Track and Field·Profile

Emerging star Crystal Emmanuel hopes for double gold at track nationals

Sprinter Crystal Emmanuel, who at 25 is threatening the Canadian women's 200-metre record held by Marita Payne since 1983, has repeated as champion in the 100 and will attempt to duplicate the feat in the 200 Sunday morning in Ottawa.

Toronto native nears Canadian record in 200m after shedding bad habits

Crystal Emmanuel, who won the senior women's 200-metre final at last year’s Canadian track and field championships, is in Ottawa this week to defend her titles in the 100 and 200. The 25-year-old won the 100 in a season-best 11.20 seconds on Friday and will try to break Marita Payne’s 33-year-old record in the 200 on Sunday at 11:50 a.m. ET. (Kevin Light/CBC Sports/File)

Charles Allen still laughs at the rules he made with Crystal Emmanuel shortly after they formed a coach/sprinter relationship in September 2015.

It was agreed the Toronto runner would keep her phone across the room while sleeping and had to replace candy with fruits and vegetables two weeks before a competition.

The Emmanuel that Allen once knew would arrive tired for practice, perform on the track lazily and suddenly hit a wall, the result of a sugar rush after eating sweets minutes before a workout.

"I would not say she was a lost athlete," the high performance coach with Athletics Canada said during a recent phone interview. "I think she just needed to be empowered. She needed to understand her sport a little more, understand that she has control and she is committed to her goals, rather than relying on me."

I go into competition now with the mindset that this is my race, the 200 is for me and I just run it.— Canadian sprinter and 2016 national champion Crystal Emmanuel

A mature and open conversation on Day 1 has evolved into a trusted relationship, with Emmanuel looking to repeat as champion in the women's 100 and 200 metres at this week's Canadian track and field championships in Ottawa.

Emmanuel ran a season-best 11.20 seconds in the women's 100 final on Friday. She'll try to repeat as a double gold medallist at nationals when she runs the 200 final at 11:50 a.m. ET Sunday after qualifying first with a time of 22.99 in Saturday's semifinal.

Fresh off a season-best time of 22.69 seconds, the happier, healthier and more confident Emmanuel is also threatening to shatter the Canadian 200 record of 22.62 held by Marita Payne — the mother of Canadian NBA standout Andrew Wiggins — that has stood since July 10, 1983.

"I always knew the 200 was my signature event," said the 25-year-old Emmanuel, who has never finished below the top two in either the 100 or 200 at nationals for the past seven years. "I go into competition now with the mindset that this is my race, the 200 is for me and I just run it."

Emmanuel, who has already met the qualifying standard of 23.10 for this summer's world championships in London, England, will cement her spot on the Canadian squad with a gold or silver performance at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility.

"Crystal loves the 100 metres," said Allen, "but the 200 metres is her best friend. When she steps on the [start] line, her confidence in the 200 metres is unmatched."

Allen said she tends to get really excited for the 100, leading to minor mistakes on the straightaway. Leading up to nationals, the focus was speed work and simulating her execution in various parts of the two events.

The coach added Emmanuel's potential for success was evident from the time they first hooked up after Allen joined the East High Performance Hub in Toronto following the firing of coaches Anthony McCleary and Desai Williams.

"At the very least, we needed to fine-tune some things," he said. "Her technique wasn't the best and her running mechanics were inconsistent. Having a race plan that worked for her that she understood and believed in was important."

The coaching change, Emmanuel said, motivated her to improve her training and eating habits. The turning point in her athletic career came a few months later at the 2016 nationals/Rio Olympic trials in Edmonton, where Emmanuel said she was confident in her preparation and her coach en route to winning the 100 and 200 in 11.26 and 22.83, respectively.

"Two years ago, I would get mad at the outcome because I didn't get the time I wanted," said Emmanuel, whose mother Rolinda competed internationally for Barbados in athletics in the 1980s. "My coach said if you worry about the outcome, you're going to mess up the beginning of the race, run tight and fight to get to the finish line.

"I have faith in the work I do and going to nationals is about executing that perfectly."

'Sky is the limit'

Emmanuel, who finished 23rd in the 200 last summer in Rio de Janeiro, has had the greatest success on the world stage with Canada's 4x100 relay team that placed seventh in Brazil.

Allen is confident Payne's record will be broken this season, perhaps not in Ottawa, saying the "sky is the limit" for Emmanuel "as long as she continues to stay humble, focused and continues working."

Should Emmanuel need a reminder, she'll only need to peek in her bag near the track at any competition to see the handkerchief her grandmother passed along before her death in 2006.

"It always reminds me of how strong she was," Emmanuel said. "She always told me when I go to practice to never give up and give your all, no matter how your body feels that day."