Justyn Knight aims for competitive run against elite field in potential Olympic preview
Toronto native more confident, stronger entering Golden Gala than 2019 world final
Justyn Knight remembers feeling tired entering the semifinals and final of the men's 5,000 metres at the track and field world championships nearly two years ago. His pursuit of the qualifying standard had taken a lot out of the Canadian runner, both physically and mentally, in the summer of 2019.
He advanced to the 15-man final by a half-second but when the runners ahead of him made a move to the front pack, an exhausted Knight didn't respond and sealed his fate on Sept. 30 at Khalifa International Stadium, where he placed 10th of 14 finishers in 13 minutes 26.63 seconds.
"The important takeaway was never falling off the lead pack," the Toronto native told CBC Sports this week from his Virginia apartment before flying to Italy to compete at Thursday's Golden Gala Diamond League meet. "I was out of shape and knew I could do better. You can't be comfortable with being mediocre.
"I'm a lot stronger heading into this race and the [Tokyo Olympics], [I] have matured a lot mentally and I'm in a good spot. My confidence is a lot higher than two years ago."
Thursday's race at 3:23 p.m. will be the first 5,000 since worlds for Knight, who didn't race in 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sports world. He posted an 8:13.92 PB in a two-mile race indoors earlier this year and ran under the Olympic standard in 3:33.41 in his most recent outdoor 1,500 on May 9.
What was <a href="https://twitter.com/justyn_knight?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@justyn_knight</a>'s weekly mileage at Syracuse? Less than you think.<br>🎙: <a href="https://t.co/iHCaHwIJ6B">https://t.co/iHCaHwIJ6B</a> <a href="https://t.co/1YVlsTCItT">pic.twitter.com/1YVlsTCItT</a>—@FloTrack
The former Syracuse University cross-country and track star admitted to feeling a bit nervous and excited to run against most of the field from the world final and nine of the top 10 runners in the current world rankings, including world record holder Joshua Cheptegei (No. 3), Olympic bronze medallist Hagos Gebrhiwet (No. 8) and world No. 2 Telahun Haile Bekele, the 2019 Golden Gala winner in 12:52.98.
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Cheptegei told reporters Wednesday he is looking to break Eliud Kipchoge's 12:46.53 Golden Gala record from 2004.
"I think the meeting record is in danger … I hope I can target 12:40 or faster," he said.
"I think the meeting record will be in danger tomorrow"<a href="https://twitter.com/joshuacheptege1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@joshuacheptege1</a> ahead of the 5000m at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FlorenceDL?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FlorenceDL</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DiamondLeague?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DiamondLeague</a> <a href="https://t.co/ZpvdWVAXVR">pic.twitter.com/ZpvdWVAXVR</a>—@Diamond_League
Ahmed ranks ninth after running the 10th fastest 5,000 in history last July, bettering his own Canadian record by 10 seconds in 12:47.20. Only Cheptegei has run faster than the 2019 world bronze medallist since the start of 2020. Last month, Ahmed topped the field in 13:18.49 at the Sound Running Track Meet in Irvine, Calif.
Last fall, Ahmed admitted to feeling more confident in his abilities and more experienced in handling the nerves, anxiousness and pressures of racing.
"He's a very unassuming guy and humble," Jerry Schumacher, Ahmed's coach at Bowerman Track Club in Portland, told CBC Sports last fall. "He's got this quiet confidence but when he comes out [on the track] he packs a big punch."
WATCH | Ahmed: From humble beginnings … to Olympic podium?:
Knight, who lives and trains in Charlottesville as a member of Reebok Boston Track Club, noted his recent workouts have focused on building enough strength to hold pace and stay with the lead pack.
"I can't dodge these guys all year," he said, "so I think this will be a great way to warm up to what things might look like in Japan. I'm not treating this as a rust-buster. I'm going to give my best effort to win. I want to be competitive."
DeBues-Stafford boasts 4:00.69 season best
Ranked fourth in the world, the Bowerman athlete stopped the clock in 3:56.12 at worlds two years ago and boasts a 4:00.69 season-best from the May 9 USTAF Golden Games in Walnut, Calif.
Like Knight and Ahmed, DeBues-Stafford is part of a loaded field, led by reigning Olympic 1,500 champion Faith Kipyegon. Ethiopian-born Dutch distance runner Sifan Hassan is also one to watch. She holds the Golden Gala record of 3:56.22 from 2017 and ran 29:06.82 Sunday in the 10,000 that stood as a world mark until Ethiopia's Letesenbe Gidey lowered the time to 29:01.03 on Tuesday.
WATCH | DeBues-Stafford runs 1,500-metre PB at 2019 worlds:
Desgagnés, who studies medicine at Laval University in Quebec City, prepared for his first race on the Diamond League professional circuit with an 8:24.40 PB at the recent Portland Track Festival — nearly five seconds off his previous best from 2019 — that should vault the 22-year-old to around 50th spot in the world rankings, according to coach Félix-Antoine Lapointe.
Should Desgagnés fail to hit the 8:22 Olympic standard by June 29, he would need to rank inside the top 45 and finish top-three at the June 24-27 national championships in Montreal to clinch a spot on the Canadian squad. He's currently battling Calgary's Ryan Smeeton for the final steeplechase berth behind Matt Hughes and John Gay.
Thursday's steeplechase race is at 2:20 p.m.
WATCH | Why Diamond League is important as the clock winds down to Tokyo 2020: