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2016 Olympian Chris Winter ends his 20-year athletics career

Olympic athlete Chris Winter has just announced his retirement. We got a chance to reflect with him on his career.

Chris Winter
Chris Winter
Canada’s Chris Winter competes in the men’s 3,00m steeplechase at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Photo supplied by Chris Winter

Chris Winter of North Vancouver, B.C. recently represented Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics, running the 3,000m steeplechase. Winter announced his retirement from the sport of track and field earlier this week. After this news, we were able to ask him about his 20-year track career.

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Canadian Running: First of all, congrats on competing in Rio and making the Olympic Team. Tell us a bit about the experience and what it meant to you and your career.

Chris Winter: Making the Olympic team was bittersweet. Many will know the story about my wife, Rachel Cliff, and how she met the qualifying standard for the women’s 5,000m only to be left off the team. This had a huge impact on us both. So while I was supposed to be relishing in what was meant to be the highlight of my career, I was torn apart by what had happened to her. But once the Games began, we were able to put her personal issues aside and Rachel flew to Rio to support me and the entire Canadian team.

Rio itself was an amazing experience – sure it had its challenges but the Canadian Olympic Committee made our experience seamless and Rio itself is a stunningly beautiful city. The track and field team didn’t arrive until the second week of the Games and as such we missed the opening ceremonies. As a result, one of the highlights for me was the closing ceremonies. Walking into the Olympic Stadium behind the Canadian Flag with all your Canadian teammates knowing that the entire nation at home was watching  was exhilarating and an experience I’ll never forget.

Chris Winter (left) celebrates with marathoner Reid Coolsaet (right) and Lucas Bruchet (further right) at the closing ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Photo: Chris Winter

As for the Olympics defining my career… I think they have a way of doing that. But for me it has always been about the journey. The Olympics were never a certainty and I wouldn’t have viewed my career as unsuccessful had I not made the team. Having reflected on the past 20 years, it’s the friends I’ve made, the places I’ve visited and all the great moments along the way– those are the moments that, in my mind, define my athletics career.

CR: What are you most proud of having accomplished during your career? 

CW: In my mind my biggest accomplishment was persevering through two years of injuries right out of university. I had just moved to Guelph, Ont., didn’t have a job at the time and was dealing with my first real injury. It was difficult to stay optimistic about my situation. There were those who thought that was it for me and I don’t blame them. But I endured and when I finally got healthy, I had learned so much more about myself physically and emotionally and I was more motivated than ever before. It was as a result of this injury that I really saw a major breakthrough athletically.

CR: Who would you like to credit or thank for your success during the span of your career?

Winter finished third at the 2003 World Youth Championships in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Photo: Supplied by Chris Winter

CW: I have been fortunate to cross paths with some truly amazing people who helped me to develop as an athlete and person. I have to thank my late coach Frank Reynolds. It was with Frank that my Olympic dream was born and my love for the sport was nurtured.

After I graduated from Oregon, I really wasn’t happy with what I had achieved. I knew I had more to give. Dave Scott-Thomas rekindled the fire. From the beginning, I got the sense that with Dave as my coach, anything was possible. In those seven years together, he never wavered in his belief for me. Without his program, I never would have achieved my dreams.

My family was also always with me. From my first track meet when I was nine years old until today, they rode the highs and suffered through the lows. They believed in me, even when I didn’t.

Rachel, my wife, is the person I chose to share every day with. In distance running there are far more hard days than easy ones. I couldn’t have done it without her support and look forward to continuing to support her.

My teammates are what make the day-to-day work possible. They kept me honest and pulled me through the hard days. When you go thousands of miles with a person, you get to know them on a level most don’t. Although my competitive career has come to an end, these friendships will last a lifetime.

Other people who have played key roles in my career include Chris Munford, Chris Napier and Brenda Scott-Thomas, Kirsten Barnes, Trent Stellingwerff, Kris Mychasiw, Chris Moulton, Andy Powell and Vin Lananna.

CR: What about the life of a professional track athlete do you think you’ll miss the most? What won’t you miss at all? 

CW: There’s a lot to miss. I’ll miss being in that zone, where everything in your life is being channeled towards one goal. I’ll miss the months of July and August and that feeling of peak fitness when the speed and effort come easy. I’ll miss the training camps and the travel to exciting new places. I’ll also miss that feeling of standing on a start line knowing you’re about to deliver something special.

On the other hand I won’t miss the struggle and the near constant exhaustion. I won’t miss the long runs in the cold rain, the long travel days or the injuries. But that said, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

CR: Have you thought much about what’s next for you? What are you most excited about now?

I don’t have anything to announce just yet, but I do plan to stay very involved in the sport. After 20 years in athletics, I feel that I’ve learned a lot and as a result, I have a lot to give back. I’m excited to take on new adventures and challenges and to hopefully get the opportunity to help the next generation of athletes reach their dreams.

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