By Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press, 2016
When Charles Philibert-Thiboutot races the Wanamaker Mile, he'll be adding his name to one of track and field's greatest stories.
The 25-year-old from Quebec City has been awarded a lane in the marquee race of New York's Millrose Games, the world's longest running and most prestigious indoor meet.
"While I was running as a collegiate (for Laval Rouge et Or), when you get to see a track meet on TV, that does not happen often, and Millrose Games is broadcast on NBC, so I was able to watch it live a few years," Philibert-Thiboutot said.
"It was always really cool to see that event unfold and to see how the mile was the king event, and how there was excitement for the mile."
The Millrose Games event has been an indoor track and field staple since 1908, when employees of Wanamaker's department store formed the Millrose track club to hold a meet. The Wanamaker Mile, named after department store heir Rodman Wanamaker, has been the premier event since 1926, and has seen some of the sport's biggest names race to victory.
Famous Irishman Eamonn Coghlan won seven Wanamaker Miles in the 1970s and '80s, earning the nickname "Chair of the Boards" — also the name of his autobiography — because the race was run on a wooden track.
Bernard Lagat of the U.S. has won eight. Graham Hood, in 1995, is the only Canadian to win the storied event.
The race was traditionally held at 10 p.m. so legendary sports announcer Ted Husing could broadcast it live during the nightly news. This year's even is scheduled for 5:50 p.m. on Feb. 20, the last event of the night, right after the national anthem. The women's Wanamaker Mile is at 5:24.
The event is the latest highlight in a string of them for Philibert-Thiboutot, who made the leap from Canadian university track to racing in three Diamond League meets last summer, and won bronze in the 1,500 metres at the Pan American Games.
"I had run 3:38 a bunch of times the summer before, and 3:38 is a really good time, right on the verge of becoming an international runner, but not quite there," Philibert-Thiboutot said. "I knew if I had had a good race with good conditions, I would have run faster than that and maybe made it into the international level of athletes."
So summer Philibert-Thiboutot flew to Europe — largely on his own dime — and with the help of his agent, knocked on the figurative doors of some of the top meet directors.
His first big race was the Dream Mile in Oslo. He arrived the day of the race, and was scheduled to run in the B section, but a runner dropped out of the elite race and Philibert-Thiboutot got a lane. His mile time there of 3:54.52 was the fourth fastest in Canadian history.
He went on to race in Diamond League meets in Monaco and Stockholm, finishing the season with a personal best 1,500 time of 3:34.23. He was got the majority of money back thanks to his performances.
"I don't think this summer any meet director that had me in their race regretted it afterwards, because every time I put pressure on them and myself to get into that race, I delivered," he said. "Looking back, I wouldn't have done it any other way. Being where I'm at right now, there's no price tag."
Philibert-Thiboutot has already met the qualifying standard for the Rio Olympics, which will allow him to focus more on training than chasing times. His goal is to make the Olympic final.
"I think I have what it takes, but in the 1,500 metres, it's such a crap shoot, so much strategy involved. You really never know," he said. "I'm not expecting to be in the chase for a medal or anything, but once you're in the final, anything can happen and you just give it your best."
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By Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press