By Martin Cleary
Running a quality marathon to exceed a strict qualifying time and represent Canada at the Summer Olympics is one thing. But now a handful of elite distance runners must also play a game akin to musical chairs to become an Olympian.
Four men and five women have over-achieved and bettered Athletics Canada’s Olympic marathon time standard of 2:11:30 and 2:29:30 respectively. That’s a good thing and shows unprecedented growth in the demanding 42.195-kilometre race.
Trouble is not all nine runners will be given the distinct recognition of being an Olympian this time around. Canada can only enter a maximum of three runners in each of the men’s and women’s marathon. Talented runners will be left at home.
One male and one female will be designated a non-travelling reserve, while the other female marathoner will have to consider her performance as a motivational tool leading to a future major Games or a world championship.
Trevor Hofbauer of Guelph, ON., will definitely go to the Olympics because he won the 2019 Scotiabank Olympic trials in Toronto in 2:09:51. Dayna Pidhoresky of Windsor is Japan-bound as well, after winning the women’s trials race in 2:29:03.
The three men playing a virtual game of musical chairs with only two chairs (team berths) available are: Cameron Levins, a Canadian living in Hillsboro, Oregon; Ben Preisner of Milton, ON.; and Tristan Woodfine of Foymount, ON., in Renfrew County.
The four women circling two chairs/team berths are: Malindi Elmore of Kelowna, B.C.; Natasha Wodak of Surrey, B.C.; Rachel Cliff of Vancouver; and Lyndsay Tessier of Toronto.
So how will Athletics Canada resolve this interesting, bittersweet athlete selection? It won’t be resolved until July 2, when it will announce the track and field athletes heading to Tokyo (the marathons are slated for Sapporo).
As part of its Olympic Selection Criteria, Athletics Canada has a lengthy document and a specific section, if more than three qualified marathon runners exceed the event quota. The National Team Committee will rank the runners in five areas.
HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-At-Home Edition will focus on the men’s marathon group because Woodfine is an Ottawa Valley athlete with Ottawa connections.
The committee will consider the following factors to select two male marathoners: 1. World and domestic ranking; 2. Current form and fitness; 3. Proven ability to perform on demand; 4. Finishing position at the Olympic marathon trials in 2019; 5. Recent head-to-head record against athletes under consideration.
“That’s the golden question,” Woodfine, 26, said in an interview Tuesday, when asked how this issue may be resolved. “How do you quantify three strong performances and what does it all mean. Honestly, I have no idea.”
Well, let’s try to break it down. World Athletics has ranked the Canadians based on their times: Levins, 2:10:14, May 23, 2021, Austria; Preisner, 2:10:17, Dec. 20, 2020, The Marathon Project; and Woodfine, 2:10:51, Oct. 4, 2020, London Marathon.
An Athletics Canada spokesperson told HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-At-Home Edition “just because Cameron Levins has a faster time than Tristan doesn’t mean that the NTC will automatically select him as a member of Team Canada.”
As for form and fitness, Levins won the rainy S7 Marathon by three minutes, achieving the Olympic standard in his fourth attempt, a week before the entry deadline. Preisner hasn’t raced in 2021, probably because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Woodfine said he had “amazing” winter training in Victoria and his training on the hills and dirty roads of Foymount, ON., have been “better than ever.”
“I’m very confident about my ability to perform,” he added.
Preisner certainly performed on demand, running the Olympic standard in his marathon debut, a 2:10:17, at The Marathon Project in Chandler, Arizona, in December 2020. Woodfine ran three marathons in 2019 and 2020 and getting faster with each race: 2:15:19 in Houston, 2:13:16 at the Olympic trials and 2:10:51 at the London Marathon.
Levins never gave up, but needed a fourth marathon over two years to be considered for the Olympic team. In Chandler and London, he was on pace to make the standard, but it didn’t happen. He ran in a last-chance marathon in Austria on Sunday and made it work.
At the Olympic trials in Toronto in October 2019, leading to the 2020 Games (postponed until July 2021), Woodfine finished in 2:13:16, while Levins, the Canadian record-holder at 2:09:25, stopped in 2:15:01. Preisner did not run.
In head-to-head competition, Woodfine placed 14th at the London Marathon, while Levins didn’t finish. Woodfine also beat Levins by 105 seconds at the trials. Preisner defeated Levins at The Marathon Project 2:10:17 to 2:12:15, while Woodfine didn’t enter.
“I’m trying to remain positive and hopeful. The crazy part is, it’s all close. I have a ton of respect for Cam and Ben,” said Woodfine, who is coached by Greg Kealey, his coach when he was a teenage triathlete for Bytown Storm Triathlon.
It’s a difficult call, but HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-At-Home Edition predicts Hofbauer will be joined on the Olympic start line by Woodfine and Preisner. Levins, a 2012 Olympian in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres, will serve as the non-travelling reserve.
Woodfine was stronger than Levins on the head-to-head, Olympic trials performance and performance-on-demand factors. Preisner also held the edge on Levins in head-to-head and performance on demand.
“At the end of the day, I will focus on my preparation and prepare like I’m going,” Woodfine concluded.
Start the music, please, so we can play virtual musical chairs. Note to the National Team Committee. Don’t let the trio circle the chairs too long. Two have an upcoming marathon.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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