Canadian athletics heating up

It’s been a big summer in athletics, as everyone starts to gear up again looking forward to the Tokyo Olympics next July. 

More records!

Gabriela Debues-Stafford broke Lynn Kanuka’s (Williams) 34-year old record in the 1500m by 1/100th of a second. The record now stands at 4:00.26, and Debues-Stafford is not keeping it a secret that she hopes to bring it below 4 minutes soon. She smashed the 1-mile record in Monaco, bringing it down to 4:17. That makes 5 national records for Debues-Stafford in 2019.

At the Pan Am Games earlier this month, Canadians set at least 3 Games records (more on that below).

Canadian Championships

Canadian Championships were held in various cities across the country over the course of June and July. First up was the 10,000m in Burnaby, BC. While not necessarily “complete” fields of Canada’s best talent, the races were deep and Natasha Wodak and Ben Flanagan had to work hard for their victories. 

Just a few days later, Tristan Woodfine and Malindi Elmore claimed the national titles for the half marathon distance in Winnipeg, both running some of the fastest times (top 3) by Canadians this year. Woodfine is newly one of Canada’s top marathoners, while Elmore, at 39, has recently made a return to elite running – and significantly bumped up her distance – after representing Canada in the 1500m at the 2004 Olympics and retiring from professional athletics in 2012. 

The bulk of the track and field champs were held in Montreal at the end of July. The meet featured a lot of recognizable top talent, as well as many young up-and-comers. It was exciting for everyone to see Melissa Bishop-Nriagu competing again, coming back strong after the birth of her daughter last summer. Bishop-Nriagu has run the second fastest 800m time by a Canadian this year; however, she was out-leaned by Madeleine Kelly for the title by just 3/100ths of a second.

Success in Lima

End of July/beginning of August brought the Pan Am Games, this year hosted by Peru. Canada’s athletics team had tremendous success, bringing home a total of 15 medals: 5 gold, 6 silver and 4 bronze.

In the first track final of the championships, Natasha Wodak achieved redemption in the 10,000m (she was ranked 1st in 2015 but finished a disappointing 7th) with a powerful last lap to take gold in a new Games’ record time of 31:55. Rachel Cliff, who led the entire race up until the point Wodak took over with less than 1k to go, brought home the bronze.

Damian Warner and Pierce LePage likewise brought home gold and bronze, respectively, in the men’s decathlon. Warner also won gold in 2015.

20-year old Marco Arop took everyone by surprise, including himself, by winning the men’s 800m and setting a new Pan Am record in the process.

A dominant performance by Geneviève Lalonde resulted in gold in the women’s steeplechase, also with a new Games record, to improve on her 2015 bronze medal.

Sage Watson took gold in the women’s 400m hurdles. There was a tense moment at the finish while an appeal was considered, but ultimately denied. 

Jessica O’Connell ran a perfectly executed race and was just barely outkicked in the last 50m, earning a silver in the women’s 5000m. The women’s relays (both 4x100m and 4x400m) won silver medals as well.

William Paulson, the fastest Canadian in the 1500m this year, executed a smart race to earn bronze in the 1500m against a much more experienced field. This was Paulson’s first time representing Canada; prior to July 1 he represented Great Britain.

In field events, Liz Gleadle (javelin), Brittany Crew (shot put) and Michael Mason (high jump) all claimed silver medals, while Alysha Newman captured the bronze in pole vault.


Post-Games, some athletes are taking a few weeks to rest or start another training build in preparation for the IAAF World Championships.

Already we’ve seen more exciting results at the Diamond League meet in Paris: Michael Mason won the high jump competition and Alysha Newman won the pole vault, setting yet another national record. Over the last three years, Newman has taken the record from 4.60m all the way to 4.82m! Brandon McBride also put down a fast time in the men’s 800m, taking the win against a deep field (not a Diamond League event).

In related news, Melissa Bishop-Nriagu recently announced that she is ending her season before World Championships. We’ll likely have to wait until the new year to see her back in action, but we’re wishing her all the best until then!

Up next

World Championships for track and field are just a month away, starting September 28 in Qatar. We’re also looking forward to the fall marathon majors, and of course the Canadian Marathon Championships in Toronto at the end of October, which is shaping up to have the deepest fields yet!