Jessica Smith won the women's invitational 800 metres on Monday evening at the Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Track Classic, surging past 2014 Canadian champion Melissa Bishop on the curve and fighting past newcomer Fiona Benson in the final few metres. It was one of several races at this meet that readjusted the candidates for selection to this summer's Toronto Pan Am Games.
Smith's time of 2:01.40 is the top Canadian performance in her event this year. But with six days left in the qualification period, she knows she could easily be knocked out of contention. The top two performers in each event as of June 14 will be selected to the Pan Am Games team. "There is such a strong field of 800-metre runners," she acknowledged after her race, "and they're going to be chasing it every single day. So that's what I'm going to do too. It's going to be a Canadian National Championship for the next few races."
Smith will head to Victoria for the International Track Classic on Wednesday to try to fend off the competition with a better time. Benson, who recently hacked seven seconds off her personal best, finished in 2:01.48, just ahead of Bishop in 2:01.67.
The women's 1500 metres also featured some drama, although it happened behind winner Sarah Brown of California. Aiming for a fast time, Brown stayed on the pacesetters, and sustained her lead to finish in 4:07.67. The rest of the field fought amongst themselves, and it was 33-year-old Sasha Gollish that prevailed, passing Kate Van Buskirk on the homestretch to finish in a personal best of 4:09.22. That is currently the leading Canadian mark, as Gollish edges out Nicole Sifuentes by one hundredth of a second. "I knew I had it in me to kick," said the University of Toronto PhD candidate in engineering education, "so with 300 metres to go I just looked and I thought, 'go, go, go, sit on the rail and find a way to make it to that finish line.'"
Javelin thrower Liz Gleadle continued her record-setting ways with a new meet mark of 64.34 metres. She finished well ahead of American Brittany Borman, who threw 58.51. Gleadle broke her own Canadian record earlier this year with a mark of 64.83, and is currently ranked fifth in the world. She also posted a throw of 63.78 at the Jerome, showing an impressive consistency.
The only other meet record was achieved by Maria Bernard, who ran the women's 3,000-metre steeplechase in 10:00.38.
In the women's invitational 200 metres, Khamica Bingham finished a narrow second place behind American Muna Lee, whose long career includes a fifth-place finish at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games' 100 metres. (They finished in 23:12 and 23:19.) For Bingham, a 20-year-old former national-level gymnast, the meet was a chance to compete against older, more seasoned competitors. "I'm young but I'm trying to get there, and to see Muna Lee in front of me in lane 5, it was kind of like inspiration, like, 'go with her, stay with her.'"
Bingham defeated veterans including Crystal Emmanuel (23:41) and Kimberly Hyacinthe (23:42) and earlier this season established a nation-leading mark of 22:84. But she still considers the 100 metres her focus, and runs the 200 metres primarily to work on her strength.
While it was definitely a night where the female athletes dominated, it was left to a Grade Eleven student from Surrey to steal the headlines for the men.
Michael Aono, a student at Seaquam Secondary, finished third in the Open 400 metres in 46.79 seconds, eliminating the national Youth mark of 46.83 set by Brandon McBride. And Aono wasn’t that far from second either, finishing in back of America Jeremy Warner (46.17). American Brycen Spratling won the race in 45.16.
Aono is also the number-one ranked youth 100 and 200-metre runner in Canada.
While the meet was one of the last chances for Canadian athletes to fashion a top-two national performance for Pan Am Games selection, no one moved off the current list for men.
Other highlights included British Columbia’s Mike Mason, currently ranked second in Canada with 2.28 metres, who won the high jump at 2.21.
In what was the closest race of the night, Canada’s Ross Proudfoot edged Canada’s Nate Brannen by inches in the invitational 1500 metres (3:39.62 to 3:39.71). Brannen currently leads the Pan Am contenders with a 3:37.68 clocking. Anthony Romaniw maintained his second spot for the Pan Am 800-metre team, but his winning time of 1:47.95 was above his 1:46.58.
Canada’s Taylor Milne came home in 8:27.61 to capture the 3,000-metre steeplechase over American Donald Cowart (8:27.86).
Christabel Nettey solidified her world ranking by another massive long jump with a meet record of 6.86m again bettering the World and Olympic standards. Her consistency this season is nothing short of amazing. She is seeking the podium at the Pan American games in Toronto next month.
Next stop for the NTL is Victoria on June 8. Full results and video of meet is available on Athletics Canada.TV now