Moh Ahmed, Justyn Knight give Canada 2 track medal threats in Olympic 5,000m final
De Grasse, Brown explosive in 200 semis; Rogers held off podium in hammer throw
North America's two fastest 5,000-metre runners of all-time will race alongside each other in search of their first Olympic medal.
Moh Ahmed of St. Catharines, Ont., and Toronto's Justyn Knight finished second and third in their respective heats Tuesday to automatically advance to Friday's 15-man final at 8 a.m. ET in Tokyo.
Ahmed, who boasts a Canadian record time of 12 minutes 47.20 seconds, crossed the finish line in 13:38.96 in the slower of the two qualifying races.
Knight ran an intelligent race in his Olympic debut and clocked 13:30.22 against world record holder Joshua Cheptegei, his standout Ugandan teammate Jacob Kiplimo and Spanish record holder Mohamed Katir.
About 40 minutes later, Andre De Grasse and Aaron Brown wowed Canadian sprint fans with their jaw-dropping semifinal performances in the 200 at Olympic Stadium. De Grasse lowered a 19.80 personal best from the 2016 Olympic semifinals with a 19.73 clocking to win his heat while Brown turned in a 19.99 season best.
Meanwhile, Camryn Rogers of Richmond, B.C., lost her bid to win Canada's first Olympic medal in hammer throw since Duncan Gillis took silver in 1912, finishing fifth.
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Last Friday, Ahmed appeared headed for his first Summer Games medal but faded before reaching the final straightaway in the 10,000, placing sixth, and had four days to recover before Tuesday's heats.
After positioning himself near the back in the first of two heats to read the field, Ahmed worked his way to the front near the 1,500-metre mark. The 30-year-old worked hard to maintain his position on the inside and later settled behind eventual heat winner Nicholas Kimeli of Kenya.
"I just wanted to run it kind of like a final — the least distance and get that top five [in the heat to automatically qualify]," Ahmed told CBC Sports.
At one point, Kimeli raised his hand to signal he was being tripped up by Ahmed, who also rubbed elbows with Kenya's Daniel Ebenyo while trying to hold the inside lane.
"The Kenyans were boxing me in. I don't know what the hell they were doing," said Ahmed. "There was a lot of talking out there."
Potential disaster avoided
Sitting third with 400 metres to go, Ahmed passed Kimeli around 60 metres from the finish but quickly surrendered the lead realizing he had secured a top-five finish to move on.
WATCH | Ahmed places 2nd in slow 5,000-metre heat:
Vancouver's Luc Bruchet was 13th of 19 finishers in the heat and 27th overall in his Olympic debut. He will depart Tokyo with a 13:44.08 performance after running 13:12.56 in mid-June at the Harry Jerome Track Classic to beat the 13:30.50 Tokyo standard and take 10 seconds off his PB.
Knight grabbed an early lead before dropping back and sitting sixth or seventh for much of his heat. The Reebok Boston Track Club member also avoided potential disaster when Dawit Fikadu of Bahrain fell in front of him with under four laps remaining..
Knight was fifth to begin his final lap and finished strong in only his second 5,000 of 2021. On June 10, Ahmed and Knight became the two fastest North American 5,000 runners of all-time when they reached the finish line in 12:50.12 and 12:51.93, respectively, at the Golden Gala Diamond League meet in Florence, Italy.
For the 25-year-old Knight, it was his first 5,000 since the world championship final on Sept. 30, 2019. Disappointed by his 10th-place performance at worlds, Knight improved his nutrition and trained with marathoners, doing tempo runs — running a pace you can maintain for about 60 minutes — and hill workouts.
WATCH | Knight secures spot in 5,000m final of Olympic debut:
"Justyn's always been one to think big and I know he's thinking big this year," his coach Chris Fox told CBC Sports in March. In 2014, Fox recruited Knight out of St. Michael's College School in Toronto and four years later retired from college coaching at Syracuse University to join Knight at Reebok Boston.
"A year ago, we wanted to make the Olympic final and [finish] top five or six [before the Games were postponed in March 2020]," Fox said. "If he keeps healthy and things go right, we certainly can think about a medal [in Tokyo]."
