By Dan Plouffe
It’s sure to go down as one of the lasting images of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games – Melissa Bishop’s golden grin.
She didn’t think of herself as an underdog, but that’s what the stats said – a podium’s worth of competitors having run faster than her. And through 700 metres of the Pan Am women’s 800 m final on July 22, Bishop was in the position she was expected to be on paper.
But what the seed times couldn’t consider was that the Ottawa Lions Track-and-Field Club runner was in the best shape of her life, and that a screaming red-and-white crowd could help lift the Canadian champion past favoured athletes from Brazil and USA.
And suddenly there was the underdog, her arms raised high as she crossed the finish line first, and a wide smile on her face that was about to spread even farther across Canada.
Bishop had some trouble finding the words to explain what the win meant to her, but the look on her face said it all.
“It’s a really special moment for me,” signals the 26-year-old from Eganville. “It’s a feeling that’s kind of hard to describe. It’s something I’ve worked so hard for all these 12 years I’ve been putting in. Doing it at home – it’s one of a kind. I don’t get to do that all the time.”
Bishop ran a blazing 1 minute, 59.62-second time for her two-lap race, and then moved at a snail’s pace for her victory lap as she stopped for hugs in the audience left and right.
“There are so many fans here and I have a lot of people from home and friends and family all around (the stadium),” indicates the London 2012 Olympian. “It was so great to have that connection with everybody. I’m really grateful for it.”
The triumphant smile was no trouble to produce, but holding back tears when she received her gold medal prize proved much more difficult.
“It’s pretty emotional seeing your flag raised up there and hearing everyone sing,” recounts Bishop, who’d never before had O Canada played for her at any international race. “This was the first time. Now I’m hungry for more.”
Stellar season shaping up
Bishop, who arrived in Toronto only a day before her semi-final race, was fresh off a new personal-best time of 1:59.52 at a race in Switzerland, and she feels capable of running faster still.
“I think it’s just going to be one of those years,” says the world’s 16th-ranked 800 m runner who will compete in the Aug. 22-30 IAAF World Championships in Beijing. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m going to ride this high as long as I can.”
A particularly impressive element of Bishop’s victory is that she does the bulk of her training on her own, unlike most other elite runners who are part of groups.
The University of Windsor grad has a group she joins for some of her longer runs, but when it comes to speed work, there aren’t any other runners in Windsor (not to mention the continent) who can match her.
“It’s what I’m used to,” Bishop explains. “You find things to push it a little bit more, and my coach is really great for that.”
And besides, the solo trek is in her roots.
“Eganville doesn’t have a track,” she notes, her smile then returning, “but the people there are mighty, and all those supporters – those are my training partners.”
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