Jessica Smith at the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in Vancouver on Tuesday.
Photograph by: Arlen Redekop , PNG
VANCOUVER – A desperate, late-in-the-game attempt to meet a stringent 2012 Olympic qualifying standard propelled Jessica Smith to a rare sub two-minute 800 metres at the 2012 Harry Jerome Track Classic.
On June 8, with a berth in a home country Pan Am Games and the 2015 IAAF world championships on the line – not to mention the 2016 Olympic standard to meet -- the North Vancouver runner hopes to channel the good feeling from that dynamic race.
To do so, she’ll probably review a couple of videos.
“I’ve watched, not only the actual meet footage of the Jerome from 2012, but my family members also took a video from the (grandstand),” Smith, 25, said at a news conference Tuesday.
“That moment, hearing just their excitement, their enthusiasm cheering me, that’s a moment I don’t usually hear. So watching that makes me run harder. And it makes me proud to represent my family and the country.”
The women’s 800 – an event where Canada has significant depth – will be one of the marquee events at the 2015 Vancouver Sun Jerome Classic at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium, particularly if Canadian champion Melissa Bishop of Eganville, Ont., is healthy.
Needing to go under 1:59.90 to make the 2012 Olympic team, Bishop and Smith set personal bests of 1:59.70 and 1:59.86 in going 1-2 at that year’s Jerome. Bishop didn’t make it out of the heats in London, but Smith made it to the semifinals and finished 22nd overall.
At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Bishop was eighth in the final in 2:02.61, while Smith was eliminated in the semifinals.
The Canadian women with the top two times as of June 14 will compete at the Pan Ams in Toronto in July. Injuries, including a twisted ankle, have kept Bishop from racing this spring, so Montreal’s Karine Belleau-Beliveau (2:02.49) and Smith (2:02.81), currently hold down the two spots, but there are a handful of challengers looking to knock them off.
To demonstrate how tough that two-minute barrier is, only three women in the world have gone under it so far this season. And while Canada’s Diane Cummins won Pan Am gold in 2007 in 1:59.75, Adriana Munoz of Cuba took gold at the 2011 Pan Ams in pedestrian 2:04.08.
Canadians in the field for this year’s Jerome include Smith, Belleau-Beliveau, Bishop, Rachel Aubrey (2:02.09 PB), Rachel Francois (2:02.18 PB) and SFU senior Lindsay Butterworth, who repeated as NCAA Division II champion on the weekend when she ran a personal best of 2:02.88.
Two Americans, including Phoebe Wright, who has a personal best of 1:58.22 and a season-best of 2:01.65 are also in the field. And meet director Doug Clement is hoping to have a rabbit who will set a strong pace.
“We’re just negotiating this morning with a Latvian girl who lives in Moscow, Idaho, who has run 2:03,” said Clement. “We’re looking to see if she’ll do it.
“The issue (for the Canadians hoping to get to the Pan Ams) is, will they run fast enough? It’s a double bind. They have to beat (their fellow Canadians) and have a faster time than they had done any time in the season. They can’t just tactically do this.
“That’s why the foreign competition could be so vital. And pace-making to make this thing roll.”
Smith, who has run in California, Jamaica and Puerto Rico already this month, believes she’s ready to run a fast race and potentially go under the 2:01.00 standard for 2016 Olympic qualification.
“My coach and I, we know we have a progression plan for hitting those marks at a specific time. Right now, I’m in a good position. I’ve been running consistently around the 2:02 mark. With consistency comes a big break and I’m waiting for that big break.
“It could come at the Jerome.”
Smith also said she’s glad that Athletics Canada has set the 2016 Olympics standard more in line with IAAF standards and is allowing athletes to actually meet it in the year before the Games.
“It kind of takes a bit of the pressure off the Olympic year.”
While there are women nipping at her heels for a spot on the Pan Am and world championship teams, she relishes the competition.
“I’ve been in this position before. Every year, you’re fighting for a spot on the national teams. This year, there’s a couple of teams and there’s a lot of women who are running fast. I just have to perform at my best when I can.”
“I’ve been having that same moment in my head from 2012 for years now. And I’m looking to repeat that performance. Big things to come.”
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