Canada's Cam Levins dips under Tokyo marathon standard with a week to spare

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Canada's Cam Levins raced Sunday knowing it was his last shot. Two previous failed attempts lingered in the back of his mind.

He ran in the rain, and all alone for the last 25 kilometres, conditions not conducive to fast times.

"(But) nothing was going to stop me today is what I told myself," Levins said.

The 32-year-old from Black Creek, B.C., finally dipped under the Tokyo Olympic standard in the marathon with just a week to spare. Levins, the Canadian record-holder in the event, ran two hours 10 minutes 30 seconds to win the S7 Marathon in the mountains in Styria, Austria.

The qualifying standard of 2:11.30 had to be accomplished before June 1.

Levins had been well on pace twice in the past seven months, in London in October, and then in Chandler, Ariz., in December. But both times, he hit the proverbial wall with a few kilometres to go. He dropped out in London and finished almost a minute off the standard in Arizona.

"In both (races) I was feeling fine until I very, very suddenly wasn't, could barely move," he said.

He was feeling "great" again on Sunday, "but I certainly thought about (the previous two attempts) as I was coming up to 34, 35K," Levins said. "I went past it and continued to feel great, and it was a pretty emotional moment getting through that and knowing that I was going to be OK."

Levins said a big part of the problem in his previous two attempts was his fuelling - not eating enough in the few days pre-race.

"I was a little concerned about putting on excess weight when I'm not training as much leading into the marathon, so the week before the race, I was careful about what my intake was," he said. "(This week), I just kind of threw that out the window, and said, 'You know what? I'm not going to worry about that.'"

He tested out his theory in a fast half-marathon time trial last month.

Sunday's conditions on an empty Austrian highway - it's currently under construction - made his performance all the more impressive.

It rained most of the way. At the 25-kilometre mark the rain was coming down in sheets.

And neither of his two pace-setters were keeping proper pace. One dropped out just five kilometres in. The other stepped off the course when Levins passed him with more than 25 kilometres left to go.

"I had to go past 17 or 18 but he was already off pace and I needed to go. So a lot of that race was by myself," Levins said. "So, I think I have lots left in the tank."

The time doesn't guarantee Levins a spot on the Tokyo Olympic team, as four Canadians have qualified and Canada can only take three.

Trevor Hofbauer is the only Canadian guaranteed a spot after winning the Canadian championship. Ben Preisner (2:10.17) and Tristan Woodfine (2:10.51) have also run the Olympic standard.

"I hope I'm selected," he told The Canadian Press from Austria. "But I definitely feel like I've done everything that I can today, and I'm proud of my effort no matter what. Hopefully this gets me on the Olympic team. I definitely did everything I could. And I'm very happy and proud of that."

Levins' struggles to hit the standard were a bit of a surprise after he shattered the Canadian record back in 2018. In his marathon debut, Levins ran 2:09.25, obliterating Jerome Drayton's 43-year-old record - what had been the oldest track and field record on the books at the time - by 44 seconds.

Levins moved up to the marathon after an excellent career in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres. He was a finalist in both events at the 2012 London Olympics.

A foot injury that required surgery kept him off the 2016 Rio Olympic team and sidelined him for nearly a year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2021.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press