For the past year, Maddy Kelly, 23, has interviewed and written stories about elite and sub-elite athletes on both sides of the border for Canadian Running, while quietly training at the University of Toronto Track Club down the road. Now and then, she has competed against some of these athletes, progressing steadily at her sport, and written the story with the unique perspective of having been in the race herself. Things shifted on Saturday evening at the Canadian national championships in Montreal, where the battle was supposed to be between defending champion Lindsey Butterworth and four-time national champion Melissa Bishop-Nriagu. Kelly poured on a killer kick from fourth position in the final 50 metres and beat both of them to the tape, achieving her first-ever national title.
No one was more shocked than Kelly to realize she had won, and her hands flew up to her face to hide her shock and emotion. “I’m not used to being first,” she explained afterwards. “I haven’t won a championship race since high school. I’ve never been on a national podium or made a national team at any level–youth, junior, or senior, but on Saturday I won senior nationals. On paper, I had no business being on top of the podium.” She was also fighting a head cold.
Honestly, nobody at Canadian Running was particularly surprised by the result. Kelly has been working hard and consistently achieving times of 2:02 flat and under, attending training camps through the winter, competing at meets in Canada, the US and Europe in both the 800m and the 1,500m, and steadily improving her times through the indoor and outdoor seasons. At the Henry Valentine meet in Boston in February, when Jenna Westaway broke her first of two Canadian records this year (the indoor 1,000m, previously held by Diane Cummins), Kelly also ran a record-breaking time, a half-second behind Westaway. Going into Saturday’s meet, she had the fourth-fastest 800m time in Canada for 2019. “I knew I could be in the mix,” she says, “but I would have been happy with third.”
Kelly grew up in Pembroke, Ont., a short distance from Eganville, where Bishop-Nriagu, who is seven years older, lived and trained. Kelly has been running track and cross-country since Grade 8. “Melissa’s been such an inspiration to me,” she says. “She was extremely gracious after the race. The women’s 800m is so strong right now because of her influence. We all got to watch her reach the highest level, and it helped us believe we could do the same. She’s shown us how fast we can be.”
At the University of Toronto, where Kelly received her B.A. in English literature last year, she helped the team to three national track titles and one national cross-country championship.
This being a world championship year, nationals were set up as an auto-qualifier, meaning that the winners in each event automatically qualify for the world championship team provided they run the world championship standard within the qualifying period, which ends August 24. Kelly set a personal best of 2:01.90 in June, but has yet to run standard (2:00.60), so she still has some work to do to make the national team going to Doha.
Somehow, we don’t think that’s going to be a problem for Kelly.