Last Lap for Diane

Diane Cummins to make Jerome Classic her swan song

Diane Cummins to make Jerome Classic her swan song

Bronze medalist Diane Cummins of Canada celebrates on the podium with her medal for the women's 800 metres final at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium during day eight of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games on October 11, 2010 in New Delhi, India.

Photograph by: Michael Steele , Getty Image

METRO VANCOUVER - Canada’s grand dame of the track, 40-year-old Diane Cummins, will race for the final time on home soil Thursday when she runs the 800 metres at the Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Track Classic at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby.

The 10-time national champion will retire at the end of the year, hopefully after getting into a few last races in Europe.

“Don’t blink, it will be gone. An 18-year (career) has flown by,” she joked to reporters after finishing second at the Victoria Track Classic on Tuesday to Megan Bishop of Egansville, Ont.

The three-time Commonwealth Games medalist, including bronze at New Dehli in 2010 at 36, and a Pan-American Games gold medalist, Cummins set the Canadian standard of one minute, 58.39 seconds in 2001 in Rieti, Italy.

She has stayed incredibly competitive over the years – running a 2:00.35 in 2012 -- and been a mentor of sorts to a whole host of young runners, several of whom who will race against her tonight. The group includes Bishop, who ran a personal best 1:59.70 in Victoria, North Vancouver’s Jessica Smith (1:59.86 PB) and Vancouver’s Helen Crofts (2:01.35 PB).

“Diane has been a huge inspiration to so many people . . . she’s been through the wringer and back,” says Bishop, the reigning national champion.

Kate Van Buskirk, who won the 1,500 metres at the national championships last month in Moncton, N.B., wrote a blog piece paying tribute to the down-to-earth Cummins as her hero and role model.

“I grew up watching Diane on TV—in that glorious age of Canadian athletics when track and field meets still warranted live air time – and remember thinking that she was just the best thing since sliced bread,” wrote Van Buskirk, who started as an 800-metre runner.

“Her devastating speed and raw grit are balanced by her poise and sportsmanship. Win or lose, thrilled or disappointed, Di is classy, honest and positive.”

Bishop, Smith and Karine Belleau-Beliveau are all headed to Glasgow next week for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Cummins didn’t make standard and was disappointed that Athletics Canada, with whom she’s often clashed over selection criteria and funding, set the date for reaching that standard too early.

Born in South Africa, Cummins moved to Canada in 1994 and lived for several years in Victoria. She now lives and trains in Missoula, Montana, where she’s planning a post-competitive career in coaching.

“I never thought I would get into coaching, but I’ve done a little bit of volunteer (coaching) in the last couple of years with kids aged 12 to 18 and I really love it. I feel like that’s where I can make an impact in this sport, in that age group, so hopefully I can go back and work more full-time with the Mountain View Track Club.

“Aside from that, all those other exciting things, mountain biking and skiing and all those other sports, I’ve avoided for fear of injury for the last 15 years, I kind of feel like I’ve been missing out.”

Other featured events at the Jerome, which begins at 5:45 p.m., include the men’s 100 metres, with fast-rising Canadian Aaron Brown set to compete. The Glasgow-bound, Toronto product has a personal best of 10.05 and, in May, broke Atlee Mahorn’s 23-year-old record in the 200 metres with a time of 20.16.

In the men’s jump, Nanoose Bay native Mike Mason, who was 12th at the 2012 Olympics, will face a stiff challenge from American Jesse Williams, the 2011 world championships gold medalist.

The Jerome will also celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Miracle Mile at the British Empire Games in Vancouver by holding a men’s mile race with $10,000 up for grabs -- $6,000 to the winner with a $4,000 bonus if his time is under 3:56.00.

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