Canada's team at the 12th IAAF world athletics championships, which begin Saturday in Berlin's legendary Olympic stadium, is smaller than head coach Alex Gardiner had imagined, but he's still set on the team winning at least two medals.
Several athletes assumed to be capable of competing in Berlin were unable to achieve the qualifying standards. That leaves 31 members to represent Canada during the Aug. 15-23 event.
Injuries have also depleted the numbers. For example, Kevin Sullivan, the national record holder in the 1,500 metre, mile and 3,000 metre, cannot perform as the result of an Achilles tendon injury.
A year ago, Sullivan was one of three entrants in the 1,500 at the Beijing Olympics, but of that trio, only Nate Brannen of Cambridge, Ont., will represent Canada in Germany. The Canadian Olympic trials winner, Taylor Milne, failed to make the standard this time around.
Heptathlete Jessica Zelinka, who was fifth at the Beijing Olympics, has taken the year off to have a baby.
Since Aug. 4, team members have been at a training camp organized by Athletics Canada in Kamen-Kaserau, a small town near Dusseldorf. Dylan Armstrong (fourth in the Olympics) was able to train with the help of a brand new shot circle.
Gardiner is upbeat following the camp.
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"My view of the team is we have some top-end strings such as in the women's hurdles with Priscilla (Lopes-Schliep) and Perdita (Felicien) and the men's 800 metre with Gary Reed," Gardiner said.
"There are some others to watch like Dylan Armstrong in the shot put and then the 4x100-metre relay team is coming on. I don't think any of the members are over 24 years old. They are a pretty exciting group. Another hopeful is Ruky Abdulai in the long jump and Nate Brannen — although he is not a rookie, he is making some breakthroughs and knows he can run with the best in the world."
Middle distance women, Legacy notably absent
Canada will be without a single representative in the women's middle distance events (800 m, 1,500 m, 5,000 m and 10,000 m), which Gardiner acknowledges is a significant problem.
"Malindi Elmore certainly came close to the 1,500-metre standard but not close enough to be selected," Gardiner explained. "That event has obviously fallen back. It's not that we don't have the talent, but we need to bring this women's group together with their coaches and concentrate on improvement."
Another surprise is the absence of an individual entrant from the Edmonton-based Legacy Athletics club.
Legacy members Tyler Christopher, the 2008 IAAF world indoor 400 m champion, Adam Kunkel, the Canadian record holder in the 400 m hurdles, and Carline Muir, the 2008 Canadian 400 m champion, who performed well at the Beijing Olympics making the semifinals, all failed to achieve the world championship qualifying standards. Muir will run on the Canadian women's 4x400 m relay team.
The athletes have regressed this year as a result of the defection of two of their coaches. Kevin Tyler and then Derek Evely both left for United Kingdom Athletics.
"Kevin saw his future in U.K. sport, one that suited his profile," Gardiner said. "Derek Evely decided to take a job there as well. He gets a chance to work with Dan Pfaff (former coach to Olympic champions Donovan Bailey, Bruny Surin and Glenroy Gilbert). UK Athletics have scooped up some of the best coaches in the world.
"Very regrettably, it has left the athletes at large. Some are making career decisions on whether to move on as well."
Two years ago at the world championships in Osaka, both Perdita Felicien and Gary Reed (800 m) won silver medals. Felicien and Olympic bronze medallist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep are competing in an event that has no clear-cut favourite and are both contenders. Reed is also coming into form at precisely the right time.
Athletics Canada is counting on athletes to finish in the top eight in their events because funding from Sport Canada's Own the Podium (OTP) program is based not only on medal performances at world championships but also on demonstrating potential through top eight finishes.
"We make a commitment to Own the Podium, which includes medal positions and top eight places at the world championships," said Gardiner. "Our funding will be determined to a great degree by medal outcome. There will be a mid-quadrennial review after 2010, to see if our marks are being met. We are fortunate that OTP is our partner, not just our bank."
Winners of individual events earn $60,000 US, silver medallists $30,000 and bronze medallists $20,000. Eight place is worth $4,000. In addition, the IAAF has announced world record bonuses of $100,000.