THE RACES: What Happened
Team Canada’s Men’s 4x400m BRONZE Medal win
So I must be the worst type of person.
“You won! Be excited for that!”
Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly excited, trust me, these were amazing races against some incredible competitors.
I’ll say it though, I don’t like winning on soft DQ’s (disqualifications), and feel that protests are made more often than not by sore losers. Yes, rules are there for a reason. But a win just feels more deserved when it is clean and without question or controversy. Honour, right? And I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way when reading headlines.
So I just want it out there that this time that was not the case! The protest was called for.
The official final was a solid race. It wasn’t just a third place finish, we came from behind and almost made it a Silver, behind two teams that dominate the field! Definitely a solid BRONZE medal finish we can be proud of. And a new Canadian Record at 3:08.00!!!
So what happened?
If you’re ready to read a little bit I’ll run you through the races!
The Heats: Heat 1 (Canada vs. Thailand vs. Korea)
Brent started us off with the first leg, tagging to Curtis, who closed the gap and just edged out Korea for second at the 200m mark.
What do I mean by that? For those that don’t know the in’s and out’s of relay; during the first leg the racers are required to stay in their own lane, as they would in a 400m race. They then tag to the second leg in the exchange zone. The exchange zone separates the teams, providing two lanes to each, one lane for the racer starting the next leg to accelerate in, and one lane for the racer coming in at the end of his leg to come up beside his team mate and make the tag in the exchange zone. This, in theory, keeps the exchanges clean and prevents crashes by separating the teams. This separation also means that a maximum of four teams can compete in a relay race on the eight lane track. The team with the inside lane placement obviously has an advantage as they do not have to move out into the outer lanes for their tag at the cost of a few extra meters. Note though that the first leg is started at a stagger so there is no advantage there. But on the second and third leg, when the racers are no longer required to remain in their own lane, the order in which the teams cross the 200m (or half way) mark determines which team gets which exchange zone lane assignment. The first team to cross receives the advantage and gets the inner most lane assignment, as instructed by the officials, and so forth.
So back to the race. Thailand was ahead, and Curtis just edged out Korea at the 200m mark, I got ready to move into the second lane assignment, however the officials instructed me to move out into the outer most lane assignment. It was close at that point so a mix up was understandable. There’s really only 15-20 seconds between your team mate crossing the 200m mark and them coming into the exchange zone, so sometimes you just have to take it and “run” with it. So I went with it and moved out, adding a few extra meters to our run, even though we tagged ahead of the Korean team.
My leg didn’t feel great. I didn’t feel smooth, technique went out the window. But I held our position ahead of Korea and made the tag to Alex for the final leg. Alex gave it what he could, Korea’s final leg was just faster, and just edged him out at the finish by a margin small enough that the race arguably may have ended differently had we not been moved into the outer lane assignment. We finished with a 3:11, not horrible, but we’ve been faster (despite what the announcer mistakenly said about a National and Continental Record).
I was disappointed in myself, I didn’t race as well as I knew I could, and I was sure we had missed out on the finals by fractions of a second because of it. For some reason I thought top two teams in each heat would advance, and we just finished third. I was crushed. I got off the track and out of the stadium as fast as I could. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, I just wanted to leave, I was sure I had fucked it all up, everything we had been training for, and all the crap along the way that we had gone through up to this point. I was done.
I was just about to leave when Rob, our massage therapist on the IST team, came up to me after watching the second heat and congratulated us on making it through to finals. What?! I was a little confused, but then he corrected me, letting me know that the four fastest teams advance to finals, and we had secured the fourth spot with our time! I turned around, put my tights back on and jumped into my racer for a cool down and to prepare for what was to come the next day.
We made it to finals!
I haven’t had a chance to watch the other heat (China vs. GB vs. France). There’s a lot of speculation surrounding it. All I know is that GB was a strong team with the potential of running a time close to ours if they pushed well, and we hadn’t pushed our best, so I thought for sure we would have lost our spot in the finals to them. Reflecting on the race as a team we all felt like we could have pushed better, so it became a solid learning experience that we all were able to grow from.
