Long distance call

Mohammed Ahmed

Mohammed Ahmed

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:28 PM ET

CALGARY - Canada is a land of immense distances, so it would only seem natural that this country would produce great distance runners.

But that hasn’t always been the case, at least not in recent years.

The Canadian record in the marathon, for instance, is still held by Toronto’s Jerome Drayton, who recorded his best time, two hours, 10 minutes, nine seconds, back in 1975 in Fukuoka, Japan — 37 years ago!

But suddenly there is a glut of young talent in distance running, starting with 10,000 and 5,000 metre runners Cameron Levins of Black Creek, B.C. and Mohammed Ahmed of St. Catharines, ON — who have both already made the Olympic standard in the 10,000 — and a group of marathon runners who are inching towards Drayton’s record after all these years. Three Canadians — Dylan Wykes of Kingston, Reid Coolsaet of Hamilton and Eric Gillis of Antigonish, N.S. — have qualified for the London Games in the marathon. Before this year, the last Canadian to qualify for an Olympic marathon was Bruce Deacon at the 2000 Games.

Wykes posted an Olympic qualifying time of 2:10.47 at the Rotterdam Marathon this year, the second fastest marathon in Canadian history. Last October, Coolsaet ran 2:10.55 at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, the third fastest marathon in Canadian history, while in the same race, Gillis ran 2:11.28 to qualify for London.

“Obviously Drayton was a special guy, but I think this crew is going to erase that record,” said Olympic team head coach Alex Gardiner.

“All three of those guys believe they can go under 2:10. And we wouldn’t be surprised if one of them is close to the top 16 in the world, which would be amazing. The marathon is such a deep event.

The best guys in the world are 2:03, 2:04. But if Reid and Dylan and Eric can get close to that 2:08, that will drive marathon and long distance running to another level in this country.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before they break the record,” added Gardiner. “It could go in London.”

That’s the deal with distance running. Perhaps no other sporting discipline is so dominated by African athletes. Running, obviously, is an inexpensive sport and African nations are able to produce top quality runners.

The top 17 10,000 metre times recorded in the world this year were all posted by Africans. The men’s marathon is even more dominated by Africans. But that doesn’t mean that the Canadian track community isn’t pumped about the future of distance running here.

“Canadian distance running has come a long way,” said Ahmed, after winning the 10,000 metre race at the Canadian track and field trials on Wednesday (Levins took a pass on the event to rest up for London).

“A couple of years ago, we only had one guy breaking 27.30 (in the 10K), now we have three guys (who could) with more to come. We’ve got 800 metre guys, milers, 1500 metre guys, 5 k and 10 K, marathon. We have everything. It’s very exciting.”

The biggest story has been the incredible emergence of Levins, a 23-year-old Southern Utah University runner who stunned the track community this year by recording a 27:27.96 in the 10,000 at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in Stanford, CA this spring — the second fastest time in the event by a Canadian ever. At Mt. Sac Relays in April, he posted a 13:18.47 in the 5,000, also the second fastest time in Canadian history. And right behind Levins was Ahmed, 21, who recorded a time of 27:34.64 at the Stanford meet, the third fastest 10,000 ever by a Canadian.

“Levins is going to be the best distance running we’ve ever had,” said Toronto area coach Dave Reid, a former national team runner. “Easily.”

Levins grew up in Black Creek, B.C., a small town on the Eastern shore of Vancouver Island and was a self-described “mediocre” runner early in his career. But it was after accepting a scholarship to Southern Utah University in Cedar City, a town located 5,846 feet above sea level, when his career started to take off. And the best part is, he and Ahmed are expected to push each other for years.

“He’s an inspiration, a very good guy,” said Ahmed. “He’s going to push me and I’m going to push him. It’s going to be real good. He’s very young, he’s only two years older than me. So I’m very excited to run with him, work with him and maybe train with him with the future.”

 


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