Track and Field

Marco Arop keeps runners guessing with 800-metre dominance since Olympic letdown

A month ago, a disappointed Marco Arop left Tokyo after failing to make the 800-metre final in his Olympic debut. Since then, the Edmonton runner has changed his race tactics and ruled the track, earning his first two wins on the Diamond League professional circuit.

Canadian skipped Brussels meet Friday to prepare for Sept. 9 Diamond League Final

In three Diamond League races since the Olympics, Marco Arop of Edmonton has won the men's 800 metres in Oregon and Switzerland while finishing third in Paris to climb to third in the world rankings. (James Lang-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Marco Arop doesn't have a big story to tell from his Olympic debut. He didn't lead the field from start to finish and win gold or a medal of any colour. He didn't even qualify for the men's 800-metre final, yet he has never been more of a threat to the competition at any time in his brief running career.

Following mixed results in Tokyo — leading wire to wire to win his heat but fading badly after leading a semifinal race and failing to advance — Arop and his coach changed tactics for the Canadian athlete's return to the Diamond League pro track and field circuit.

A traditional front-runner, Arop was last in the field of eight at the bell lap with 400 metres remaining at the Prefontaine Classic on Aug. 21 but made a move on the outside with 300 metres remaining, took the lead before the straightway and won in one minute 44.51 seconds.

Five days later, Arop grabbed the lead on the first lap in Lausanne, Switzerland, opened about a four-metre advantage at 500 metres and held off Tokyo Olympic champion Emmanuel Korir of Kenya for the victory in 1:44.50.

"You cannot go to battle with the same weapon and using the same strategies you always use against your opponents because they'll be able to figure you out and counter strike," Chris Woods, the head track and field coach at Mississippi State University, told CBC Sports this week. "We always want to continue to add a different way of winning and keep [other runners] guessing.

"What we gained from [the Olympic experience] was a vast amount of knowledge of how to race at this level."

WATCH | Arop claims 800-metre victory at Prefontaine Classic:

Edmonton's Arop bests Olympic gold and silver medallists in Diamond League 800m race

1 month ago
4:38
Edmonton's Marco Arop beat Tokyo 2020 gold medallist Emmanuel Kipkurui Korir and silver medallist Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich in the men's 800-metre race at the World Athletics Diamond League Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. 4:38

After competing three times over eight days, Arop skipped Friday's 45th edition of the Allianz Memorial Van Damme meet in Brussels to rest and prepare for the Sept. 9 Diamond League Final in Zurich.

Kate Van Buskirk was the lone Canadian representative in Belgium as a pacer of the women's 5,000 metres, won by Francine Niyonsaba in a Burundi record 14 minutes 25.34 seconds. Earlier this week, Van Buskirk had her luggage stolen on a train ride to Belgium from France.

Arop also placed third last week at the Meeting de Paris, making it five podium finishes in as many Diamond League events this season, his sixth as a serious runner.

WATCH | Arop reaches podium for 3rd time in 8 days:

Edmonton's Arop finishes 3rd as Kenyans go 1-2 in men's 800m race

1 month ago
7:00
Edmonton's Marco Arop finished in third place as Kenyans Wyclife Kinyamal and Olympic silver medallist Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich finishes first and second in the men's 800-metre race at the Diamond League meet in Paris. 7:00

With the understanding he can win a race running up front or from behind, the world's No. 3-ranked men's 800 runner will gain added confidence by committing to try something different in a race, Woods noted, adding the 22-year-old can now focus on racing and not the end result.

In Paris, Arop made a move in the back stretch to take the lead but admitted to letting up and allowing Kenya's Wyclife Kinyamal pass him in the final 100 metres for the victory, with reigning Olympic silver medallist Ferguson Rotich following in second.

"Taking the lead and easing up was my biggest mistake. I think it was a combination of fatigue and poor racing tactics," said the Sudan-born Arop, who was raised in Edmonton. "It would have been better to keep pushing and allow the momentum to carry me [across the finish line]."

'I still need work on my confidence'

Still, the 2019 Pan Am champion has performed consistently in 2021, ranging from a season-best 1:43.26 – only 6-100ths of a second shy of Brandon McBride's Canadian record – to mostly 1:44-high and a season-worst 1:45.26.

"I still believe I'm capable of running faster," said Arop. "If I'm feeling good on the day, I'd like to go for it and win from the front. I'm better at allowing the races to come to me. However, I still need work on my confidence and ability to run through traffic."

For Arop's first Diamond League Final, Woods said the race plan would be determined by data the coach has collected on the competition in recent weeks.

"There's always the option of calling an audible," said Woods, Arop's coach from his days racing at MSU and since turning pro in December 2019. "Marco knows how his body feels and that'll dictate how we run the race. If he sees or feels something that would be counter-productive to our plan, he has the right to change something.

"I believe he could've been a medallist in the Olympics and I believe he can win a Diamond League [Trophy]."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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