Finals: Take One (Canada vs. Thailand vs. China vs. Korea)
It was the day to make it happen. I came to the stadium feeling more prepared and ready than I had ever felt. I was in a good head space, I was focusing on the right things. I was ready.
Brent started us off well, better than he did in the heats, and made his tag. Curtis had a strong lap and pulled us into second behind China at the 200m mark, this time clearly ahead of Thailand and Korea! The officials directed China into the first zone, I got ready to move into the second lane assignment, but then the officials called Korea over into position two. They did it again!
With Curtis coming around the corner there wasn’t time to argue with the officials, so I moved into the third lane assignment, and Thailand into fourth. But the official was still standing there instructing Thailand and I to switch, he just stood there, in my lane, telling us we had to switch. The guys were coming up fast, we didn’t have time for this, I spun around, rolled into the fourth lane assignment as I watched Curtis come up past his mark, and I just kept going, got the tag and went.
Afterwards I learned that Curtis had been forced to slow down dramatically coming into the zone because of what was happening. Expecting to be in second position, then seeing me in the third position as he exited the curve, and then seeing me in fourth position as he came into the tag zone he had to slow down to cross over and make some last second lane changes. Super hectic! It was tremendously confusing for him and frustrating for all of us, costing us many valuable seconds.
Despite what had just happened, I still had a good lap, my speed was up, I felt smooth, I came into the back stretch faster than I expected. I was able to keep my composure, time my efforts so that I could come into the tag fast and with energy to close any gaps. I maybe came in a little too fast. I passed Alex, made the tag, and with all that momentum into the turn I went up on two wheels, threw a hand down in an effort to recover, but it was too late, and barrel rolled off the track. We were going fast!
Alex went, after witnessing what had happened with the previous tag and what it cost us, the pressure was on. He had a strong lap, but now behind we were again just edged out by Korea.
It’s one thing for another team or competitor to impede the race, that’s racing, everyone that lined up is in play. In this case however, the officials had obviously made an error, and they had impeded the running of the race with their decisions and the forced moves on the track, dramatically affecting the outcome. We were so close, and lost, again by fractions of a second, because of an official’s mistake. It hurt. But part of us knew that it was also wrong and it wasn’t going to end there.
I was proud of the race that we ran. I was proud of my leg. Everything that was within our control we did well. And we even handled what was thrown at us in those hectic moments very well. We only lost because an official had clearly interfered with the race.
We didn’t know what to do, but the coaches went and submitted a protest.
All we could do now was move forward, go do a proper cool down, eat some food, get some energy back in us, and do our best to be as prepared as we could be to run the race again.
Finals: The Re-Run
The protest was successful, and the re-run of the final was scheduled as the last event of the evening.
I think there will always be mixed feelings when a protest is involved and a race has to be re-run. Even when the protest is called for. Like I said before, when you win you want it to be clean and without question. Now it just feels a little off. The other teams are glaring at you for putting them in a position to re-run a race, putting the medals they felt they had just won in question. It’s rough. And I feel bad. No one is running a race they had prepared for.
But it goes both ways. Sure the other teams aren’t going to support a protest and put their medal at risk, but the first race wasn’t clean, so how can the winning teams feel honour in those results? Had I been on the other side of what had happened I wouldn’t have been comfortable with the win either.
So the race.
The time had come to run it again. I had to clear those feelings from my head, get myself back into that good headspace from before, focus on the right things.
We weren’t sure if all the teams were going to show up, but when we got to the call room they were all there. It was going to be a good race! This time the officials covered our helmets with coloured tape, a different colour for each team, to help them make the right call (I think we might invest in some matching helmet covers for the team next time).
On the last leg Alex was clearly ahead in third, a safe distance out in front of Korea. Then he began closing in on Thailand and almost edged them out at the line for second! Despite the mixed feelings, in a race where each team was able to have a clean run, unimpeded by officials, we showed what we truly were capable of and where we place in the world on the Paralympic stage.
With the scarred history of the Canadian 4x400m Relay team, being the team rookie, I feel like the medal represents a lot more to the other guys on the team than it does for me. I’m just honoured that I could be a part of helping them achieve this. This win was a long time in the making, it was well earned and well deserved.