Bishop finishes fifth in women's 800, Canada leaves worlds empty-handed

By The Canadian Press
August 13, 2017 - 8:30am

LONDON — On a dreamy night two years ago at Birds Nest Stadium in Beijing, Melissa Bishop raced to a silver medal in the 800 metres — and it was just one of an extraordinary three medals for Canada on that day.

Damian Warner had won decathlon silver, and Canada's 4x100 relay, anchored by emerging star Andre De Grasse, sprinted to bronze.

Two years after Canada's historic eight-medal bonanza in Beijing, the team heads home from London empty-handed for the first time in 16 years. The meet will be remembered for injuries and illness. Pictures of joyous Canadians draped in the Maple Leaf were replaced by images of dejection and frustration.

Bishop was the last Canadian up Sunday night, racing to fifth in the 800 metres.

"I'm going to be honest, it's been tough to see just the unfortunate timing of things," Bishop said. "The (2015) worlds and Rio (Olympics) were so high, and to come off of that, I think it's hard for everybody. I really wanted to put Canada on the map with a medal tonight, but it's just not in the cards."

The 29-year-old from Eganville, Ont., ran one minute 57.68 seconds, and afterward lamented the fact she'd let herself get too far back in the pack when the leaders made their move with 300 metres to go.

"I don't think I ran my race," Bishop said. "It's coming, it's positive, it's nothing I'm upset about, the result is more what I'm upset about. I'm tired of 1:57s, I want something faster.

"I think if I was closer to the front of that pack, I'm positive we could have run 1:56 (her Canadian record is 1:57.01). We're right on the cusp."

Bishop's race was one of the most talked-about of the meet. Caster Semenya of South Africa, who won gold in 1:55.16, is at the centre of a dispute over whether females with excessive testosterone should be permitted to compete. Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi was second and American Ajee Wilson took the bronze.

Canada followed up Beijing with a six-medal performance in Rio, and the team arrived in London seemingly riding a giant wave of momentum.

Then De Grasse, who was pegged to win three medals in London, announced he was out with a torn hamstring two nights before the London world championships began. It was both a massive blow and the first of Canada's collapsing house of cards to fall.

Olympic and world champion high jumper Derek Drouin pulled out with an Achilles injury, and a ferocious stomach bug — believed to be norovirus — swept through the Canadian team hotel, forcing nine Canadian athletes and staff into quarantine, including Warner.

"It is hard. We came here for medals," said the team's head coach Glenroy Gilbert. "We certainly didn't forsee the things that have happened."

Warner began the decathlon — a gruelling event at the best of times — just a day after his quarantine ended, and finished a heartbreaking fifth, the first time he'd missed a major international podium in five years.

The fifths from Warner and Bishop were Canada's top results.

"It's like Murphy's Law hit us in this meet," said sprinter Aaron Brown, who was quarantined with the virus, and then disqualified in his 200-metre heat for a lane violation. "It was just one thing after another, kind of a domino effect. But once we get on the flight and leave London, this will stay here in London. We'll regroup. This is a talented group, you saw what we can do in Rio."

Among Canada's highlights at London Stadium, Toronto's Brittany Crew became the first Canadian woman to reach the shot put final finishing sixth. Crystal Emmanuel of Toronto put women's sprinting back on the global stage, becoming the first Canadian woman to race in the 200-metre final since 1983. She was seventh.

Mohammed Ahmed of St. Catharines, Ont., ran a Canadian record to finish eighth the men's 10,000, then followed it up with a sixth place in the men's 5,000 — both Canadian bests. Canada had two runners in the men's 5,000 final for the first time — Ahmed and Justyn Knight, a 21-year-old from Toronto, who finished ninth.

And Genevieve Lalonde of Moncton, N.B., broke her own Canadian record in the women's 3,000 steeplechase to finish 13th.

It was an otherwise tough head coaching debut for Gilbert, who stepped into the role barely a month ago.

A retired sprinter who ran on Canada's 4x100 relay that won gold at the '96 Atlanta Olympics, Gilbert compared the beleaguered team's meet to the 1993 world championships. 

"We had no medals, and the media and everybody were saying 'Oh, what's going to happen?'" Gilbert said. "And then the men's relay team won a bronze. We were just like 'Phew.'"

Gilbert believes these worlds were a blip on the Canadian track and field landscape, and pointed, hopefully, to the team's 12 top-eight performances.  

"I don't think we're going backwards," he said. "Obviously I expected way better performances from our athletes overall, but I don't look at it that way. We've got three years to right the ship in terms of Tokyo (2020 Olympics). Two if we're looking at the world championships (in Doha)."

Race walkers Evan Dunfee of Richmond, B.C., and Ben Thorne of Kitimat, B.C., were the only other Canadians to compete on the final day. Dunfee, who was fourth at the Rio Olympics, finished 15th in the 50-kilometre race walk. And Thorne, who kicked off Canada's parade to the podium two years ago with a bronze, finished 51st in the 20K race walk.

The United States led the way in London with 30 medals — 10 gold, 11 silver, nine bronze. Kenya was second with 11, while Poland captured eight. Thirty-eight countries headed home with at least one medal.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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Sun, 13 Aug 2017 18:03:27 -0400

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