Road To The Olympic Games

Track and Field·Preview

Toronto's Justyn Knight wants strong finish in Diamond League debut

World championship-bound Justyn Knight will set out to accomplish his next goal of setting a personal-best time in the 5,000 metres, starting Thursday when the 22-year-old makes his Diamond League debut at the Golden Gala in Rome (CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET).

Former NCAA star expects 'challenging' 5,000m in Rome after qualifying for worlds

Former NCAA star Justyn Knight of Toronto will make his Diamond League debut at Thursday's 39th edition of the Golden Gala in Rome. The 22-year-old now runs for Reebok Boston Track Club. (Submitted by Geoff Robins/Reebok)

It's on to the next goal for Justyn Knight, who has worked himself into better running shape this spring and recently met the entry standard for this year's track and field world championships.

"My short-term focus is to set a PB [personal-best] in the 5,000 metres," the Toronto native and former Syracuse University star said this week.

Thursday's Golden Gala Diamond League meet in Rome, which will be lived streamed at CBCSports.ca at 2 p.m. ET, would be an ideal setting as the Reebok Boston Track Club athlete battles several competitors he will probably run alongside at worlds in Doha, Qatar, in late September.

"I told my agent [Ray Flynn] earlier in the season I wanted to be in a fast 5K this year," Knight said during a break in training for his Diamond League debut at 2:45 p.m. "I know this race is going to be challenging.

"We are probably going to be going out in a pace that I've never raced at. I hope I can maintain a steady pace and finish strong."

World championship-calibre field

Closing races in the NCAA was rarely a problem for the 22-year-old Knight, who quickly became known for a powerful finishing kick. But on Thursday, he will be up against world under-20 record holder Selemon Barega of Ethiopia, who clocked the fourth fastest time in history at 12:43.02 to win last year's Diamond League final, and 2017 world 10,000 silver medallist Joshua Cheptegei from Uganda.

Aron Kifle of Eritrea and Great Britain's Andrew Butchart, who finished just ahead of the ninth-place Knight at the 2017 world championships, are also part of Thursday's 22-man field in the historic Olympic Stadium.

"Once you race against guys a couple of times or watch their film you kind of pick up on their tactics," said Knight, who clocked a 13:17.51 PB two years ago at the Payton Jordan Invitational in California. "However, this isn't a championship race so there might not be any tactics at all."

Canada's Justyn Knight, pictured here at his world championship debut in 2017, will run the 5,000 metres at this year's event in September. At Thursday's Golden Gala meet in Rome, he'll race against many athletes that will compete at worlds in Doha, Qatar. (Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images/File)

Focused more on his eating, sleeping and training habits entering the outdoor season, Knight placed third at the B.A.A. 5K in Boston on April 13 and three weeks stopped the clock in 13:20.8 at Payton Jordan to beat the world qualifying time of 13:22.50.

"A lot of things contributed to the way my season started," said Knight, who lives and trains in Charlottesville, Va., under his university coach Chris Fox. "Training, diet, new schedule — I didn't have a cross-country season [last fall] — and not having school as an anchor for my overall schedule."

Ahmed ready for test in 5,000m

Joining Knight at the 39th edition of the Golden Gala is fellow Canadian Mo Ahmed, who is also eager to be part of a high-calibre race against world championship competition.

The Somalian-born, St. Catharines, Ont.-raised Ahmed prepared for Thursday's 5,000 by running the 1,500 at Payton Jordan (3:41.59) and USATF Distance Classic (3:41.30).

Two-time Olympian and 2018 Canadian champion Mo Ahmed will try to win his first Diamond League race in nine attempts when he runs the 5,000 metres at the Golden Gala meet in Rome. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images/File)

"I've been grinding away the last few months, putting in the hard mileage and workouts. I've looked good in practice," the 28-year-old, who was ninth in the 5,000 at last year's Diamond League final, told CBC Sports earlier this week.

"World championships are a long ways away and mentally it's hard to get excited about early meets but I hope I'm competitive and, ultimately, it's a test to see where I'm at."

