Road To The Olympic Games

Track and Field·Preview

Esselink aims to stay relaxed, close hard in Canadian 10,000m title defence

Three weeks after winning the men's race at the Ottawa 10K, a confident Evan Esselink of Courtice, Ont., will try to successfully defend his Canadian 10,000-metre title Wednesday night at the Speed River Inferno track and field meet in Guelph, Ont.

Reigning Ottawa 10K champ eyes PB at Wednesday's Speed River Inferno track and field meet

Evan Esselink says he will attempt to stay relaxed for as long as possible during the men's Canadian 10,000-metre race on Wednesday night at the Speed River Inferno track and field meet in Guelph, Ont. The native of Courtice, Ont., won last year's race in 29 minutes 21.11 seconds. (YouTube)

Last month, Evan Esselink said positive results running on the road and track were imminent. Five days later, he won the men's race in his debut at the Ottawa 10K.

He wasn't supposed to race in the nation's capital but a bout with bronchitis forced the native of Courtice, Ont., to miss the Mt. SAC Relays and Payton Jordan Invitational in April and early May, respectively. Looking ahead, Ottawa became Esselink's best option to prepare for a Canadian 10,000-metre title defence at the Speed River Inferno track and field meet on Wednesday at 8:20 p.m. ET.

The 26-year-old, who crossed the line in 30 minutes 30.80 seconds in Ottawa, feels his fitness is close to his build for the Houston Half Marathon on Jan. 14 when he ran a 1:04.08 personal best. Before that, he finished fourth in 31:00.4 in the open men's 10K at the Canadian cross-country championships in November.

"I feel I've had things go my way the past six months and it's going to start showing," Esselink, who joined the Speed River Track and Field Club in February 2016, told CBC Sports in May. "I haven't even PB'd on the track in the 10,000 since my last year at Indiana [University] in 2015, so I know I'm long overdue for that."

Esselink considered hiring a pacer for Wednesday's race at the University of Guelph's Alumni Stadium to help post a fast time before deciding to let the 25-lap event play out, though the possibility of a quick finish exists.

I try to expend my energy sparingly throughout the race until I need to make a move.— Distance runner Evan Esselink ahead of Wednesday's Canadian 10,000-metre title defence

A year ago, he rode a last-lap kick to beat Kevin Tree of Newmarket, Ont., stopping the clock in 29:21.11, more than a minute faster than his 10th-place time in 2016. This year, he will attempt to stay relaxed for as long as possible and is confident of closing hard from as far as 5,000 metres from the finish.

"I try to expend my energy sparingly throughout the race until I need to make a move," Esselink said this week. "You can feel bad off the hop and bounce back a kilometre or two later, or vice-versa. I'm really good at adapting to in-race changes whether someone makes a move, pace is slow, pace is fast, etc.

"We do workouts where we start hard and finish hard so I know I'm well prepared. I also work a lot on my own on raw [all-out] speed, so I know I've got that gear if I need to use it."

In recent months, Esselink has seen upwards of 10 post-collegiate runners retire from the Speed River club because of the Olympic cycle while many of the collegiate athletes he works out with are training for the 1,500 to 5,000.

"I'm working out twice a week and a lot of the things I did as a collegiate I've taken up [here] within the past six months," he said. "My training is very similar to what it was at [Indiana] because it works well for me but I still have a lot of trust in the workouts [Speed River head coach] Dave [Scott-Thomas] is giving me.

Olympic aspirations

"I like the intensity he brings to workouts and the fact he truly does care about my success in the sport. He's very supportive and we work well together, but I'm an extremely independent athlete and I know what works for me."

Esselink figured he would have achieved more as a post-collegiate but has found it challenging.

"You really have to discover yourself and the biggest thing to me is to remain happy while you're doing this," said the economics graduate. "I have a goal of making the [Canadian] Olympic team [in 2020] and I wouldn't be doing this now if I didn't enjoy it because that end goal may never be achieved."

After the Inferno, Esselink will be eyeing a top-three finish in the 5,000 at next month's Canadian track and field championships in Ottawa, where he placed fourth last summer.

"I would like to win this year but if I come away with a medal that would be a positive. A PB would be nice, too," he said. "I've run only 13:59.06 [in 2016] so if I could run in the low 13:40s that would be great at a championship race."

Among the other elite runners competing at Speed River Inferno:

Rachel Cliff: The Vancouver resident placed third in the 5,000 (15:23.22) at the Portland Track Festival on Sunday after repeating as women's champion at the Ottawa 10K. Cliff, 30, was ninth in the 10,000 (32:11.11) at her Commonwealth Games debut in April, one month after setting the Canadian record in the half marathon (1:10:08).

Nick Willis: The Michigan-based runner made his outdoor season debut a month ago, placing sixth in the men's mile (4:00.29) at the Adidas Boost Boston Games. A two-time Olympic medallist from New Zealand, the 36-year-old Willis missed the recent Commonwealth Games due to a stress reaction in his fibula. He'll run the men's 800 on Wednesday.

Genevieve Lalonde: She battled through a hamstring injury to finish seventh in the 3,000-metre steeplechase at the Commonwealth Games. In February, the 26-year-old Moncton native set a personal-best time of eight minutes 49.78 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston. Lalonde set a Canadian record of 9:29.99 at last year's world championships.

Besides Willis and Lalonde, there are nine Olympians among the group of elite international and local athletes in Guelph:

  • Anthony Romaniw, men's 800m (Hamilton)
  • Brandon McBride, pacer in men's 800 (Windsor, Ont.)
  • Tremaine Harris, men's 200 (North York, Ont.)
  • Kimberly Hyacinthe, women's 200 (Montreal)
  • Khamica Bingham, women's 100 (Brampton, Ont.)
  • Micha Powell, women's 400 (Montreal)
  • Chanice Chase-Taylor, women's 400 hurdles (Toronto)
  • Farah Jacques, women's 4x100 relay (Montreal)
  • Segun Makinde, men's 4x100 (Ottawa)

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 Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc


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