The University of Toronto’s Sasha Gollish won the 2017 U Sports Cross-Country Championships on Sunday in Victoria.
Gollish, 35, won what was then the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) Cross-Country Rookie of the Year in 2000 and used her fifth, and final, year of eligibility in 2017. The 2015 Pan Am Games bronze medallist over 1,500m made a decisive move to build a gap on Claire Sumner and Branna MacDougall, both of Queen’s, in the final K of the women’s 8K to win by nine seconds in 27:37. Sumner, the defending U Sports cross-country champion, was second in 27:46 with MacDougall snagging bronze in her first-ever national university championships (in Canada) in 27:51.
She told Chris Kelsall (of Athletics Illustrated) for Canadian Running that she was racing with a broken nose. “It’s broken, I am not kidding” as she pulled a nasal strip from on her nose.
RELATED: U Sports men’s 10K recap.
Gollish won the 2016 Canadian Cross-Country Championships senior women’s 10K last November and went on to win the 2017 North American, Central American and Carribean (NACAC) Cross-Country Championships a few months later. Her first-place finish helped Toronto secure the overall team title, which takes into account each squad’s top-five runners, defeating favourites and pre-championships No. 1 Queen’s.
Sunday marked Toronto’s first U Sports cross-country women’s team win since 2002.
Mild to heavy rain, according to B.C. Athletics, fell in the minutes leading up to the women’s start, which went off at 1 p.m. PST. Beacon Hill Park, the site of this year’s championships, had not hosted the national university cross-country championships since 2007 as the event returned to western Canada for the first time in 10 years. Temperatures were around 9 C.
— U SPORTS Cross Country (@USPORTS_XC) November 12, 2017
This year marked the first time that women raced 8K, up from 6K in recent years, as the gap in distances in relation to the men narrows.
— Victoria News (@VictoriaNews) November 12, 2017
MacDougall, Sumner, Gollish, Regan Yee (Trinity Western), Courtney Hufsmith (Saskatchewan) led the pack of 10 in the early stages of the race, which was comprised of 2K loops, four times for women and five for the men. The opening K of the race was split in 3:23 and 6:58 through 2K as the pace settled down. Four runners – MacDougall, the 2017 OUA Cross-Country champion, Gollish, Sumner and Yee – were clear at 3K.
“We are really happy with the result,” Sumner says hugging MacDougall. “It is so great to finish 2-3 with my training partner.”
Gollish was the most experienced athlete in the field, except for perhaps Olympic triathlete Paula Findlay, who finished second in 2007 and fourth in 2008, having won national university rookie of the year honours 17 years ago. She raced sparingly for the University of Toronto ever since and was third at the 2017 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Championships which led into nationals.
Western’s Kristina Popadich, the 2017 McMaster Bayfront Open champion, began bridging the gap between the chase pack and the leaders after 4K but couldn’t regain contact with the four leaders through 5K, which the top-four passed through in 17:21. Yee fell back at the 6K mark, leaving Sumner, MacDougall and Gollish to decide amongst themselves who would end up on the top of the podium.
The top-three reached 6K, with one 2K lap to go, in 20:50. It was halfway through the final lap that Gollish put in an acceleration ascending the last of the major hills on the course. She was shadowing MacDougall, who led for much of the race, until that point on route to winning her first national university cross-country title.
— U SPORTS Cross Country (@USPORTS_XC) November 12, 2017
Sunday marked Gollish’s second cross-country race of the late-summer/fall as she opted out of the regular season events.
Toronto scored 73 points as a team beating out Queen’s by 18 points. Toronto’s Lucia Stafford finished sixth, first-team All-Canadian, with Jazz Shukla in 17th overall. Madeleine Kelly and Christiana Agustin rounded out the team scoring for the Blues both finishing within the top-30. Gollish is currently completing a PhD in Engineering Education.
There were rumours that 2016 Olympian Gabriela Stafford may run for Toronto this cross-country season but she never raced.
The Laval women, who finished third, were without the likes of Anne-Marie Comeau, one of the top runners from Quebec, who withdrew at the last-minute due to illness, according to coach Felix-Antoine Lapointe. The Rouge et Or finished third with 112 points, led by Aurelie Dube-Lavoie.
The Guelph women, who finished fifth, had their 12-year winning streak at the U Sports Cross-Country Championships come to an end on Sunday.
Dalhousie’s Savanna Jordan was the cross-country rookie of the year by virtue of being the top freshman in the race on Sunday.
Top-30 individual results
1. Sasha Gollish University of Toronto 27:37
2. Claire Sumner Queen’s University 27:46
3. Branna MacDougall Queen’s University 27:51
4. Regan Yee Trinity Western University 27:55
5. Kristina Popadich Western University 27:56
6. Lucia Stafford University of Toronto 28:18
7. Aurelie Dube-Lavoie Universite Laval 28:22
8. Melissa Jones University of Calgary 28:25
9. Stef Smith University of Windsor 28:28
10. Danielle Jossinet University of Guelph 28:48
11. Courtney Hufsmith University of Saskatchewan 28:53
12. Savanna Jordan Dalhousie University 28:55
13. Meggie Dargis McGill University 28:59
14. Alison Hooper University of Victoria 29:03
15. Paula Findlay University of Alberta 29:08
16. Chloe Hegland University of Victoria 29:15
17. Jazz Shukla University of Toronto 29:18
18. Valerie Belanger Universite Laval 29:23
19. Sarah Wismer University of Guelph 29:27
20. Jessy Lacourse Universite Laval 29:34
21. Hannah Woodhouse University of Guelph 29:50
22. Bettina Boucher Wilfrid Laurier University 29:50
23. Melissa Caruso McMaster University 29:55
24. Madeleine Kelly University of Toronto 29:58
25. Elizabeth Hirsch McGill University 30:00
26. Molly Steer Queen’s University 30:07
27. Emily Nowak McMaster University 30:07
28. Christiana Agustin University of Toronto 30:10
29. Emma Edmonds University of Victoria 30:14
30. Jenna Van Vliet Carleton University 30:17