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DAN BARNES: Deep talent pool fuels Canadian track team's quest for medals in women's 4 x 400-metre relay

 Alicia Brown.
Alicia Brown. - Dan Barnes

The numbers say something flattering about the Canadian women, and the women have plenty to say about their numbers; mostly that there is strength in them.

The 4 x 400-metre relay pool is about 10 women deep and promising, and when a quartet of Canadian contenders steps onto the track Saturday in Yokohama, Japan for heats of the World Relays, they will be determined to fulfil the potential they have already shown.

“I think that we’re already on the right track. I don’t think that we need a lot of convincing,” said Alicia Brown, a 29-year-old from Ottawa. “I think that the squad that we have right now is already in a really great position. World relays is early (in the season) but it’s really exciting that we have so many women right now that are strong and are performing.

“I think if we can go out there and put something aggressive on the track and kind of just show or remind the world that the Canadian women are in it to do something big, that’s what we need to do. I think that’s the biggest thing. And then from there, that’s just motivation to keep working.”

There could also be motivation in the fact that the International Association of Athletics Federations, the world governing body for track and field, has apparently overlooked the Canadians. The United States is rightly positioned as the favourite in an event preview posted on the federation website, and Jamaica is seen as the strongest challenger, which is not a surprise. Nods are also given to Poland, Nigeria, Great Britain, India and Japan.

Maddy Price. - Dan Barnes
Maddy Price. - Dan Barnes

However, the Canadian quartet of Maddy Price, Aiyanna Stiverne, Travia Jones and Sage Watson ran 3:28.54 in Gainesville, Fla. on March 30. That’s the third best time in the world this year and would have put the Canadians in fourth place at the 2017 World Relays, where the podium finishers were the U.S., Poland and Jamaica. Canada qualified ninth and missed the A final at that meet.

Brown is the only returning member of the 2017 team who will be on the track in Yokohama, while she and Watson are the only members of the fourth-place Rio 2016 squad who will be there. The team is changing on the fly, dipping into that pool for reinforcements, all with an eye on the 2020 Olympics.

For now, the goal is simple enough, but lofty too — finish on the World Relays podium. There is forgiveness built into the mission however, as the top 10 teams will qualify for the World Athletics Championships set for Doha, Qatar in the fall. That’s the last big outdoor meet before Tokyo 2020. The path is clear and has been for awhile now.

“This group of women has been developing since the 2015 World Championships when we made the final,” said Watson. “Since then we have grown and added new individuals who are very talented. Every woman on the team is determined and wants to succeed; that’s what has been the game-changer when it comes to our relay success. We are hungry for a medal and very competitive each time we step on the track as a group.”

They push one another, run for one another, and the results energize them.

“Everyone is so excited,” said Price, 23. “We’re on the verge of being on the podium at world relays, trying to be on the podium at world championships, trying to win an Olympic medal. That is the goal and it’s so clear to every one of the girls out here.

“To podium at world relays, I think that is just showing us we’re there, we’re ready to keep it rolling. We have the depth, we have the opportunity to do it. I think that’s the biggest indicator that we’re on our way.”

Athletics Canada has taken a team of 22 athletes to Japan, nine men and 13 women. Canada will field teams in the men’s 4 x 100-metres, the women’s 4 x 100-metres and 4 x 400-metres, as well as the mixed 4 x 400-metres.

Athletics Canada’s head coach Glenroy Gilbert said the women’s 4 x 400 team is taking shape, led by Watson and Price. He would like to see a 3:27 and change in Yokohama, and thinks they will need to go that low for a podium spot.

“I think for May that’s good for athletes who are predominantly running themselves into shape,” said Gilbert. “Obviously the competition is going to be strong and it will force them to get even faster than that. They’re going to have to be.”

dbarnes@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/sportsdanbarnes

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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