Road To The Olympic Games

Taylor Milne on verge of Olympics

Late night gas station patrons in Guelph, Ont., might soon look back on an Olympic moment they had a couple of years go when served by a young attendant named Taylor Milne.

Many 'crappy jobs' paid the way for Ontario runner to reach world status

Taylor Milne, centre, caught the attention of Al Barnes, the track coach at High Point University in North Carolina, and accepted a scholarship. (Speed River Track and Field)

Late night gas station patrons in Guelph, Ont., might soon look back on an Olympic moment they had a couple of years go when served by a young attendant named Taylor Milne. It was one of several jobs the 1,500-metre runner has endured to make ends meet.

On Saturday Milne lined up for the men's 1,500 at the Canadian championships in Windsor, Ont., intent on booking his ticket to Beijing. He poured it on over the final bend to win his first Canadian title in 3:38.03.

Two weeks ago the 26-year-old beat a top class field at Vancouver's Harry Jerome Track Classic in a time of three minutes, 36 seconds, which bettered the Olympic A+ standard. At this point only he and Canadian record holder Kevin Sullivan have met the criteria. Now they must both finish in the top four at nationals.

"I am trying to go out and win the race," says Milne, "It's a pretty good field I would say one of the best assembled in a long time. There are six guys under 3:40.  It's not going to be one of those things where I can just make sure I make it through. If I have an off day I could be sitting at home. So I am taking this weekend as if I didn't make the standard and I have to go out and get on the podium."

North Carolina scholarship

Originally from Callander, Ont., a community of 1,200 near North Bay, Milne rode a bus to North Bay's Widdifield High School where he ran cross country in the fall then played basketball for three months before dabbling in track and field each spring. Somehow he caught the attention of Al Barnes, the track coach at High Point University in North Carolina, and accepted a scholarship.

"I got a phone call one day from a southern man I could barely understand," he remembers with a laugh. "He asked if I wanted to come to High Point. He was very straightforward. I kind of said yes without talking to my parents. They said, "At least go and check it out.' There were only 2,500 students. I like the small town feel so I liked it."

Focused, at last, on distance running Milne ran a personal best of  3:43 roughly, equivalent to a four-minute mile by the time he graduated. He drank beer and chewed tobacco with his teammates. But then he hit the same crossroads many post-collegians do -- how to continue running. Fortune smiled and Milne met Dave Scott-Thomas, the head coach of both the University of Guelph and Speed River Track Club.

The club offered him a month free rent, food and a chance to train with national champions such as Eric Gillis and Reid Coolsaet. He stayed. 

More crappy jobs

The club took him to Europe where he improved to 3:41 but he was still working jobs that were certainly not conducive to distance racing. There was a stint as a late night convenience store clerk.  With Eric Gillis he did some landscaping and then there were the weekends at an Esso gas bar where he worked midnight until 8 a.m. It all became too much and he considered quitting track.

"I didn't know I wanted to work another year in crappy jobs and worry about paying rent," he admits. "It was tough. After that 2006 European trip I went home for a couple of weeks to my parents' home."

With their help and the support of his Speed River Track Club teammates and coach Scott-Thomas he renewed his commitment. Perseverance paid off and he was rewarded with a senior card, entitling him to $900 a month.

The Ontario government kicks in a little through the Quest for Gold program and the New Balance shoe company provides Speed River athletes with shoes and clothing. Milne shares a house with several teammates and finally quit working in March of this year. Next year he is in line for an A card of $1,500 a month. The training environment in Guelph has been perfect for his development.

"Any given day you can get your butt kicked by a national champion," he explains. "If you have an off day there is always someone pushing you from behind or from in front. You never have to run alone. Everybody is trying to do the same thing."

Breakthrough race

When he looks back at his breakthrough race in Vancouver he becomes visibly excited though he realizes he has much more potential.

"I was pumped. It kind of sunk in I thought OK.  I have a shot at the Olympics," he recalls. "I never went out that fast before. It didn't hurt as much as I thought it would.  I was roughly 2:54 at 1,200m. I was sitting back in 6th and ran wide and just looked up and said 'I am going for it.'

"I never really tied up, I think, if I risked it, and went out a second or two faster at 1200m, I might not have closed so fast but maybe I'd have run 3:34.8 I don't know."

If he keeps his composure Sunday afternoon he will be named to the Canadian Olympic team Monday morning. Amongst the crowd will be his parents, his sister and some old high school friends. The pride of Callander  might soon be an Olympian.