second, crossing the finish line in first place in 4:04.20.  “I now have two Olympic standards… I’m still pinching myself,” she laughs.

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Hawthorn is in good company and is part of one of the strongest groups of women distance runners Canada has ever had. Five women have now run under the Olympic standard in the 5,000m, with four of them running under 15 minutes. While some might think this makes training and competing more stressful, Hawthorn says she feels fortunate to be a part of the sport at this time.

“It’s a very exciting time to be in the sport,” she says. “Seeing women raising the bar in Canada inspires me more and more to just go out there and perform.”

After a busy couple of months of racing, Hawthorn is taking a break to fit in a solid block of training so she’ll be ready to race if she needs to ahead of the Olympics. She’s hoping to be selected to Team Canada for the 1,500m, which she’ll find out in early July. Until then, she wants to thank everyone in Canada for their support and for taking the time to reach out to her and wish her luck.

“Being far away from home during COVID, we haven’t had our usual teammates or coaches at the meets,” she says. “So having all the kind messages coming in means a lot during this time, because you realize that the people in the sport really help make it what it is.”

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