Track and Field

Melissa Bishop is still searching for the perfect race

After falling just short of the Olympic podium in Rio, Melissa Bishop and her longtime coach are working hard to make sure the Canadian runner peaks in time for Tokyo.

Canadian runner hopes to peak in time for Tokyo

Melissa Bishop, above, and her coach Dennis Fairall are constantly experimenting with new things in training to help bridge the gap between herself and her top competitors. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

Melissa Bishop finished just off the podium in Rio — 0.13 of a second to be precise — as Kenya's Margaret Wambui passed her on the final straightaway for the bronze medal in the women's 800 metres.

It's a big reason why the 29-year-old Canadian runner is still pushing herself to her limits each day in practice.

After Rio heartbreak, Melissa Bishop never wants 4th place again

5 years ago
Duration 3:42
Thinking about her fourth-place finish in the women's 800 metres at the Rio Olympics still brings Canadian runner Melissa Bishop to tears. "It's like a pain in your side that won't go away," she says.

"I really want to be on the podium in [Tokyo] 2020 and that's motivating enough for me," said Bishop, who was in Toronto last week promoting next year's North American, Central America and Caribbean track and field championships, otherwise known as Toronto 2018: Track & Field in the 6ix.

Melissa Bishop: 'Winning at home is an experience unlike anything else'

5 years ago
Duration 1:54
Melissa Bishop talks with CBC's Anson Henry about 2018 Track & Field in the 6ix.

Bishop is getting back into the thick of training after taking some time off for her wedding. Her longtime coach, Dennis Fairall, who Bishop describes as her "rock," has also been at work trying to see if there's any way he can give his pupil an edge.

Fairall has taken courses on endurance and altitude training, implementing new elements in their training plan.

"He's always trying to learn something new and how to change our training so he definitely has applied it. Nine times out of 10 he won't tell me how he's done it but you can tell when the workout changes just a little bit," Bishop said. 

"That's the beauty of Dennis — he always wants to learn. He's not stuck doing the same thing all the time. He's open to new ideas."

Melissa Bishop on coach Dennis Fairall "He's a mastermind"

6 years ago
Duration 2:30
Bishop speaks to the media after her win in the 800m at the Canadian Olympic Trials.

Both coach and runner have built trust in one another through their common desire to be better, which is one of the many reasons why Bishop works so well with Fairall.

"I trust him with my [training] program and he trusts that I will do everything that [he] asks me to do," Bishop said.

Having fun again

Their work didn't translate into hardware at this summer's world championships, where Bishop finished fifth, but the Eganville, Ont., native is racing faster than ever, lowering her own Canadian record set at the last Olympics to one minute 57.01 seconds at a Diamond League event in Monaco last July. 

Melissa Bishop sets Canadian record in women's 800 metres

5 years ago
Duration 5:32
The Eganville, Ontario native finished 5th at the Diamond League Monaco meet, but her time of 1:57:01 was good enough to set a national record. South Africa's Caster Semenya won in a time of 1:55:27 seconds.

With some minor changes, Bishop believes it's just a matter of time before she breaks 1:56. She's encouraged by the fact that she has run smart races but still hasn't put together the perfect race. She knows every aspect of her running, from her start to her finishing kick, still has room for small improvements.

Bishop also feels a better attitude has helped her produce her best-ever times.

"It was nothing to do with the tactics of the race, the venue, or where we were. I was just having fun [and] relaxed —  same thing in Rio [where] I was happy [and] smiling," Bishop said. 

"I was excited to be where I wanted to be and it took the pressure off what we needed to do."

In the heat of competition, Bishop finds it difficult at times to enjoy herself. It's one thing to say it, but another to actually put yourself into that mindset.

Bishop has a strong relationship with her coach, Dennis Fairall, that is built on trust. (Kevin Light Photography/CBC)

"It's hard because a lot of the time, we base our success off medals and it can't always be that. I've done a lot of work with my sports [psychologist], but we're human. You gotta find what you love about it and it's hard to get there," Bishop said.

Over the last few years, Bishop and her sports psychologist have worked on a more simplified approach — taking things back down to earth and embracing the present.

Or, as Bishop puts it: "Get out of your cloud nine, put your feet on the ground and realize where you are and what you're doing."


Chicco Nacion returns to his birthplace of Toronto after growing up in Niagara Falls. He graduated from the Master of Media in Journalism and Communication program at the University of Western Ontario. Follow him on Twitter @chicco_n


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