Perfect in individual Games, world medal races
In the 200, Brown might enter the medal conversation after he exploded from the starting blocks and ran alongside reigning world champion Noah Lyles entering the straightaway, with the latter also reaching in 19.99 and 1-1000th of a second behind the Toronto native and Liberia's Joseph Fahnbulleh, who set a national record.
"I got a good start. I wanted to drive for the first 40 or 50 metres and really set myself up well off the corner," said Brown. "Then I just stayed relaxed and took it home."
Competing at his first Summer Games, Lyles is seeing to become the first American sprint champion in the Olympic 200 since 2004 when Shawn Crawford led a podium sweep for the United States. The 24-year-old won the final at U.S. trials in a season world-leading 19.74.
Brown, who has never won an individual Olympic medal, will get his chance on Wednesday at 8:55 a.m. ET after finishing 16th five years ago in Rio.
WATCH | Brown wins 200m semifinal heat in season-best 19.99:
De Grasse won silver in Rio in 20.02 behind the now-retired Usain Bolt and his second straight bronze in the 100 earlier at these Games. A podium finish Wednesday would give the Markham, Ont., speedster a medal in each of his seven individual races in the 100 and 200 at the Olympics or worlds.
"It feels good that I still have my 200-metre legs in me," De Grasse told Athletics Canada. "I'm feeling good and ready for [Wednesday]."
Near the finish line in Monday's semifinal, De Grasse turned to his left in the direction of Kenny Bednarek after catching the American in the final 50 metres. Bednarek went 19.83 and advanced as the second-place finisher.
WATCH | De Grasse lowers Canadian 200m record to 19.73 seconds:
Bednarek, who won in 19.82 at the National Junior College Athletic Association national championships in 2019, won the first two showdowns of 2021 against De Grasse in May but the latter has grabbed bragging rights the past two meetings.
Hammer thrower Rogers was in tough Tuesday as all three medallists, led by Polish world record holder Anita Wlodarczyk, were in top form and delivered season-best performances. Wlodarczyk had a long throw of 78.48 followed by Zheng Wang (77.03) and Malwina Kopron (75.49) of Poland.
The 22-year-old Rogers entered the competition ranked fifth in the world and delivered a best throw of 74.35. She broke the NCAA record in the spring with a mark of 75.52, the furthest by a Canadian since Sultana Frizell (75.73). The University of California Golden Bears athlete also prevailed in 2019 before last year's season was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Tim Nedow was the first Canadian in action Tuesday evening in Tokyo and placed 31st (19.42 metres) in the qualification round of men's shot put. It represented the shortest throw by the Brockville, Ont., native since his 19.21 result in the qualifying round at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Nedow placed 16th in his 2016 Olympic debut.
"It was probably my toughest competition since I came out of college," the 30-year-old said. "I'm not going to make any rash decisions. I would like to stick around the sport."
Thompson-Herah pulls off sprint sweep
Elaine Thompson-Herah, the latest in the long list of speed stars from Usain Bolt's home country of Jamaica, blew away a much-decorated field in the women's 200-metre final.
She completed her second straight Olympic sprint sweep in 21.53 seconds, the second-fastest time in history, and surprise second-place finisher Christine Mboma of Namibia by 48-100ths of a second, while American Gabby Thomas took bronze.
Hurdler Warholm crushes his 400m world record
One of the most anticipated races on the track program more than lived up to the hype as Karsten Warholm of Norway obliterated his own world record in the Olympic 400-metre hurdles, finishing in 45.94 seconds to break the old mark by 76-100ths of a second.
Rai Benjamin of the United States finished second in 46.17, also bettering the 46.7 record Warholm set last month.
WATCH | Warholm sets another world mark in hurdles win:
Duplantis soars to pole vault gold
World record holder Mondo Duplantis of Sweden won the Olympic men's pole vault gold medal on Tuesday, soaring over 6.02 meters on his first attempt at that height.
The 21-year-old Duplantis, who finished with a silver medal behind world champion Sam Kendricks of the United States in 2019, remained the only man to fly over six metres this year.
Double world champion Kendricks was not in Tokyo to challenge him after missing the Games following a positive test for the novel coronavirus.
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With files from The Associated Press and Reuters