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Lepage’s Breakthrough Gives Canada Happy Ending in Decathlon

The closing of Day Ten’s afternoon session marked the end of the 2022 World Athletics Championships, an event that will be remembered for its historic location and its epic performances.

Team Canada has to look no further than at its own numbers for markers of success: the red and white finished the championship with four medals (one gold, two silver and three bronze), three national records, six personal bests and 15 top ten finishes.

Gutsy performances on the track, field and road characterized Day 10 for Team Canada. In front of a sea of fans dreading the ending of the championship, Moh Ahmed dove across the finish line in search for medals, the women’s 4x400m team contended with the best in the world, and Pierce Lepage put together the best decathlon of his life. Here are five Canadian stories that wrapped a bow on ten days of world class track and field.

 

PIERCE LEPAGE WINS FIRST WORLD MEDAL AND GIVES CANADA HAPPY ENDING IN DECATHLON

The men’s decathlon start list on Day 2 was devoid of Damian Warner, the Olympic champion who led the competition until visibly pulling his hamstring during the field’s fifth event, the 400m.

But Team Canada soon had reason to cheer again, as 26-year-old Pierce Lepage continued stacking personal bests on top of each other. After a competition-leading time of 13.68 in the 110m hurdles, and a lifetime best throw in the discus of 53.26m, he ranked ahead of all 19 other competitors and assumed a small, 18-point lead over his closest chaser: Ayden Owens-Delerme of Puerto Rico.

The afternoon session, however, started off kinder to Lepage’s main competitor, decathlon world record holder Kevin Mayer of France. Mayer bested Lepage by 40 cm in the pole vault and by nearly 13m in the javelin throw. By the time the athletes lined up for the competition’s last event, the 1500m, Lepage was 107 points back, and still 11 points ahead of Zachery Zimek of the United States.

The 1500m did little to shake up the standings. Lepage ran to a season’s best of 4:42.77, which placed him a second behind Mayer and two ahead of Zimek. His final score of 8701 was a 97-point PB, and made of him a world silver medalist for the first time of his career.

“It feels so good – it’s hard to put into the words,” he said. “I’ve always come so close at all these championships, but today I opened up with two amazing personal bests – I wasn’t really expecting it – and I just took it from there… I’m happy I lasted and made it to the top of the podium.”

Lepage said he had been dealing with lingering issues from a torn patella for the last few years, but a renewed focus on physical rehab has allowed him to train and compete at a higher level. His next stop, he said is the Commonwealth Games, but not before an evening of proper refuelling.

“I’m so tired – I’ll probably eat all the pizza in the village.”

 

WOMEN’S 4X400M RELAY SMELL THE PODIUMFINISH FOURTH IN PERSONAL BEST

Team Canada, with six 400m women on the squad, had anticipated the women’s 4x400m throughout the 10-day competition. On the final night, the fielded squad consisted of Natassha McDonald, Aiyanna Stiverne, Zoe Sherar and Kyra Constantine.

McDonald put Canada in the lead and passed it to Aiyanna Stiverne who fell to fourth against a stacked leg of runners led by American Abby Steiner. Halfway through the race, the Americans, Jamaicans and Brits had broken out into a three-horse race.

When the baton came to Zoe Sherar, who replaced Micha Powell in the quartet for the final, she was battling to keep the fourth place with three other athletes. She had held on to fourth by the time she gave the baton to Kyra Constantine, who closed in a 50-second lap to secure fourth. Their finishing time of 3:25.18 was three seconds faster than their qualifying time, and the fourth-best Canadian time in history.

 

MOH AHMED COMES FIFTH IN ONE OF THE STRONGEST 5000M FIELDS EVER ASSEMBLED

Looking to defend or better his bronze medal from 2019, Moh Ahmed stood on a 5,000m start line that included the world record holder, the defending world champion, the fastest man in the world this year, and several national record holders.

Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda, the fastest 5000m runner in history, honoured his reputation as the favourite and took the lead from the start, and the entire field formed a single pack behind him until crossing the three-kilometre mark in 8:04.

By the fourth kilometre, the pack had become a train of runners, and Ahmed charged near the front, jostling for position with teammate at Bowerman Track Club Grant Fisher, Norwegian 1,500m silver medalist Jakob Ingebrigtsen, and Cheptegei.

The lead group had shrunk to six men by the final lap, and Ahmed was running in third place when rounding the last bend, chasing Ingebrigtsen and Jacob Krop in Kenya down the home stretch, as Cheptegei lost ground and faded back. But the leaders had more juice left than Ahmed, as did Oscar Chelimo of Uganda and Luis Grijalva of Guatemala, who passed the Canadian with meters to spare. Ahmed threw himself across the line and finished fifth.

“I was like ‘you got the silver at least and maybe I could track (Ingebrigtsen) down,’” said Ahmed of his thought process in the last lap, “but I just started falling apart in the last 50. It is what it is. Top 5 is always very good – this is the deepest 5000m field ever.”

 

EVAN DUNFEE USES STRONG SECOND HALF TO FINISH SIXTH IN THE 35KM RACE WALK

In the early hours of the morning, before all dust had even settled from Canada’s 4x100m victory from the night before, Evan Dunfee walked on the streets of Eugene at a pace of four minutes per kilometre, taking part in the 35km race walk world final. For the defending Olympic 50k bronze medalist, anticipating a 2.5 hour race was like preparing for a sprint.

Pacing comfortably in a chase pack, he crossed the halfway mark in 11th, set to obliterate his personal best of 2:38.08 from earlier this year. Despite his faster-than-usual splits, the 31-year-old took to the heat better than most runners in the field, and slowly began picking off competitors until he landed in sixth and kept that position for the last five kilometres.

Dunfee crossed the line smiling under a clock reading 2:25.02. It was a 13-minute personal best.

“I’m happy. I don’t know what more I could have done today,” he tweeted after the race. “I’m a 50km guy racing a 20k guy’s race.”

Dunfee had little choice but to get accustomed to races shorter than his favourite, the 50k, which was discontinued as an Olympic distance after the 2021 Games.

“I’ll forever defend the value of the 50k, but for where my body’s been at, I can’t be unhappy with that performance. It was a mature race for me, I listened to my body really well. I really would have wanted to hunt down fifth, but I didn’t have the strength that I needed.”

I got a year to figure out how to become a 35km guy. Let’s do it.”

 

HARRISON RUNS PBMISSES STACKED 100M HURDLE FINAL

In a 100m hurdles semi-final that saw one world record and five national records go down, Michelle Harrison followed trend and ran the fastest race of her life.

The hurdler from Saskatoon was flawless over the barriers, stopping the clock in 12.74 seconds – 0.06 faster than her previous PB. It placed her fourth in her heat and 14th overall, 0.24 seconds out of a spot in the final.

“This is my first time racing so many fast girls this year, so I was just trying to stay with them and give it my best. Fortunately I came away with a PB.”

Harrison, running in heat three, brushed shoulders with a slew of women all on top of their game. Ten minutes before her heat, she learned that Nigerian Tobi Amusa set a new world record of 12.12 in heat two. The news of the record sparked the Canadian to find a new gear and push her own limits.

“It was pretty exciting – just gave me motivation to run fast in my race.

 

Photo and story courtesy of Athletics Canada.