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Runners struggle to find races as Olympic qualification window reopens

Canada's track runners are hopeful that Tokyo will happen, so now they just need to find the races to get themselves there

Melissa Bishop Photo by: Claus Andersen/Athletics Canada.

Since April of this year, the Olympic qualification window has been suspended due to the Olympic postponement and the pandemic. However, on December 1, that qualification window will reopen, meaning Canadian Olympic track and field hopefuls can accumulate points toward their world ranking and attempt to run the Olympic standard in their events. (The window has been open since September for marathoners.) While this is exciting in theory, it’s a little grim in reality. Many Canadian athletes are wondering how they’re going to qualify with no races on their schedules. 

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Melissa Bishop-Nriagu is a two-time Olympian, world championship silver medallist and Canadian record holder in the 800m. She’s hoping to qualify for her third Olympics, but says she still doesn’t have anything on the calendar. “I’m just head down, training as hard as I can right now. I hope the window reopening means that we’re that much closer to the Olympics actually happening.”

Bishop-Nriagu says training is going extremely well, especially when compared to this past summer. “It was a tough end to last season. Physically I was fine but mentally I was fatigued – exhausted, really. I stepped away from the sport for a few weeks and since I’ve come back, I’ve felt much stronger and better.” The Olympic hopeful is looking to put her fitness to the test this winter, but she’s not sure how that will happen just yet. “I’ve got a loose training plan thus far. Hopefully, I can continue to train here in Windsor for as long as possible and get away to a training camp in February if I’m able to plan it around my family. I think we will go to either Bermuda or Victoria.”

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Historically speaking, the best indoor races in North America have been held in Boston and New York City, two places Canadians can’t access easily right now. Bishop-Nriagu says, unfortunately, she doesn’t feel comfortable going to the U.S. to train or race. “Right now that’s a no-go, but I’ll have to decide at the time if a race comes up. But as of now, I can’t see myself racing in the States.”

For the time being, Bishop-Nriagu will be stationed in Windsor where her small family of three will celebrate their first holiday season with just their household. She says she’s looking forward to Christmas and getting back to some semblance of normalcy with running. “This is our first Christmas away from family, so I’m looking forward to making some new traditions. On the running side of things, I think Tokyo will happen. I think it’s going to be different than ever – but I think it’ll happen.”

Matt Hughes, the Canadian 3,000m steeplechase record holder, is in a similar position to Bishop-Nriagu. He’s got training sorted out, but the racing remains very tentative. “From what I’m hearing, I don’t think an indoor season is going to happen. My plan is to go to Flagstaff after Christmas and get some training in. If there is some local racing in February, then I can race, and if not, at least I’ve gotten good training done.” Hughes chose Flagstaff because he’s got a good setup there. “I can stay for free, so that’s a huge benefit for me. It’s easy, and it has always been part of my schedule, so I know it works. If I get to race while I’m there, it’s a bonus, but the main priority is to get out of the Canadian winter for a few months.”

While Hughes remains skeptical about the possibility of personally racing anytime soon, he’s still glad that the window is reopening. “I think people are just itching to race and put an official mark on paper. If they can make that happen in the few races that are being run, I think that’s great.”