Disappointing world track championships for Canada

Let's hope it's simply a case of post-Olympic letdown, because the overall performance of the Canadian team at the 12th IAAF world track and field championships in Berlin has been, by and large, disappointing.

Let's hope it's simply a case of post-Olympic letdown, because the overall performance of the Canadian team at the 12th IAAF world track and field championships in Berlin has been, by and large, disappointing.

Granted, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a foot on the podium. There were 201 nations represented at the championships, 32 of which had athletes win medals.

Athletics Canada targeted two medals in Berlin, the same number Canada won two years ago in Osaka, Japan.

Priscilla Lopes-Schliep did her part with a silver medal in the women's 100-metre hurdles final despite being summoned to doping control before the race and nearly missing the final. Athletics Canada has since received a letter of apology from Dr. Gabriel Dolle, the IAAF anti-doping chief. But that was the sum total of our medal haul.

Canada tied such athletics powerhouses as Panama, Puerto Rico, Cyprus and Eritrea. Canada also failed to put many athletes in the finals.

Because Canada has so few genuine medal prospects the pressure falls on those individuals to perform. Remember Perdita Felicien in 2004? She was the only Canadian medal hope and after falling at the first hurdle she wound up apologizing to the country. Talk about pressure. Last year it was 400-metre runner Tyler Christopher from whom so much was expected and he couldn't handle the attention.

Lopes-Schliep offered her assessment.

"It comes down to the individual athletes and how they deal with the pressure of a world championship," she stated. "It's not physical at this point, it's mental — because you have done all the hard work. Definitely if [the pressure] was spread out a bit more it might be better."

Athletics Canada expected the second medal might come from hurdler Felicien who wound up eighth after cramping, or either of Kamloops, B.C.'s finest, 800-metre runner Gary Reed or Dylan Armstrong in the shot put. Both had finished fourth in the Olympics a year ago.

Reed was caught out in the 800m semifinal and did not make the final. It's fair to say that any one of a dozen runners could have won that gold medal and if the race were run eight times there could well be eight different winners, such was the competitiveness of the field.

There is no explanation for Armstrong's failure to reach the final other than he had an off day. But how many other Canadians had off days?

Canadian 100m and 200m champion Bryan Barnett looked pedestrian running 10.42 in his 100m first-round heat, though he did redeem himself somewhat anchoring the 4x100m sprint relay team to fifth place in a season's best time of 38.39 seconds.

'We are settling for mediocrity again'

None of Canada's 200m sprinters made it into the semifinals or top 16 in the world. Both our female long jumpers failed to qualify for the final, though Ruky Abdulai was not far off her best.

Athletics Canada must also be concerned with the enormous gap in the middle distances. Not a single woman represented the country in the 800m, 1,500m, 3,000m steeplechase, 5,000m or 10,000m.

"We are settling for mediocrity again," Donovan Bailey said earlier this week.

He also voiced surprise that none of the current crop of sprinters has ever asked him, the 1996 Olympic 100m champion, for advice.

Almost as troubling is the loss of three prominent Canadian coaches to the U.K.

Kevin Tyler and Derek Evely ran the Legacy Athletics Club in Edmonton. Of the five Olympians from that club, only 400m runner Carline Muir made the Canadian team this year and that was for the relay. Peter Ericksson coached numerous Paralympians including Chantal Petitclerc.

So what rays of optimism do we see? Heptathlete Brianne Theisen came to Berlin at the age of 20 with no real international experience and raised eyebrows with her ability to rebound from a couple of poor events to finish 15th in the world. Four years from now she is going to be a handful.

Nate Brannen made the 1,500m semifinals in Berlin. A year ago he was a semifinalist in the Olympics. He has not yet tapped his potential. And Sultana Frizell placed 10th in the women's hammer throw with a decent toss of 70.88 metres.

The sprint relay team was looking for a top-six performance and finished fifth. Maybe if the members improve their individual events over the next two to three years, then perhaps they are a potential medal candidate.

If Tyler Christopher (400m), Perdita Felicien, Adam Kunkel (400m hurdles), Carline Muir, Kevin Sullivan (1,500m) and others can resuscitate their careers then the overall picture appears much brighter. It's two years until the next edition of the IAAF world track and field championships occurs in Daegu, South Korea. The Commonwealth Games in Delhi next year don't count.  Athletics Canada hopes this transition occurs sooner rather than later.