Glenroy Gilbert: 'I'm not the saviour of men's relay'

Glenroy Gilbert, who returned as the unit’s head coach at the end of May when asked to replace Desai Williams who, in turn, had once replaced him, says both the onus and the credit is on the young men carrying the stick.

Gilbert brought back as relay coach in May

Former Canadian sprinter Glenroy Gilbert is back leading the men's relay program on the road from the Pan Am Games to the Rio OIympics. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Glenroy Gilbert believes anyone who thinks he's riding out of Ottawa on a white horse to save Canada's struggling men's sprint relay team doesn't understand the way it works.

Gilbert, who returned as the unit's head coach at the end of May when asked to replace Desai Williams who, in turn, had once replaced him, says both the onus and the credit is on the young men carrying the stick.

"I don't believe I'm the saviour of the men's relay, or anyone for that matter," he said, in an taped interview for an upcoming I'm Not Arguing With You podcast produced and hosted by two-time sprint Olympian Anson Henry. "I think the saviours of the men's relay are the athletes.

"They are the ones who are going to be out on the track, they are the ones that are going to trust one another, they are the ones who are going to execute under pressure when it counts."

And take the rightful glory when things go well.

Recent slide

Things have not gone well recently for a team that finished a surprise third at the London Olympics (only to have it taken away on a lane violation) and came back to emphatically make a point by taking bronze at the 2013 worlds.

Gilbert, a member of Canada's famous gold medal winning 1996 team, then lost his position in a shuffle caused by the reworking of the country's high performance track and field system after Peter Eriksson took over the head job at Athletics Canada following similar jobs in Britain.

The seven centres were reduced to two because of lack of results – distance in Victoria and sprints in Toronto – and Gilbert was asked to move south from his Ottawa home but was unable to do so.

Eriksson turned to the Toronto-based Williams, another former Olympian, who would run the women's and men's teams.

His women's side (including Crystal Emmanuel, Kimberly Hyacinthe, Shai-Anne Davis, Phylicia George and Khamica Bingham) has been excellent, finishing fourth at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in a world-class field, and repeating the effort this past May at the IAAF World Relays where they grabbed a spot for the Rio Olympics.

Williams continues to coach that group.

The men's relay has been trouble, however, running the baton out of the zone last year in Glasgow and then dropping it at the IAAF world relay championships. No early Rio qualification, so they'll have to find a way in later.

'We needed to do better'

It was after the IAAF drop that Eriksson decided to make another change.

"We needed to do better … we had a couple of kids who didn't do well, and there were relays that didn't go well, and the year before the relay wasn't working extremely well, either," said Eriksson in a phone interview with

Gilbert had not been let go, he added, the change happened because he couldn't relocate.

"In the meantime, it wasn't working out as planned, so the way I look at it is we have a fantastic team, I asked Glenroy again … is there any possibility you can help me out because I really need this to work, and he was willing to do some sacrifice to do that."

A relay coach only has the group together around four times a year at camps or championship meets. Gilbert has worked out a deal that allows him to remain in Ottawa.

Sport insiders say Williams was caught in a classic conundrum found in other sports – it isn't really his fault the stick went down twice, but you can't fire the five or six runners, so you remove the coach.

When approached for a comment, Williams would not speak on the record.

Much of the reason for the concern over the men's team is its potential. Eriksson believes the right combination in the correct order coming together to move the baton safely and quickly, could break the famous national mark set 19 years ago by the Atlanta 1996 Olympic gold medal winners.

That foursome of Robert Esmie, Gilbert, Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey won the gold in a sizzling 37.69.

A check of PBs for the eligible men's sprint relay members shows Gilbert might get there – Andre De Grasse (9.95), Aaron Brown (10.05), Gavin Smellie (10.09), Justyn Warner (10.09), Dontae Richards-Kwok (10.12), Akeem Haynes (10.15).

The record holders at that time, however, had Bailey (9.84), Surin (9.97), Gilbert (10.10) and Esmie (10.23). Plus, they weren't given to dropping the baton.

Gilbert's up for the challenge.

"When Peter asked me if I wanted to get involved with the guys, of course I did. I wanted to work with the guys right from London, I wanted to work with the guys from then until I got to Rio," he said. "Why would I not take the chance?"


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.