Event: Women’s 4×400 m Relay
Residence: Fort Collins, Colorado
Local Club: Ottawa Lions
By Madalyn Howitt
Sprinter Lauren Gale was sitting on her porch when she first heard the news that she’d be making her Olympic debut for Team Canada. Only, it wasn’t through a phone call or email that she found out — it was through a Tweet.
“The Ottawa Lions had tweeted congrats for making the team, and I was like oh my gosh. Technically they broke the news to me,” she recently said with a laugh, when speaking to the Sports Pages.
The social media shout-out from Gale’s hometown club informed her that she’d be competing for Canada in the 4x400m relay. At 21-years-old, Gale has also achieved the distinction of being the youngest member of Canada’s track and field squad. It’s a remarkable accomplishment, especially since she’ll be competing in an event that is somewhat notorious for being a gruelling race. Yet given her obvious natural talent and her determined spirit, it’s a feat that her coaches and mentors are not at all surprised to see her achieve.
“She ran the type of time as a 16-year-old that very, very few 16-years-olds can run,” said John Riese, Gale’s coach at Colorado State University, where the sprinter is studying to be a dental hygienist.
He said Gale’s impressive finish times as a teenager indicated she was quickly on the path to Olympic-level racing, which was brought to fruition after she ran the 400m this year in 51.96 seconds, enough to qualify her for a spot with Team Canada.
“Seeing a 51 up on the board was absolutely insane — I was in shock when it happened,” said Gale. “Seeing faster times and [realizing] that my training is working and everything’s paying off — it was great.”
Born in Fredericton, N.B., and raised in Ottawa, Gale’s father was in the military, which meant moving every few years and starting anew.
“It’s been challenging to go into a new program every couple of years and meet new people, but I definitely think it just helped me adapt to different cultures and get to share different experiences with people,” said Gale, adding that her ability to adapt quickly to new environments will be helpful as she takes on the Olympics for the first time.
“I’m super excited [to be on the team] because I think starting at the Olympics super young can mean more opportunities to go again at a more mature age. Hopefully I can follow some other athletes [and] get more into the rhythm of big competitions like this,” she said, referring to her Team Canada teammate and fellow Ottawa Lions alumna Alicia Brown as one person who’s an inspiration to her.
Likewise, Riese doesn’t expect that Gale’s young age and rookie status will hinder her on the track. “She’s been training excellently for the past seven weeks, and I expect her to run a personal best in the relay. She’s in a great position to do it.”
Gale helped bring home a silver medal in the 4x400m relay at the 2019 Pan American U20 Athletics Championships, putting her in good shape to take on relay again on the world stage. It is however, according to both Gale and Riese, one of the most tiring races to compete in.
“In middle school and high school, they used to put me in every single event, and the 4×400 was always last,” said Gale. “But after five hours on the track, in the sun, I was tired – I [was] usually on the ground for like 20 minutes afterwards, definitely not like the 100-meter sprint.”
However, she credits the exhausting nature of the event with pushing her to develop her endurance on the track.
“It has made me a stronger athlete for sure, mentally and physically. It’s so hard to race but it’s definitely worth it,” she said.
Riese added that even though it’s a tough event, the athletes he coaches often prefer the 4x400m relay over just the 400m sprint.
“In the 400m they hurt a lot more than say the 200m or 200m hurdles, but the nice thing with the 4×400 is when you get the baton in your hand, you’re running for other people. You can convince a lot more people to run the 4×400 than you can just the 400-metre sprint,” laughed Riese.
Gale said she also prefers the relay for the sense of community. “I want to run better because I have more people relying on me.”
As for what she’s most looking forward to at the Games, the cheerful Gale said it’s the chance to be among the best.
“The experience of getting to see the best athletes, getting to compete and seeing the Olympics in person — I’m just really flippin’ excited!”