Canada's runners changing nation's culture in 1,500m event
Charles Philibert-Thiboutot, Nathan Brannen chasing iconic Canadian time
None of the men's 1,500-metre runners in the Pan Am field are likely old enough to remember the song Anything you can do, I can do better, but the two Canadians entered have the spirit down pat.
Charles Philibert-Thiboutot and Nathan Brannen, running here on Friday, are part of a seven-man unit that has now all run under a world-class three minutes, 40 seconds for the classic 3-¾ lap event.
Quebec's Philibert-Thiboutot, known around the team as Chuck, set off a slew of fast times this month when he ran a 3:34.23 at an international event in Monaco. That's moving into the area of Kevin Sullivan's iconic 3:31.71 national mark, set 15 years ago in Rome.
Just a day after the Monte Carlo run, Jeremy Rae put down a 3:36.85 and Thomas Riva a 3:37.34 in Belgium.
"[Chuck] got the train rolling, he ran his 3:34 and that just lit stuff up, man," said Dave Scott-Thomas, the national men's distance coach. "He did something, he's raced these [other Canadians], and there was a little bit of 'He did that? Maybe I can do something similar.'
In just one day last week, Canadians went 3:34, 3:35, 3:36 and 3:37 in different meets and "in many a year, if we had one [or two] guys go 3:37 we would have said 'not bad.'"
Brannen, of Cambridge, Ont., who has a personal best of 3:34.22, has run a 3:35.42 this season, and will be right in the mix for the 1,500m final.
Now, that's a lot of numbers going by up there, but the point is there's a culture growing that if one of the Canadians lays one down, the rest take the bit and pick up the pace.
Chasing a dream
Enough to chase Sullivan sometime soon?
"I'm an optimist, so I'd like to think so," says the coach, who has known the great Canadian for many years. "But we do this business to push ourselves further culturally.
"Who is to say in the right circumstances and another world-class field [such as in Monaco] that Chuck can't go further this summer. Imagine if it's a 3:30 or 3:31 pace and he's in contention and everyone is pushing him that extra little bit?"
Don't look for something like that this week, however, as championship meet races are invariably tactical, run without a "rabbit" to set the pace and don't tend to feature everyone taking off for the front.
That's when the elbows come out. And the thinking begins.
Challengers for the Canadians can be found just south of here, as the Americans have sent their fifth- and sixth-place finishers from the national trials, where one of the closest recent finishes saw five runners between second and sixth separated by less than a second.
Wheating ran a 3:30.90 back in 2010 at Monaco, but hasn't been at that level since, though he was under 3:40 at the U.S. trials. Merber has a 3:34.54 this year, so will be right in the mix.
"Right now, you'd have to say Merber, and Nate, and Chuck as a pick 'em," said Scott-Thomas. "I'm patriotically biased, but you have to put [the Canadians] in as very, very strong players in this field, and it's not unthinkable to pick them 1-2 and do what we did in the steeplechase here."