Track and Field·TRACK & FIELD ROUNDUP

Canada's track relay women seek Olympic medal, national record after 2019 worlds DQ

Canada crossed the finish line in 3:24.05 on Thursday to qualify seventh for the women's 4x400-metre relay final in Tokyo while Damian Warner of London, Ont., capped a spectacular decathlon performance at his third Olympics to win an elusive gold medal.

Qualify 7th for Saturday's 400m final; Warner tops 9,000 points for decathlon gold

Maddy Price, left, takes the handoff from Canadian teammate Sage Watson in the women's Olympic 400-metre heats on Thursday in Japan. Alicia Brown, Kyra Constantine, Price and Watson ran 3:24.05 to qualify seventh of eight teams for Saturday's final at 8:30 a.m. ET. (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

An anxious Alicia Brown and Sage Watson stared at the Olympic Stadium scoreboard awaiting their fate in the women's 400-metre relay. A similar delay, albeit one much longer, resulted in their disqualification in the 2019 world final. Pain was also felt in 2016 when Great Britain was 55-100ths of a second quicker to the finish line to snatch a bronze medal from the heartbroken Canadian runners.

On Thursday, a relieved and smiling Watson clapped her hands and turned around to hug Maddy Price and Brown after they — along with anchor Kyra Constantine — secured the seventh of eight spots for Saturday's final at 8:30 a.m. ET.

To qualify, Canada needed either a top-three finish in the second of two heats or to beat France's time of three minutes 25.07 seconds. Brown ran the first leg and stood fourth when she handed the baton to Watson, who passed her Great Britain opponent to move Canada into the all-important third spot.

Price then held position and handed to Constantine, who was fresh off a 51.22-second run a day earlier in an unsuccessful bid to make the 400 final. But the 23-year-old from Brampton, Ont., delivered a strong relay performance and crossed the line 6-100ths behind the Brit runner in 3:24.05.

"The goal was to get top three and I knew we fought for it," Watson, the most senior member of the team, told Athletics Canada. "It was exciting that we fought for it and that was what allowed us to get into that final qualifying spot."

Two hours later, Damian Warner of London, Ont., compiled a Games record 9,018 points over two days of the decathlon to become Canada's first Olympic champion in the sport.

Fellow Canadians Anicka Newell and Georgia Ellenwood struggled in their events and didn't reach the podium in pole vault and heptathlon.

WATCH | Canadian women qualify 7th of 8 teams for 400m relay final:

While You Were Sleeping: Canadian Damian Warner becomes Olympic champion, more Canadian medals

6 months ago
Duration 5:28
Three medals for Canada: Warner wins gold in decathlon, canoeist Laurence Vincent Lapointe takes home silver, and track cyclist Lauriane Genest takes bronze. 5:28

Meanwhile, Belgium grabbed the final spot in 4x400 relay qualifying in a national record 3:24.08 while the United States was first among the 15 finishing teams in 3:20.86.

Recently, the Canadians have talked about a podium finish and trying to break the national record Charmaine Crooks, Jillian Richardson-Briscoe, Molly Killingbeck and Marita Payne-Wiggins set with their 3:21.21 run on Aug. 11, 1984 for Olympic silver in Los Angeles.

Who runs anchor leg?

Killingbeck, for one, is surprised the mark still stands 37 years later.

"I do think now is the time [for new record holders]. This is the year," Athletics Canada's lead at its high performance hub in Toronto told Postmedia ahead of the Games. "You look at the combination [of runners] I believe they can do it."

WATCH | While You Were Sleeping — Damian Warner wins gold, more medals for Canada:

It'll be interesting to see if Constantine or Watson runs the final leg in Saturday's final. Constantine topped the seven-member team — which also includes Natassha McDonald, Lauren Gale and Noelle Montcalm — with a season-best 50.87 in the 400 entering the Olympics.

Watson had a best of 52.25 and anchored the squad to fourth at the 2016 Rio Olympics. But she was overtaken in the final 100 metres of the 2019 Pan Am final after leading much of the race for the silver medal-winning Canadians and strained her lower back a few weeks ago.

