Runners experience Olympic vibe at Alumni Stadium
Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal
GUELPH — The group of Olympic distance runners who got a chance to go through their final hard workouts before the Games in front of an appreciative crowd at Alumni Stadium were thankful for the opportunity.
Steeplechasers Taylor Milne and Chris Winter put in a tough 2,000-metre workout that included the normal steeplechase hurdles and the water jump. At the Olympics, the distance will be increased to 3,000 metres.
“When I heard the concept, I figured there’d be a few people, but it’s Guelph, so there were a bunch of people,” Milne said. “That was cool.”
The workout attracted a crowd of around 300 people and they were an enthusiastic bunch, cheering every Olympian as they ran down the front stretch right in front of the grandstand.
“I tried not to make it into anything more than it was, which was a hard 2K effort,” Milne said. “I just wanted to do a controlled effort in the right zone. It’s hard when people are cheering and stuff not to get too excited, but that’s something you have to get used to. It was good in that sense, get the nerves a little more than a normal workout and stuff. It turned out really well.”
The Rio Olympics will be Milne’s second as he competed in the 1,500m at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
“That was totally different,” Winter said of the workout. “I didn’t know what to expect. I know we put it out there for people to show up if they felt like they wanted to, but I wasn’t sure if that would be five people or 500 people. I couldn’t believe when I came down. I’m just staying a couple of blocks away, and I saw all the people here. That’s just a testament to the Guelph community and the running community we have here in town.”
Winter will be competing in his first Olympics at Rio.
“That was pretty special,” he said of the Guelph practice session. “I don’t think I’ve ever done a workout in front of that many people before. It definitely brought a different vibe to the whole thing, which was great because we were looking to get a good, hard workout in. Having that support out here was awesome.”
The cheering crowd also gave the competitors an adrenalin boost.
“It was hard because I don’t go through the same mental prep for a workout that I do for a race. This was somewhere in between the two and it definitely hurt a little more during the last couple of laps,” Winter said. “When you’re getting ready for a big race you do a lot more mental prep so you’re a lot more ready for it. Really during the next couple of weeks, I’ll be spending a lot of time thinking about the race and the whole environment you’re going into. There’s going to be a lot of distractions and you’ve really got to be prepared for that so that’s the goal for the next little bit.”
“It was pretty crazy,” said 5,000-metre runner Andrea Seccafien, who’ll make her Olympic debut at Rio. “I was really nervous. This is a really big workout for me so I would be nervous anyway, but now all these people are watching and it’s kind of like a big deal.”
The former Speed River club member who is now a member of the University of Toronto’s club team, is a Guelph native, Bishop Macdonell high school graduate and was grateful for a hard workout before her race at Rio.
“I think it’s kind of good to have that kind of race simulation because I haven’t raced since Nationals,” she said. “It was good.”
Women’s steeplechaser Genevieve Lalonde cut her work a little short as she experienced some of the same feelings she does in races during her workout.
“I got a little bit too amped up, just a little bit too excited,” she said. “I get that when I go into a race, but I’ve never really had that at a practice before. So I had to cut it a little bit short, but I’m basically in really good shape.”
Despite shortening her workout, Lalonde felt it was a good thing to practise in front of a crowd as preparation for her first Olympics.
“I’m just getting ready for the big show and it’s going to be like that,” she said. “There’s going to be lots of noise, a big crowd and that’s the style of racing that I really like so I’m looking forward to being on that big stage.”
Hilary Stellingwerff, a Speed River member who participated in the 1,500m at the London Olympics in 2012, found the workout helpful.
“That was awesome,” she said. “We usually do a really hard session nine days out, but it’s usually just us alone at the track. It made me run faster, for sure, to have to whole community here.”
Stellingwerff, who’s based in Victoria, flew in for the 10-day staging camp the distance runners held in Guelph. The cheering crowd helped her turn up her intensity in the workout.
“I ran a two-second p.b. (personal best) in the K and everything is happening at the right time,” she said. “For me, it just solidifies that I belong here and I’m meant to go back to the Olympics.”
Stellingwerff is to compete in the 1,500m preliminaries Aug. 12. The semifinals are set for Aug. 14 and the final for Aug. 16.
Lalonde’s 3,000m steeplechase preliminaries are Aug. 13 and the final is two days later.
Milne and Winter are to race in the 3,000m steeplechase preliminaries Aug. 15 for their chance to gain a berth in the Aug. 17 final.
Seccafien’s 5,000m race is scheduled for Aug. 19.
- Rob Massey photos