Beyond the meteorological limitations, a topic that came up repeatedly was the broader issue of support. Andrea Seccafien, running out of the University of Toronto Track Club (UTTC), believes, “We need to support athletes who are at the World Championship and Olympic level who have not made the final but show potential to be competitive at those events in the future.”Both UTTC middle-long distance runners, Stafford and Seccafien are Canadian Champions in their respective distances — 1,500m and 5,000m — but neither managed to make the finals in Rio de Janeiro.Eric Gillis, who ran Canada’s best Olympic marathon finish in four decades, echoed Seccafien’s suggestion of greater support: “Any additional financial support is always a positive.”Running enough miles every week to be a top international distance runner is extremely time consuming, and for Gillis it comes on top of being a father and husband. “Yeah,” Gillis laughed, “I have a lot to thank my wife for that.”Gillis’ coach, Dave Scott-Thomas, lamented not being able to provide more coaches, physiotherapists, and doctors for his athletes at either Guelph or the Speed River: “In our environment we have lots of athletes who might not have the support staff they would need to have to hit their potential.”The solution seems simple: more accessible funding and support for internationally competitive athletes, and the problem is solved.Unfortunately, this is not the case. Recall Peter Eriksson’s comments on performance not participation; he refers to the funding squeeze reality that is the Own The Podium (OTP) program. In its own words, OTP is “podium driven… without compromise… [and takes] calculated risks.” It funds those who are within reach of medalling and that trumps all else.It has been 24 years since the last middle or long distance medal was won by a Canadian, so even though Athletics Canada administers funding to athletes, this money is heavily biased in its destination to medal-hopeful athletes — Andre de Grasse, Derek Drouin, Melissa Bishop, and the like.The results-first approach of OTP has therefore trapped Canadian distance running in a vicious cycle. It needs greater support and funding to help athletes excel further, but it will not receive greater support and funding unless athletes excel. However, continued development of programs like those at Guelph and U of T give great hope to the sport, as the two track programs combined sent 11 Olympians to the games in Rio. If you’re in Toronto or Guelph and want to see world class athletes, you need to only walk down to the university track.
Published: 12:47 am, 31 October 2016
Modified: 1:48 am, 31 October 2016