In the 2019 world final, the 27-year-old Watson from Medicine Hat, Alta., covered the last 400 in 50.7 seconds — the fastest split of any runner on the team — when Canada crossed the finish line fifth in 3:25.91. A DQ followed when it was determined a lane infringement occurred during the first exchange between Aiyanna-Brigitte Stiverne and Brown.

At the time, newcomer Price said the team's performance was a "stepping stone" for the 2020 Olympics, which was postponed in March 2020 for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Three months ago, Athletics Canada withdrew from the World Athletics Relays in Poland because of COVID-19 concerns.

"There has been a really strong progression the last five years to get to this place today," the 31-year-old Brown told Postmedia. "The women on the squad might be different, but there is a collective goal and we all inspire each other to be our best."

4th decathlete to top 9,000 points

Warner, 31, capped his third Olympic appearance with a fifth-place finish in the 1,500 metres, clocking four minutes 31.08 seconds after pushing the pace in his final lap.

The 2016 Olympic bronze medallist fell shy of Frenchman Kevin Mayer's world record of 9,126 points in becoming only the fourth decathlete to top the 9,000-point barrier, joining American Ashton Eaton (9,045), and Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic (9,026).

WATCH | Warner earns Canada's 5th gold medal at Tokyo Olympics:

"I've never been in this position when one of my dreams came true. I don't even know how to react right now," said Warner, the oldest competitor in this 21-man field. "It's been a long two days."

Pierce LePage of Whitby, Ont., took 17 seconds off his personal best to clock 4:31.85 in the 1,500 and finish fifth overall with 8,604 points, also a PB, after sitting third midway through the 10-event competition. Mayer won a silver medal with 8,726 points and Australian Ashley Moloney bronze (8,649) after trailing Warner by 81 points through Day 1.

Warner earned 4,722 points from his first five events and recorded an Olympic best — his third through eight events in Tokyo — with a time of 13.46 seconds in the 110-metre hurdles. He then posted the third-farthest discus throw in the field at 48.67 metres and a 4.90 PB in pole vault to maintain his spot atop the decathlon standings before losing 147 points to Mayer in javelin, the penultimate event.

Very disappointing, obviously. ... I'm really not entirely sure what happened.— Canadian pole vaulter Anicka Newell on registering a no mark in the women's final

For Canadian pole vaulter Anicka Newell, it was an Olympic final — and 28th birthday — she won't soon forget.

Newell was fit and ready to compete for a medal after clearing 4.55 metres in the qualification round but recorded a no-mark after missing all three attempts at 4.50. Previously, the Texas-born, Saskatoon-raised athlete admitted she buckled under the pressure of her 2016 Olympic debut in Rio, where Newell jumped only the opening height of 4.15 and tied for 29th in a field of 34.

"Very disappointing, obviously. It was not the result that I wanted and I'm really not entirely sure what happened," she said Thursday. "I will … move on and grow and be ready to come back better than ever."

"My mental strength, my mental capacity this year is at an entirely new level. I feel like a machine and I'm ready," Newell told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix last month. In January, Newell jumped 4.70 indoors to match the Olympic standard.

American Katie Nageotte cleared 4.90 to win Thursday's event after a slow start in which the season world leader required three tries to clear 4.50. Anzhelika Sidorova from the Russian Olympic Committee and Holly Bradshaw of Great Britain rounded out the podium at 4.85, with Sidorova awarded the silver medal because she had three missed attempts through the event to Bradshaw's five.

Heptathlete Georgia Ellenwood of Langley, B.C., placed 20th in her Olympic debut with 6,007 points across seven events. The University of Wisconsin grad ended the competition throwing 44.11 metres in javelin and running the 800 metres in two minutes, 19.21 seconds.

Belgium's Nafissatou Thiam won the gold medal with 6,791 points, 102 more than Anouk Vetter of the Netherlands.

WATCH | CBC Sports' Rob Pizzo offers fun facts about Canada's athletics team:

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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