Canadian women narrowly miss track relay medal at 2nd straight Olympics

Alicia Brown, Maddy Price, Kyra Constantine and Sage Watson were oh-so close Saturday to winning Canada’s first Olympic medal since 1984 in women’s 400-metre relay.

How close? Try 60-100ths of a second.

Canada sat third around the final bend of the anchor leg but Jamaica’s Candace McLeod caught Watson on the straightaway and crossed the finish line in a season-best three minutes 21.24 seconds to capture bronze at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium.

Watson followed in fourth in 3:21.84, taking more than two seconds off the squad’s previous 2021 best of 3:24.05 from Thursday’s qualifier and coming within 63-100ths of a national record that has stood for 37 years.

WATCH | Canada runs to 4th in women’s 4x400m relay:

Charmaine Crooks, Molly Killingbeck, Jillian Richardson-Briscoe and Marita Payne-Wiggins remain the only 4×400 team from Canada with an Olympic medal after they ran a Canadian-record 3:21.21 for silver in Los Angeles.

— Canadian women’s 400-metre relay runner Sage Watson

“This team ran with so much heart, I’m so proud of these girls,” Brown told CBC Sports as the foursome stood arm-in-arm. “Our goal was to run 3:21 and we did that, just shy of the Canadian record.

“I think we, in many ways, exceeded our own expectations [but] we’re a little heartbroken.”

At the 2016 Summer Games, Watson anchored Canada to a fourth-place finish in Rio, where Great Britain earned bronze by only 55-100ths of a second.

“I really wanted to bring home a medal [on Saturday]. I know what that fourth place feels like [from Rio] and it really hurts,” said Watson, the most senior member of the team. “We’re getting so close [to the podium] and I promise Canada we’re going to do it.”

WATCH | Price: ‘We wanted to bring home a medal for Canada and ourselves:’

‘We’ll be back’

On Monday, Watson missed qualifying for her first individual Olympic final by 1.26 seconds in the women’s 400 hurdles.

In the 2019 world championship final, the 27-year-old from Medicine Hat, Alta., covered the last 400 metres in 50.7 seconds — the fastest split of any runner on the team — when Canada crossed the finish line fifth in 3:25.91. However, Canada was later disqualified when it was determined a lane infringement occurred during the first exchange between Aiyanna-Brigitte Stiverne and Brown.

“This relay team for years, since Rio [and] even before that, has been just such a competitor on this [international] stage,” said Price, noting Canada was fourth at the 2019 IAAF World Relays in Japan. “Of course, [Saturday’s result] hurts. We wanted to bring home a medal for Canada and ourselves. We’ll be back.”

WATCH | Track trivia with Sage Watson:

In Saturday’s eight-team race, Canada was fifth when Brown handed the baton to Price after the opening leg. Price moved the Canadians to fourth in the second 400 and 5-100ths behind Jamaica at the change-over with Constantine, who ran anchor in the qualifier.

Canada led the Jamaicans by 14-100ths when Watson grabbed the baton from Constantine.

The United States topped the podium in 3:16.85 ahead of Poland, which set a national record of 3:20.53. That was the order of finish two years ago at worlds along with Jamaica in third.

Seccafien 14th in 10,000m final

Canada’s Andrea Seccafien will return home to Australia following a top-15 finish in each of her first two Olympic finals.

The exhausted 30-year-old capped her second Summer Games on Saturday with a time of 31 minutes 36.36 seconds in the women’s 10,000-metre final and dropped to her knees to catch her breath in the oppressive heat.

Seccafien was 15th to cross the line but later awarded 14th following the disqualification of Ethiopia’s Tsehay Gemechu.

It was the second time in five career races at the distance Seccafien has run under 32 minutes, surpassed only by her 31:13.94 Canadian-record performance on May 14 to beat the 31:25 Olympic standard at the Sound Running Track Meet in Irvine, Calif.

“I’m happy with it. I think I ran a smart race, given the conditions,” said Seccafien. “I thought I would be able to compete with the Americans and I finished right behind them.”

Seccafien was hopeful of placing inside the top 12 in Tokyo after not advancing from the 5,000 heats at the 2016 Olympics.

— Canadian distance runner Andrea Seccafien

“In Rio I was so green. I had never raced on that level and hadn’t even [competed at a] Diamond League meet,” Seccafien told CBC Sports last November from her home in Melbourne. “I had no idea what to do in that race and it showed. … Now, I feel I’ve learned how to run those [championship] races better.”

A week ago, the native of Guelph, Ont., clocked 14:59.55 in the women’s 5,000 final.

Future marathoner?

Seccafien became Canada’s half marathon record holder on Feb. 2, 2020 and considered the achievement the first step in transitioning to the 10,000.

“I’ve thought for a long time that the 5K is not my event, that it’s too short and I would be better at the 10K,” she said. “I think I’m more suited to the 10K and half marathon, based on the sessions I enjoy and what I excel at. Going forward, I want to run the 10K, half marathon and possibly longer.”

Seccafien competed in a local 10-kilometre road race after the Japan half marathon before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sports world.

In the shape of her life, the native of Guelph, Ont., had hoped to hit the Olympic qualifying standard in the 10,000 last year in Australia rather than having to travel to North America.

“I continued to train and things were going well but over time it does wear on you — not having a plan, not knowing what’s going to happen, how long the lockdown will last,” recalled Seccafien, who endured two lockdowns in 2020. “You start wondering when your next race might be. I felt the worry started getting bigger. I did take a break because I was so overwhelmed.”

Seccafien’s mental health suffered greatly through two lockdowns in Australia, the second of which lasted 111 days, and she didn’t compete for eight months.

Hassan makes athletics history

Sifan Hassan won Saturday’s race in 29:55.32 to complete a rare treble after taking the women’s 5,000 earlier in the week and earning bronze in between in Friday’s 1,500.

The 28-year-old Ethiopian Dutch woman delivered a devastating last 150-metre burst to pull clear of Bahrain’s Kalkidan Gezahegne and world record holder Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia.

WATCH | Hassan 1st person to medal over 1,500m, 5,000, 10,000:

While Hassan didn’t win all three events, she became the first runner – male or female – to medal over 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 and the second woman to earn a medal in three individual track races at one Olympics.

It was a significant improvement from her 2016 Summer Games debut when Hassan placed fifth in the 1,500 and was eliminated in the 800 heats.

Chopra is India’s 1st-ever Olympic champ in athletics

Neeraj Chopra won India’s first gold medal in Olympic track and field with a throw of 87.58 metres on Saturday to clinch the javelin title.

India’s only previous medals in Olympic track and field were two silver won by Norman Pritchard in the 200 metres and the 200 hurdles at the 1900 Paris Games.

Chopra was the first athlete from India to win gold in javelin at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, both in 2018.

In other events:

  • Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway won gold in the men’s 1,500 final, breaking the Games record to upset world champion Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya who took silver. Josh Kerr of Britain ran a personal best to claim the bronze medal. Ingebrigtsen was the first European winner of the event since Spain’s Fermin Cacho in Barcelona in 1992.

  • The United States men’s team won its first gold on the track in Tokyo, clinching the 4×400 relay by a huge margin and ending a drought at the Games that had sparked criticism back home. It was the final chance for the American men to avoid the ignominy of not winning a gold on the track for the first time in the Games’ 125-year history — barring their boycott year in 1980 — and they left it to the very last event.

  • Mariya Lasitskene won the Russian team’s first gold medal in track and field at these Games. The three-time women’s high jump world champion added an Olympic gold medal to her collection with a winning height of 2.04 metres.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo offers fun facts about Canada’s athletics team:

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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