Sixth at worlds in 2017, the two-time Olympian and 2018 Canadian champion has yet to win in his eight Diamond League races since 2013.

Ahmed, who won silver medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 at last year's Commonwealth Games, finished the 2018 season at the IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic, where he placed second in the men's 3,000 in in 7:57.99.

WATCH | Mo Ahmed shine in the 3,000m at the Continental Cup:

The Americas finished 1-2 to earn 15 points, as Ahmed finished with a time of 7:57.99, just 0.86 back of American Paul Chelimo at the 2018 IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic. 10:27

Other Canadians competing in Rome:

Johnathan Cabral, men's 110-metre hurdles (3:35 p.m. ET): Cabral of Peribonka, Que., returns to the Golden Gala after missing last year's race, looking to improve upon his 13.60-second finish from 2017. The 26-year-old ran 13.59 on May 25 to place second at the Taiwan Open Athletics Championships. Cabral, whose personal best is 13.34, ran 13.44 to win a Canadian title last season.

Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, women's 1,500 (3:15 p.m.): The London, Ont.-born runner made it three Canadian records in as many races in 2019 at last week's Diamond League meet in Stockholm, where she clocked 14:51.59. In January, DeBues-Stafford set national indoor marks in the 5,000 and mile. She is making her season debut in the outdoor 1,500 racing against new training partner, Laura Muir of Great Britain.

WATCH | Gabriela DeBues-Stafford set her 3rd Canadian record of 2019:

The Canadian held the lead as the Diamond League race entered its final straightaway, before losing the lead and finishing fourth. 2:05

Django Lovett, men's high jump (2:15 p.m.): The 25-year-old native of Surrey, B.C., has four podium finishes in four meets to begin the outdoor season. Lovett jumped a winning 2.30 metres at Mt. SAC Relays in April to match his personal best from the 2018 Commonwealth Games and qualify for this year's Pan Am Games and track and field world championships.

Brandon McBride, men's 800 (2:23 p.m.): McBride opened his outdoor season a week ago at the Music City Distance Carnival in Nashville, where he posted a winning time of 1:45.04. The 24-year-old failed to qualify for the Diamond League final last August, a disappointing end to a 2018 campaign that saw McBride run a season-best 1:43.20 to shatter Gary Reed's 10-year-old Canadian mark and place second at nationals.

Tim Nedow, men's shot put (12:30 p.m.): The 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist will try to reach 21 metres for the first time in five events since achieving a personal-best throw of 21.18 on April 20 at the Beach Invitational in Long Beach, Calif. (see video below). Last weekend, the native of Brockville, Ont., threw 20.87 for the win at the Halle Throws International in Germany.

Sage Watson, women's 400 hurdles (2:13 p.m.): Watson, 24, makes her Diamond League season debut in Rome after opening her individual outdoor campaign on Monday with a 55.76-second clocking in the Czech Republic, 1.2 seconds off her 2018 season-best of 54.55. She was hobbled by a sprained right foot in 2018, forcing the native of Medicine Hat, Alta., to miss the Canadian and NACAC championships.

Diamond League on CBC Sports

CBC Sports is providing live streaming coverage of all 14 Diamond League meets this season at CBCSports.ca and via the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices. TV coverage will be featured as part of the network's Road To The Olympic Games weekend broadcasts throughout the season.

The following is a list of upcoming Diamond League meets, all times ET:

  • Rome (Thursday, 2–4 p.m.)
  • Oslo (June 13, 2–4 p.m.)
  • Rabat (June 16, 2–4 p.m.)
  • Eugene (June 30, 4–6 p.m.)
  • Lausanne (July 5, 2–4 p.m.)
  • Monaco (July 12, 2–4 p.m.)
  • London, England (July 20 and 21, 9–11 a.m.)
  • Birmingham, England (Aug. 18, 9–11 a.m.)
  • Paris (Aug. 24, 2–4 p.m.)
  • Zurich (Aug. 29, 2–4 p.m.)
  • Brussels (Sept. 7, 2–4 p.m.)

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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