Bairu wins men's 5,000 at track nationals

Simon Bairu, a four-time Canadian cross-country champion, won the men's 5,000 metres for his first national track title at the Canadian athletics championships in Toronto on Thursday.

Simon Bairu, a four-time Canadian cross-country champion, took the lead with three laps remaining in the men's 5,000 metres and went on to capture his first national track title on the opening day of the Canadian athletics championships in Toronto.

The 25-year-old Regina native turned back the challenge of Olympian Eric Gillis to finish in a time of 13:39.23.

Gillis, who won the 10,000m last year, finished second (13:49.45) with Mark Steeds third (14:08.54).

"I have never won a track title," said Bairu, who was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

"I call it my little curse. I just have never been able to put it together for this meet.

"This is my last track race for the year. So going into it, my motivation was to just go out with a bang.

"I knew it was going to be tough and I knew it was going to be humid. But Portland has been humid the last couple of weeks."

Bairu graduated from the University of Wisconsin and remained there until this year, when his coach Jerry Schumacher accepted a position at Nike's world headquarters in Portland.

Missing the cold Wisconsin winters, Bairu said, is a bonus.

"Coming into the race, we were actually trying to run 13:20 [the world championships standard]," he revealed. "You saw the lead change early and go back and forth.

"The humidity made that plan fall apart. I told myself I would make one big race to break Gillis. I did that and it worked out well."

Rather than go to Europe and chase the world championship standard, Bairu plans on making his marathon debut at the New York City Marathon in October.

He also would like to run at the IAAF world half marathon championships in Birmingham, England, if selected by Athletics Canada.

Quinn-Smith supreme in women's 5,000m

A shortage of entries in the women's 10,000m forced its cancellation, so Tara Quinn-Smith elected to try her hand at the 5,000m.

The Waterdown, Ont., native was extremely pleased she did as she won the gold medal in a personal best time of 15:50.35.

Kendra Schaaf led from the gun and appeared to be running away with the race.

But with a kilometre remaining, Quinn-Smith, who is part of the Brooks Marathon Project, an initiative to develop Canadian marathoners, began eating away at that lead.

"I think I just had my own rhythm and tried to think about the workouts we had done," Quinn-Smith said. "We have done simulation workouts, where we do a couple of laps at race pace and then drop it hard [and] I think that really helped me to think about that when I was out there.

"They took it out really hard and the 5,000 is a world of difference for me. I haven't done a 5,000 in years — since I was in college — I'm excited."

Bertocchi bids for 8,000 points

Massimo Bertocchi leads the men's decathlon after the first day of competition.

The 23-year-old is seeking a berth on the Canadian team bound for the world championships in Berlin from August 15-23.

The University of Toronto Track Club star needs a score of 8,000 points to gain selection.

A year ago, he qualified for the Beijing Olympics with a personal best score of 8,014 — achieved by winning at the nationals.

Bertocchi finished the first day of competition with a combined score of 4,076 points.

"I'm pretty sure I can still get 8,000," he said after finishing third in his 400m heat. "But I am going to need a good day.

"I was expecting more in the 400; I gave it all I had. That is what my body had left."

Bertocchi, a graduate of George Brown College's Culinary Arts program planned to cook himself a meal of pasta and chicken, catch an early night and finish the decathlon with a vengeance.