By Dan Plouffe
Ottawa Lions sprinter Esther Akinsulie and her Canadian 4×400-metre relay teammates got hit by some bad luck at the worst time, but still managed to pull off a performance that drew them a step closer to the London 2012 Olympics at the IAAF track-and-field world championships on Saturday, Sept. 3 in South Korea.
Before the meet during training, Canadian relay anchor Amonn Nelson stepped on a grate by the track rail and twisted her ankle while the team was practicing its hand-offs. Suddenly, 800 m specialist Lemlem Bereket was thrust into the anchor role, but even without the full crew that had been preparing for the worlds all season and for several years before that, the Canadians still managed a season-best time of three minutes, 27.92 seconds, good for 13th place out of the 20 qualified nations.
“We were really ecstatic,” Akinsulie said by phone from Daegu, the site of the Aug. 27-Sept. 4 competition. “That’s the fastest time we’ve run as a team together. We were really happy. And to improve on our time over previous years having done it without one of our main runners was really, really good.
“This will be very good leading up to next year and London 2012.”
Canada’s fifth-place heat result left the team just under two seconds away from reaching the event final. Considering that two other athletes in the Canadian 4×400 relay pool were also injured prior to the worlds, Akinsulie sees an appearance in the Olympic final as a realistic possibility.
“We’ll be able to shave that time off even more with our full team back,” predicts the 27-year-old Carleton University psychology grad who was competing in her second world championships. “It’s very encouraging for us.”
Running a fast time and finishing in the top-16 was an important step for the Canadians in terms of Olympic qualifying since the 16 top-ranked teams over the course of the 2011 and 2012 seasons earn places in London.
Akinsulie, who missed almost the entirety of last season with an Achilles tendon tear, says she fully expects to be in London for her first Olympic Games, although don’t mistake that confidence for arrogance – the former A.Y. Jackson Secondary School student makes sure to always savour the moment of competing in major international events even though she’s been at it for many years now.
“Every time we go to worlds or a major competition, it’s very exciting,” notes Akinsulie, who picks out Canadian Dylan Armstrong’s silver medal win in the men’s shotput, and the subsequent celebration in the athletes’ village, as a great worlds highlight. “Especially this year, the stadium was pretty sold out, so there was a big crowd when we were running.
“Korea was really nice. Everyone was very excited about the world championships and whenever they hear we’re from Canada, they always want to say hi to us.”
See related story: Call doesn’t come for Lions’ Smith at world championships
See previous story: Akinsulie returns from injury to lead Lions contingent at nationals