Gabriela DeBues-Stafford to run for Olympic gold medal in 1,500 metres
Canadian record holder clocks 3:58.28, sister Lucia posts PB but won't advance
James Stafford will cheer on one daughter chasing her first Olympic medal but not before consoling another.
Canadian record holder Gabriela DeBues-Stafford clocked a season-best 3:58.28 in Wednesday's 1,500-metre semifinal heats in Tokyo to advance to the 12-runner final on Thursday night at Olympic Stadium (Friday at 8:50 a.m. ET in Canada).
"[My] second-fastest time ever. Getting back under four minutes is a huge confidence booster," she told Athletics Canada."I knew that form has been there for a while, but today felt really smooth. There were a lot of doubts this year about whether I could regain that kind of fitness and I'm back, if not better."
Her younger sister, Lucia Stafford, competed in the other semifinal and finished 13th overall in a personal-best 4:02.12 to fall 43-100ths of a second shy of Spain's Marta Perez, who grabbed the last qualifying spot with a 4:01.69 PB.
About 50 minutes later, sprinter Andre De Grasse won his first Olympic gold medal, lowering his Canadian record time to 19.62 seconds in the 200 metres to beat Kenny Bednarek, who also clocked a personal best of 19.68. Fellow American Noah Lyles, the 2019 world champion, was third in 19.74.
Another Canadian, Damian Warner, was also ruling the field in Japan and sitting first midway through the men's decathlon with 4,722 points, 81 more than Ashley Moloney of Australia. Pierce LePage of Whitby, Ont., is 193 points in arrears of Warner in third after five events.
WATCH | De Grasse an Olympic champ, Warner shines early in decathlon:
On the track, the 25-year-old DeBues-Stafford made a statement by taking the lead early in her semifinal over Japan's Nozomi Tanaka through 400 metres. DeBues-Stafford would fall back to third after 800 behind Tanaka and defending Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon, and was fourth at the bell lap.
DeBues-Stafford made a move to third inside the final 400 metres and held strong in a fast race, crossing the line third behind Kipyegon (3:56.80) and Ethiopia's Freweyni Gebreezibeher (3:57.54). It was DeBues-Stafford's fastest run since she lowered her national mark to 3:56.12 in the world championship final on Oct. 5, 2019.
That performance followed a 3:59.59 third-place effort in the Diamond League Final to become the first Canadian woman to dip under four minutes after going 4:00.26 earlier in the summer to beat Lynn Kanuka's 33-year-old national mark.
WATCH | DeBues-Stafford dips under 4 minutes to clinch spot in Olympic final:
Two months ago, DeBues-Stafford won the 800 in 1:58.70 at the Portland Track Festival, making her the first Canadian woman to ever break two minutes in the 800, four minutes in the 1,500 and 15 minutes in the 5,000. Only Melissa Bishop-Nriagu (1:57.01), Diane Cummins (1:58.39) and Charmaine Crooks (1:58.52) have run faster among Canadian women.
DeBues-Stafford, who moved to Portland, Ore., last September to work with renowned coach Jerry Schumacher at Bowerman Track Club, holds Canadian records in the mile, 1,500 and 5,000 outdoors and the mile and 5,000 indoors.
For Stafford, Wednesday's PB was her second in three days after the 22-year-old engineering grad from the University of Toronto ran 4:03.52 to advance to the semifinals. She hadn't run under 4:05.30 all season and clocked 4:09.61 in her final 1,500 before the Olympics at Canadian trials on June 27 in Montreal.
"13th at the Olympics. Another PB. Fastest ever to not make the final" Stafford wrote in an Instagram post. "Who knew what these legs could do? Who knows what they will do next …"
Hassan eyes 2nd gold in Tokyo
Sifan Hassan, the 28-year-old Ethiopian-born Dutch woman expected to attempt a rare treble in the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000, ran 4:00.23 Wednesday to win her heat and qualify sixth for the final.
The reigning world champion over 1,500 blew away the field in the 5,000 to win gold in 14:36.79. Hassan is scheduled to race the women's 10,000 final at 6:45 a.m. ET on Saturday in a field featuring Canada's Andrea Seccafien.
Hassan broke the women's world record in June, clocking 29:06.82, only to watch Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia go 29:01.03 two days later.
