Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics Summer

Reid Coolsaet needs luck to qualify

Along with hard work and talent it takes a degree of luck to make it to the Olympics, as Canadian distance runner Reid Coolsaet can well attest.

Canadian distance runner no cinch to make 5,000m standard but he's working hard

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Along with hard work and talent it takes a degree of luck to make it to the Olympics, as Canadian distance runner Reid Coolsaet can well attest. 

A year ago he won his fourth consecutive Canadian 5,000m title, improved his best time in the 10,000m to 27:56.92, and then won the Canadian Cross Country Championships. That’s when the 28-year-old resident of Guelph, Ont., started dreaming of a place on the 2008 Canadian Olympic team.  

This year started where 2007 left off. A few weeks after running a personal best time for the 3,000m indoors of 7:53.51, he finished a surprising 3rd in the U.S. 15km national road race championships March 8 and headed out to Flagstaff, Ariz., for some altitude training with fellow Canadian Eric Gillis.  That’s when his luck changed. 

While unpacking the car after the long journey he slipped on a patch of ice and fell on his hip. Though he was bruised he trained through it for about four weeks.  

Muscles askew

"I didn’t think much of it because the training was fine," Coolsaet remembers. "But the muscles must have been a little askew and after the month of putting in a 170 kilometres a week it seized up. It wasn’t until then that I realized I had pinched a nerve. 

"My sacroiliac joint seized up. The next morning I couldn’t even bend over. If I moved 10 degrees it would hurt a real lot. I didn’t think it was as serious as it was. I didn’t know I had any damage to my sciatic nerve. Once I got my mobility back I still couldn’t run."  

For five weeks he didn’t run a step but, focused on his Olympic dream, he undertook a serious regimen of cross training -- running in a pool, riding a stationary bike and aerobic work on an elliptical trainer. By his own account he was putting in 900 minutes a week of aerobic activity, three or four hours more than if he had been running. At the same time he has been seeking medical attention from a variety of specialists: a neurologist, a neurosurgeon, chiropractors, massage therapists and intramuscular therapists. All that he was missing was a dentist. 

"Well, actually, I did see a dentist in there too!" he adds. 

A week ago he did his first running workout. He measured off a 400m stretch of grass at a park in Guelph and ran 400 metres nine times and, despite some pain, was encouraged. Now he harbours a dream of achieving the Olympic A+ standard in the 5,000m.

The chances of getting a 10,000m standard now are remote as there are no more races of sufficient standard. Furthermore, the Canadian 10,000m trials were held last week. Gillis won but in a time far below the Olympic standard.  

Coolsaet needs to run the 5,000m in 13:19.62 before July 6. His personal best is 13:21.53. To accomplish this it’s necessary to pool finances -- savings, sponsorship money from New Balance and the Speed River Track Club -- to fly to an obscure European location in a last-ditch effort to get the mark. 

Odds not good

"It’s in Lille, France, on June 27," he says. "I am not sure who is in the race at this point. Last year I think three guys went under 13:20 in it. I am sure it will be a good one this year. It’s exactly one week before the trials." 

The odds of stepping on a track without proper speedwork and achieving a personal best in the first race of the year are not good. But Coolsaet won’t hear of it. Until the deadline has passed for getting the standard he will keep working toward his dream. 

In the back of his mind he must realize he may have another shot four years hence as distance runners can run at their best well into their 30s. All he needs is a bit of luck.

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