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Lindsey Butterworth looks to make Canadian history at Harry Jerome Track Classic

A confident Lindsey Butterworth of North Vancouver, B.C., will race the 800 metres at the Harry Jerome International Track Classic on Wednesday (CBCSports.ca, 10 p.m. ET) in hopes of becoming just the sixth Canadian woman to run under two minutes.

'I think she's arrived,' coach Brit Townsend says of emerging 800m runner

Former Simon Fraser University star middle-distance runner Lindsey Butterworth could make history on home soil Wednesday night at the Harry Jerome Track Classic in Burnaby, B.C. Fresh off a personal-best time of 2:01.13, the North Vancouver native will attempt to become the sixth Canadian woman to run under two minutes in the 800 metres. (Submitted by USATF)

Lindsey Butterworth appears ready to join some elite company, though the middle-distance runner won't be drawn into the hype at this week's 35th annual Harry Jerome International Track Classic.

The 26-year-old will race the women's 800 metres on Wednesday (CBCSports.ca, 10 p.m. ET) on the new, state-of-the-art track at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, B.C., where she could join national record holder Melissa Bishop and four others as the only Canadian women to run under two minutes.

  • Bishop, one minute 57.01 seconds (2017)
  • Diane Cummins, 1:58.39 (2001)
  • Charmaine Crooks, 1:58.52 (1990)
  • Fiona Benson, 1:59.59 (2015)
  • Jessica Smith, 1:59.86 (2012)

On May 31, a tired but relaxed and confident Butterworth clocked a personal-best 2:01.13 at the Festival of Miles meet in St. Louis, where she was third with 250 metres left before closing strong for the victory.

"When you focus on the race and less on time," she says, "that's when a personal-best time comes."

Racing before family, friends and some of her former Simon Fraser University teammates in her ninth appearance at the Harry Jerome meet, Butterworth plans to accelerate more coming off the line to better position herself in the first 200 metres, work on tactics and finish strong.

Brit Townsend, SFU's head track and field coach, believes there is "no question" Butterworth could run sub-two minutes on Wednesday but a lot of things have to go right. Is the race going fast enough in the first lap? What if Butterworth gets boxed in?

"I try not to focus on time with her," says Townsend, a two-time Olympian in the 800. "Race, compete and make the move when you should make the move. I hope we run faster this year. If we don't, 2:01.13 is a great stepping stone."

If you get through 400 metres and have positioned yourself to strike, it's over the last part where the race is won.— Simon Fraser University head track and field coach and 2-time Olympian Brit Townsend on running the 800 metres

Many uncontrollable things can happen during a race, adds Butterworth, "so I always try to keep it simple and have a plan in mind, but try not to panic if things play out differently."

After finishing her collegiate career with NCAA Division II indoor and outdoor titles, Butterworth began working with a mental performance specialist in 2015 to help with the transition to post-collegiate racing. Nowadays, she's racing for herself, noting the chance to compete for Canada last summer at the Francophone Games (2:07.63) and world championships (2:03.19) helped reinforce her mental focus and self-belief.

Butterworth spoke with CBC Sports' Perdita Felicien after finishing last in 800m heat. 0:51

'Huge learning curve'

Townsend, who described Butterworth's progress this season as "phenomenal," would like to see her take chances in the final 200-300 metres in competition.

"If you get through 400 metres where you want and have positioned yourself to strike, it's over the last part where the race is won," says the seven-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics coach of the year. "It's been a huge learning curve for Lindsey. She's really good at implementing any strategy I want and part of that is her composure. She's able to listen, take information and make things happen."

Butterworth opened the 2018 outdoor season at the end of March with a win at the Stanford Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif., where she ran 2:04.25 one day after setting a PB in the 1,500 "to set the tone" for her ensuing races.

Here's how she did in those subsequent competitions:

  • May 3, Payton Jordan Invitational, 1st place, 2:03.33
  • May 17, USATF Distance Classic, 1st (2:02.20)
  • May 25, Prefontaine Classic, 3rd (2:02.24)

Butterworth has structured her training this season to peak at the upcoming Canadian track and field championships in Ottawa, where she placed third in 2:04.34 a year ago behind Bishop (2:00.26) and Jenna Westaway (2:03.88).

"Will Harry Jerome be close to that? Yes, I hope so," Townsend says, adding Butterworth's goal is to secure a spot on the Canadian team for the North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) track and field championships in August in Toronto. "She'll have to run 2:01 [to qualify]. If she runs that on Wednesday I would be ecstatic. She now believes she belongs [among the elite] and I think she's arrived."

Here are the other notable Canadian athletes competing Wednesday:

Aaron Brown, men's 4x100m relay (midnight ET): The Toronto native is fresh off his 100m victory to open the two-day Harry Jerome meet. Brown is part of the team that is facing top sprinters from China in the China-Canada Sprint Challenge, a 10-event competition over the two days at Swangard Stadium. Earlier this month, Brown clocked a 19.98 personal best in the 200 at the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway.

Andre De Grasse, 4x100 : The 2016 Olympic triple medallist reunites with Brown, his Canadian relay teammate, after finishing third (10.36) in Tuesday's 100, De Grasse's first race since a disappointing 10.25 result at Diamond League Shanghai on May 12. De Grasse also ran 10.15 in his return from a hamstring injury in April at the Drake Relays. The 23-year-old says he is fully recovered and "trying to get race sharp … get my top-end speed back."

Crystal Emmanuel, women's 4x100 (11:52 p.m. ET): Emmanuel, 26, stopped the clock in 11.43 seconds to win the women's 100 on Tuesday. The Canadian-record holder in the 200 ran a season-best of 22.70 in April to place fifth at the Commonwealth Games.

Sage Watson, women's 400 (11:36 p.m. ET): Watson joined Madeline Price, Aiyanna Steering and Travia Jones in setting a meet record of 3:32.08 in the women's 4x400 relay on Tuesday. The 24-year-old from Medicine Hat, Alta., also reached the podium at the Bislett Games in Norway on June 7 with a third-place finish in the 400 in a season-best 54.55 seconds, or 3-100ths of a second off her personal best. Watson was fifth at the Commonwealth Games in 55.55.

About the Author

Doug Harrison

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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