Road To The Olympic Games

Humbled by nationals, Brandon McBride bounces back with 800m gold at NACAC

Brandon McBride always reminds himself that anyone can lose on any given day. It keeps the Canadian middle-distance runner grounded and focused on the hard work needed to reach the sport's pinnacle.

Fellow Canadian Marco Arop finishes less than 1 second behind for silver

Gold-medal winner Brandon McBride, right, and silver winner Marco Arop, both of Canada, pose with the Canadian flag following the men's 800m during the NACAC Championships in Toronto. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

TORONTO — Brandon McBride always reminds himself that anyone can lose on any given day. It keeps the Canadian middle-distance runner grounded and focused on the hard work needed to reach the sport's pinnacle.

The Windsor, Ont., native experienced that firsthand when he was upset by Edmonton's Marco Arop at last month's Canadian championships — breaking McBride's streak of three consecutive national titles in the men's 800 metres.

"He had a fantastic day and I just didn't quite have it … he was definitely the better man," McBride says. "If you look at the top athletes in the world, they've lost a couple of times — especially in the 800-metres event. It's so up and down.

"Anyone can put together a string of good workouts or races. But at the end of the day, you're going to have a couple off days and you just gotta hope that the off days don't come at the championship level."

Watch McBride and Arop's 1-2 finish

Edmonton's Marco Arop upended defending men's 800 champion Brandon McBride in 1:46.15 at the national championships in Ottawa. 5:34

That wasn't the case this afternoon at Varsity Stadium as McBride edged out Arop in a time of one minute 46.14 seconds to claim gold in the men's 800 at the NACAC (North America, Central America and the Caribbean) track and field championships in Toronto. Arop took silver at 1:46.82.

After sitting comfortably in second place for most of the race, McBride made his move past Puerto Rico's Wesley Vazquez with about 200 metres remaining and took the lead for good. Arop followed suit on the final straightaway giving Canada a one-two finish on home soil.

"I thought I was going to take the lead and take us out at a medium pace but I saw Vazquez out there and I said, 'Hey, he looks like he wants it so I'm going to go ahead and let him have it. If he wants to take the wind, let him take the wind,' McBride said after the race.

Still, McBride knows there will be days like nationals where he won't be at his best. And as his old college coach, Steve Dudley, once told him, "'When you're having a bad day, just focus on having the best bad day possible.'"

"I'm going to have that mentality moving forward because in the Olympic or world championship final or semifinals, who knows? I might not be feeling good then," McBride says. "I just have to be ready for anything, to dig deeper than I've ever dug before these next two years."

It's been a quick turnaround for McBride. After the humbling experience at nationals, he and his coach Kurt Downes went back to the drawing board ahead of McBride's next scheduled Diamond League meet in Monaco.

The result was a new Canadian record as McBride raced to a silver medal with a time of 1:43:20 to break Gary Reed's decade-long mark.

Aside from some minor tweaks, McBride says he and Downes didn't do things much differently nor find a secret new formula to success. The 24-year-old attributed his new personal-best time to just being ready to run on that day and his loss to Arop helped him mature in the two weeks between.

"I was very thankful that I had that experience because I think that give me a little bit of fire. If you take that experience away at nationals, maybe Monaco doesn't go so well," McBride says.

While McBride was pleased with his performance, he felt he had more left in the tank compared to around the same point last year when McBride ended his season early citing emotional and mental fatigue.

Going into this season, McBride removed some things from his training routine that were slightly affecting his long-term performance and went back to the basics that helped produce his best seasons at Mississippi State.

The changes have made McBride's workouts higher in level and quality which has translated into consistent results as he has yet to finish outside the top five.

Monaco was validation that McBride's work in the gym and on the track is paying off.

"Monaco was really my first faster-pace race. If you look back at all my early season races, yes, I ran fast, but they were all off moderate or slow paces. It goes to show that we're moving in the right direction and there are still a lot of things that I need to work on," McBride says.

McBride and Arop embrace following their one-two finish in the men's 800-metre race at NACAC in Toronto on Saturday. (Chicco Nacion/CBC Sports)

In the past, McBride has felt more comfortable setting the pace and leading the pack. But this year, Downes had his pupil change things up with the purpose of getting McBride more comfortable in a variety of race situations and tactics.

Out of the six 800 events he's competed in 2018, McBride recalls only leading once.

"If I'm going to be in the mix for an Olympic or world championship medal, I have to be able to race from different styles — from the front, back, and in the middle," McBride says.

Just as the case was this afternoon, Arop may be fighting alongside McBride for a spot on the podium in future international meets.

McBride is looking forward to getting to know the younger Arop over the next two years and sharing advice with a fellow Mississippi State Bulldog as they move towards next year's world championships and Tokyo 2020.

"We can be a pretty good one-two punch for Canada. I'm really excited for his future and I think we can definitely help elevate each other," McBride says. "We can have two serious [mid-distance] competitors who can do great things."

The feeling is mutual with Arop.

"I'm just a little guy trying to follow him. He's had a very successful career and it looks like he's still starting out. I'm just trying to be right there with him," Arop says.

Emmanuel snags bronze

The men's 800 was the day's highlight of the track and field showdown for athletes from North America, Central America and the Caribbean, dubbed "Track and Field in the 6ix."

Lindsey Butterworth of North Vancouver, B.C., was fifth in the women's 800 in a personal best 2:00.81, inching closer to the sub-two-minute mark. American Ajee Wilson won the gold in 1:57.52.

Canadian sprinter Crystal Emmanuel entertained the crowd with her bronze-medal run in the women's 100 metres. Emmanuel, a 26-year-old from Toronto, ran a personal best 11.11 seconds. American Jenna Prandini won in 10.96, while Jamaica's Jonielle Smith was third (11.07).

Two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who's coming back from the birth of her son Zyon last summer, was fourth (11.18).

Emmanuel, who loves to play up to the crowd, jogged back down the straightaway, pumping her chest, yelling, and pointing to the fans.

"The crowd gets me up, and I just come out to inspire the young girls, women, and the guys who come out to support us. You've got to entertain the crowd so they keep coming out," Emmanuel says. "I come out on the track, I might look mean and fierce, but I'm still a queen and pretty off the track. So that's what I do, I bring the beast out on the track."

Jamaica's Tyquendo Tracey ran 10.03 to win a men's 100 race that was missing injured Canadian star Andre De Grasse. Bismark Boateng of Toronto was the top Canadian in fourth.

Michael Mason of Nanaimo, B.C., cleared 2.28 metres to finish second in a high jump field missing Canada's 2016 Olympic and 2015 world champion Derek Drouin (neck injury).

Justyn Knight of Markham, Ont., was third in the men's 5,000 metres in 14:01.77. American Hassan Mead won the gold in 14:00.18.

Rachel Cliff of Vancouver raced to bronze in the women's 10,000 in 33:30.16. Marielle Hall of the U.S. crossed first in 33:27.19.

About the Author

Chicco Nacion

Chicco Nacion returns to his birthplace of Toronto after growing up in Niagara Falls. He graduated from the Master of Media in Journalism and Communication program at the University of Western Ontario. Follow him on Twitter @chicco_n

With files from The Canadian Press

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