Butterworth runs Olympic standard in winning 800 metres at Olympic trials

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MONTREAL — After years of flirting with the two-minute barrier, Lindsey Butterworth finally smashed it -- in emphatic fashion.

The 27-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., kicked hard down the final straightaway to win the women's 800 metres at the Olympic track and field trials on Friday.

Crossing the finish line, she looked at the time, and both hands flew to her mouth in delight. Butterworth won in one minute 59.19 seconds, dipping under the automatic Olympic standard of 1:59.50 -- and shattering that elusive two-minute mark, finally.

"I just saw the time and was in shock and happiness," Butterworth said.

Butterworth overtook world silver medallist Melissa Bishop-Nriagu a few feet from the finish line to win in front of no fans at Claude Robillard Sports Complex. Bishop-Nriagu, whose all but locked up her Tokyo berth having already run the qualifying standard twice, was second in 1:59.50. Madeleine Kelly ran 2:00.30 to finish third, and could still earn a trip to Tokyo based on World Athletics ranking.

Earlier in the day Crystal Emmanuel won her eighth national women's 100-metre title, while Aaron Brown won his third consecutive men's title in a men's 100 field missing three-time Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse.

And John Gay ran the Olympic standard in winning the men's 3,000-metre steeplechase.

Butterworth first ran two minutes flat in 2018, and has come agonizingly close to breaking that barrier numerous times since, including in three races earlier this season.

"I think just getting that (idea) of it being a huge barrier out of my mind was like a huge turning point," said Butterworth, who became the seventh Canadian in history to break the two-minute mark. "I think just this year for other girls like Maddy Kelly running really well, we know that it's no longer an elusive barrier. It's doable for us . . . and just being so consistent, knowing that it's right there, is definitely a huge turning point."

She wasn't celebrating a spot on the Olympic team yet. There is another meet in Montreal in four days.

"(But) it is a huge relief to have run the standard, because it's been on my mind for so long It feels like, and it's just nice to put it on paper," she said.

Gay threw both arms in the arm when he crossed the steeplechase finish line in 8.20.68, beating the standard of 8:22.

The 24-year-old hadn't planned on even racing at the trials.

"It was kind of the storybook ending to this long chase of a season," he said. "A week ago, I was about to hop on a flight to Sweden for a last-chance race and just had a gut instinct that that's not where I need to be, I need to be here, I need to run these national championships, they're our Olympic trials."

Gay was actually already one of three flights into his trip when he changed his mind.

"I pulled the plug when we landed in Montreal, booked a flight back home, and here I am a week later -- confirmation that that gut instinct, as crazy as it seemed at the time, paid off. It all culminated in this."

Emmanuel, meanwhile, let out a celebratory roar when she crossed the finish line of the women's 100, breaking up the silence in the empty stadium.

Canada's most dominant female sprinter for the better part of a decade is known for playing up the crowd. Finish-line photos often capture her mouth open in mid-holler, or sticking out her pierced tongue in a wide smile.

But in the COVID-19 era of sport, there were no fans to entertain. So she yelled for herself.

"For me, it wasn't too weird, because I've been travelling and also running at home with no crowds, so I'm a bit used to it," said Emmanuel. "It was a great chance to run and aim for the (Olympic) standard for the 100 for Tokyo.

"Just executing a good race during these times is a really good thing."

Emmanuel ran 11.18 seconds, narrowly missing the automatic Tokyo qualifying standard of 11.14. The points earned from winning the Canadian trials, however, should bump the 29-year-old from Toronto up the World Athletics rankings high enough for a Tokyo berth in the event.

She's already run the automatic qualifying standard in the 200 metres.

Khamica Bingham was second in 11.25, while Shyvonn Roxborough was third.

Brown ran 10.12 seconds to easily win the men's race. He and De Grasse had already hit the automatic standards in both the 100 and 200, and so Brown was using the trials as a final tune-up for Tokyo.

And so, zero pressure.

"This is not like cross (the finish line) top-two, top-three to make the team kind of situation, so for me it was a run just to break up the training block," Brown said. "But still a national championship, and I did my best to approach it like that.

"And it was definitely weird not having the crowd and the same electricity as we had last time. But I'm happy with my three-peat, going three in a row, you can't can't be mad at that."

Jerome Blake took second in 10.27, while Bolade Ajomale was third in 10.36.

Due to Canada's border restrictions around COVID-19, Athletics Canada said a few weeks ago that athletes who'd achieved qualifying standards didn't need to compete in Montreal to make the team. De Grasse opted not to travel to Montreal, but Brown said, because his own training group in Florida was competing this week at the U.S. trials, he and Blake spent some time training in Vancouver and then travelled to Montreal.

Damian Warner, who recently crushed his Canadian record in the decathlon to win the Hypo-Meeting in Gotzis, won the long jump on Friday with a mark of 7.81 metres. He'll also compete in the 110-metre hurdles in Montreal.

Liz Gleadle threw 59.81 metres to win the women's javelin, while Noelle Montcalm ran 56.34 to win the women's 400 hurdles, and Philip Osei ran 46.60 to win the men's 400.

Regan Yee of Hazelton, B.C., won the women's 3,000 steeplechase, finishing just outside the qualifying time needed. She could still be selected based on world rankings.

Between travel restrictions, quarantine requirements and a competition schedule drastically altered by COVID-19, Canadian track and field athletes have faced huge hurdles in qualifying for Tokyo. Many travelled to the U.S. in recent weeks to compete, but then faced quarantine requirements upon returning home.

The trials are a last chance for many athletes to hit standards, and because of the pandemic's third wave in Canada, Athletics Canada only got the green light to hold them three weeks ago.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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