By GARY KINGSTON
It’s a long way from tiny South Hazelton, B.C. to glittering Doha, Qatar, but steeplechaser Regan Yee has given herself a chance to get there for the IAAF world championships in late September by running under the qualifying standard in her event.
Yee, 24, who missed the 9:40.00 standard for the 3,000 metre steeplechase by the blink of an eye at the Harry Jerome International Track Classic at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium three weeks ago -- she ran 9:40.06 -- went 9:35.49 in winning a Sunshine Tour race at Azusa, Calif., on Tuesday.
“I was just so relieved, it was a weight off the shoulders to have the standard now,” said Yee, a Trinity Western University grad whose personal best time at Azusa made her the third fastest Canadian woman ever at the distance.
“But there’s so much work still to be done. Nationals is going to be very competitive, but at least I can check (making the standard) off the list.”
The race was a last chance of sorts to make the qualifying standard.
“It was really the only opportunity in North America,” said Yee. It’s super hard to find a competitive steeplechase. We were supposed to have a pacer and then that fell through, but the race attracted a big group of girls wanting to run the world standard.”
Yee now needs to finish top three at the national championships in Montreal later this month to be considered for selection to the Canadian team to worlds.
“With a few of us having made standard now, it would be crazy not to take three of us (to Qatar),” said Yee.
The field in Montreal will include 2016 Olympians Genevieve Lalonde, who ran a Canadian record 9:29.82 at Shanghai in May, and UBC grad Maria Bernard-Galea, who ran a personal best 9:36.12 at Azusa on Tuesday to finish a close second to Yee.
That could make it a tactical race at Montreal, with those three just trying to assure themselves of a podium finish.
“But there are a bunch of girls just on the cusp of getting standard, so I would imagine they would want to make it a faster race,” said Yee.
That group includes Yee’s Langley Mustangs Track Club teammate Alycia Butterworth, who was fifth at Azusa in 9:40.71 and Ottawa’s Charlotte Prouse, who ran 9:42.01 at the Jerome.
Yee and Bernard are now the 26th and 27th fastest women in the world this season in the 3,000 steeplechase, although they are well back of Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech’s world-leading time of 8:55.58.
Chepkoech is the only woman to break the magical nine-minute mark this year.
“At this point, that seems like it’s very far out of reach, but you never know,” says Yee. “Just keep chipping away and training hard. For me, (9:00.00) would seem impossible, but people are doing it.”
Yee said her goal if she goes to worlds would be a finish in the top half of the field. “I don’t want to be too ambitious. If I do make it, it would be my first ever major Games. I’d be satisfied with a top half finish.”
Yee needs to go under 9:30.00 some time in the next 10 months to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but after lowering her PB to 9:35.49, she’s convinced that’s within reach.
“Oh yeah, I know it’s there.”