Speed River stars qualify for Olympic marathon

Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis, are one step closer to London, with Olympic-qualifying performances on Sunday.

The crowd was fairly sure Eric Gillis had made the Olympic standard when they erupted in cheers as he dipped over the line at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, but no one could be certain. Almost 15 minutes after the finish of his race on Sunday, he still hadn’t heard whether he had made standard officially.

Gillis was at a loss for words in the mixing area after the race. He was ecstatic after being told he had officially made Athletics Canada’s Olympic ‘A’ standard for the marathon by only one second.

“I need a little time to think here now,” exclaimed Gillis after the 42.2km race. “I still can’t believe it. Official? That’s awesome!”

Both Gillis and his Speed River Track Club training partner Reid Coolsaet dipped under the Olympic standard of 2:11:29, running 2:11:28 and 2:10:55, respectively. They finished third and fourth overall as the top two Canadians.

“I just put my head down in the last 300 metres and knew it was going to be really close. There was nothing else I could do. I couldn’t run any faster so I just ran through the line and when I looked up people started hugging me so I figured I’d got it,” continued Gillis.

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Gillis and Coolsaet’s coach, Dave Scott-Thomas, figured today was as good of a day as any to shoot for a good time, despite the less-than-ideal weather. After the race he explained a situation in the hotel with Coolsaet the night before.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to sound stupid, but I want to get up front and mix it up and I want you to tell me if that’s insane or not.’ I said ‘Why wouldn’t you do that? You’ve already got the standard. Say you blow up; you’re so fit it’s not going to be awful and you’ll be in the mix. You just need to risk take,'” explains Scott-Thomas. “You can do all the analysis and breakdowns and splits and science – and I’m into that – but sometimes it’s just about getting out a pair and getting after it.”

Coolsaet did just that. The Hamilton native ran a 27 second personal best, despite fading from the leaders in the closing seven kilometers.

“Maybe it’s about sitting in the hotel lobby and calling an audible and asking ‘how do you feel?’ I trust [Reid] and he just said ‘I feel great.’ So that was good enough for me,” continued Scott-Thomas.

Both Gillis and Coolsaet will likely both be named to the Canadian Olympic team next summer, barring neither are bumped by faster Canadian times before the April 22, 2012 qualification deadline. There are three spots available for Canadians on the team and currently they are the only two with the standard.

“I could have just as easily been one second over. I feel really, really lucky to get that standard. I couldn’t have done it this time last year,” said Gillis in a press conference later after his race. “Things are all just clicking.”

Coolsaet was just as excited that he would be able to continue working with his training partner toward the same marathon next summer.

“Now we can work together for the same marathon again. It’s huge to have him as a training partner. Without him I can’t run 2:10 and without me he can’t run 2:11,” commented Coolsaet during the press conference.

London’s 2012 Olympics will be the first year since 2000 that Canada will send athletes to represent in the marathon.

Kenya’s Kenneth Mungara won the Toronto race for the fourth straight year, finishing in 2:09:49.