De Grasse, 26, is the first Canadian to win Olympic gold in the 200 since Percy Williams in 1928 and has reached the podium in all seven of his combined Olympic and world championship finals. The Markham, Ont., runner won 100 bronze on Monday and will attempt to be a triple medallist in back-to-back Summer Games when the 100-metre relay competition opens Wednesday, with heats starting at 10:39 p.m. ET.
WATCH | De Grasse makes Canadian Olympic history in 19.62 seconds:
Toronto's Aaron Brown, who is expected to join De Grasse in the relay, appeared in his first Olympic 200 final on Wednesday and was sixth in 20.20. It was the first time since 1928 Canada had two men in the race.
Near the end of Wednesday's race, De Grasse glanced slightly at Lyles to his left before running freely through the finish line, bursting into laughter, hopping and screaming in delight. He then laid down on the track to catch his breath and embrace the moment before rising to his feet and staring into a television camera, saluting his friends, family and Canadian fans.
A few minutes later, De Grasse was trackside in front of a screen talking to his family — his wife and American hurdler Nia Ali, daughter Yuri and son Titus.
"I love you guys," said a beaming De Grasse. "Did you see Daddy [race]? I can't believe it, oh my God. I'm coming home soon, I love you. Have a good day."
Gen Lalonde of Moncton, N.B., lowered her Canadian record time in the 3,000 steeplechase for the second time in four days, clearing 28 barriers and seven water jumps in 9:22.40 to place 11th of 15 competitors in the women's final.
WATCH | Lalonde shaves time off Canadian steeplechase record:
The 29-year-old, who now lives in Victoria, reclaimed the mark with a 9:22.64 clocking in Sunday's heats to beat the 9:27.54 posted by Regan Yee of Hazelton, B.C., at a World Athletics Continental Tour meet in Montreal on June 29, the final day of Olympic qualifying.
Warner, 31, starred in the decathlon, topping his group in high jump (2.02 metres) and winning his 400 heat with a 47.48 SB to complete Wednesday's action. The London, Ont., resident is slightly off his Day 1 pace from the prestigious Hypo Meeting in May (4,743 points) when Warner becoming the first person to win six titles and shattered his Canadian record in the process with 8,995 points.
Mayer's world mark in jeopardy?
"What he did in Götzis this year was quite unfathomable after training indoors at a hockey arena [through the winter]. He has a real opportunity to break [Frenchman Kevin Mayer's] world record [of 9,126]," CBC Sports analyst and former Canadian decathlete Mike Smith said ahead of the Olympics.
Added Warner: "This is my second-best performance ever and to do that at an Olympic Games, with the tough schedule and the heat, I'm really happy. This decathlon is far from over and I think that I can do some good things tomorrow."
LePage cleared 1.99 in high jump and stopped the clock in 46.92 for third behind Warner in their 400 heat. The 25-year-old first-time Olympian was second to Warner in Götzis and won bronze in his 2019 Pan Am Games debut after earning Commonwealth Games silver the previous year.
WATCH | Warner, LePage in podium position midway through decathlon:
Warner and LePage will compete in 110 hurdles at 8:16 p.m. ET followed by discus throw and pole vault. The event concludes with javelin throw (starting at 6:15 a.m. ET Thursday) and the 1,500, slated for 8:40 a.m.
In other Canadian results, Kyra Constantine didn't make it out of the women's 400 semifinals. The 23-year-old from Brampton, Ont., was 15th in her Olympic debut in 51.22 seconds and dropped 47-100ths of a second off her time in the preliminary round.
Georgia Ellenwood of Langley, B.C. slipped two spots to 10th in women's heptathlon following the shot put and 200 sprint during Wednesday evening's session in Tokyo.
WATCH | Ellenwood racks up 3,690 points in 4 heptathlon events:
The 25-year-old threw 12.39 metres in shot put and stopped the clock in 24.51 seconds in the 200 to raise her point total to 3,690 after four events. Ellenwood will compete in long jump at 8:40 p.m. ET and perform in javelin and the 800 on Thursday.
Earlier on Wednesday, she was 13th in the 100 hurdles (13.47) and sixth in high jump (personal-best 1.83 metres). Ellenwood placed 11th at the Hypo Meeting in May and shortly thereafter set a PB of 6,314 points.
WATCH | CBC Sports' Rob Pizzo offers fun facts about Canada's athletics team: