TORONTO — Powering down the final straightaway of the men's 800 metres, Brandon McBride glanced up at the huge video screen at Varsity Stadium to gauge the length of his lead.
He spotted fellow Canadian teen Marco Arop hot on his heels. It's a sight he's going to have to get used to.
McBride and Arop finished 1-2 at the NACAC Championships on Saturday, delighting the loud crowd at the University's of Toronto's stadium.
"The crowd was going crazy . . . I'm pumping, I've got to give a little lean real quick, then I see Marco and (Wesley) Vazquez battling it out," McBride said.
"It was such an amazing feeling to see him come second, see us go 1-2. At the end of the day, we do it for the country, to inspire the young kids. It's been awhile since Canada's brought home a gold medal in the 800 on the international senior level, so I thought that was really, really special. And to do it here in Toronto, that was really, really special too."
Three weeks after he broke the decade-old Canadian record in the men's 800, McBride won in one minute 46.14 seconds. Arop, a 19-year-old from Edmonton, who raced to a surprise silver medal at the NCAA championships as a freshman in June, finished in 1:46.82.
Vazquez, from Puerto Rico, took the bronze in 1:47.63.
Arm in arm, McBride and Arop posed for pictures after the race, Canadian flags draped like capes over their shoulders, with Toronto's iconic CN Tower painting a picturesque backdrop.
Canada hasn't had two world-class 800-metre runners in recent memory. Gary Reed, the former Canadian record-holder, dominated the distance for years. McBride has owned the event ever since Reed's retirement. But at last month's national championships in Ottawa, Arop fearlessly went wire-to-wire to beat McBride, setting up Saturday's intriguing rematch.
Both runners relish the competition.
"I think it's a little bit of a shock," McBride said. "It hasn't fully hit me yet. I see Marco, and I'm thinking 'Wow, this young man is really, really talented, and he's here, he's here to stay.' It's just really, really special.
"Moving forward, in the world championships and Olympic Games, to have two guys that are going to be in the mix to make a final, to take a shot at medalling, it's going to be really, really special."
Arop was born in Khartoum, Sudan and once dreamed of playing in the NBA — his favourite team is the San Antonio Spurs, because "I'm just a huge fan of (coach Gregg) Popovich." He took up running in high school at the urging of the school's coach, and now attends Mississippi State, where McBride, a 24-year-old from Windsor, Ont., also went to school, racing to two NCAA titles. Arop is coached by the man McBride called his "mentor," Steve Dudley.
"So I only see this young man getting better and better," McBride said of Arop.
Saturday, on the sun-drenched brand new double-blue track at Varsity Stadium, McBride let Vazquez lead for almost 700 metres, confident in his strong finishing kick. With just over 100 metres to go, McBride passed the Puerto Rican on his outside shoulder to the roar of the crowd. Arop found another gear and passed Vazquez as well.
"I was like 'Don't leave me behind,'" Arop said through a wide grin. "I caught up to (McBride) at the end, it was incredible."
Arop was a fan at the national championships two years ago in Edmonton, where McBride raced to one of his four Canadian titles. The teenager said it's surreal to be running on his hero's heels.
"I don't know how to describe it, I feel like I'm just a little guy following him," Arop said. "He's had a very successful career and he's still just starting out, and I'm just trying to be right there with him. I hope we can keep doing this for many more years, it's just lots of fun for both of us competing and for the crowd watching."
The men's 800 was the day's highlight of the track and field showdown for athletes from North American, 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 metres 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," said Emmanuel. "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 Olympic and 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.
And 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.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press