Making the Olympic team was bittersweet. My wife, Rachel Cliff met the qualifying standard for the women’s 5,000m only to be left off the team. This had a huge impact on us both. I was supposed to be relishing in what was meant to be the highpoint of my career, while at the same time being torn apart by what had happened to her. She handled the disappointment with class and courage, but still, it was a very challenging period for us both.
Once the Games began we were able to put her personal matters aside and she flew to Rio to support me and the entire Canadian team. I look forward to returning the favour in 2020, cheering from the sidelines as she experiences her own Olympic dream in Tokyo.
My race in Rio was challenging from a few perspectives. My whole career has been singly focused on one goal – to represent Canada at the Olympic Games. To be honest I never thought much about what to do if I ever got there. Fortunately, I had previously competed in a World Championships and Commonwealth Games so I was familiar with competing on that level, but I still found it very challenging to identify my concrete goals.
My whole career has been singly focused on one goal – to represent Canada at the Olympic Games.
Ultimately, every athlete competing in the Games wants to win a medal, but first you have to make the finals. If you are being realistic with yourself you have to know that this requires many things to align perfectly and it can feel like a long shot. I came into the games ranked 32 of 45 and only the top 15 make the final round. I was in the best shape of my career and knew I was ready to pop a fast one, but running in qualifying rounds, early in the morning, didn’t necessarily mean there would be an opportunity to run a fast time. (Often qualifying rounds are tactical races run well off the pace of the finals.)
I came to the conclusion that success for me was going to be defined by my effort. I wanted to stand on that start line healthy and prepared, both physically and mentally, so that once the gun went off I could give 100%. If I did that, there was nothing more I could ask of myself.
I wanted to stand on that start line healthy and prepared, both physically and mentally, so that once the gun went off I could give 100%.
In the end I feel as if I did just that and with one lap to go I was still within striking distance of the best in the world. While I ultimately failed to make the finals, or run a PB, I knew I had given it my all; not just that day, but throughout my whole career. There I was standing in the Olympic stadium wearing the colours of my country. My family and friends were there to support me, and so many people back home had got up early to cheer me on – it truly was a dream come true.
My race being the obvious highlight, there were a few other defining moments that stand out to me and still send shivers down my spine. One of them was the closing ceremony. The track and field team didn’t arrive into the village until the second week of the Games, so for myself and the rest of the track team, the closing ceremonies were that moment where you really felt a part of Team Canada. Walking into Olympic Stadium behind the Canadian Flag with all of my Canadian teammates, knowing that the entire nation at home was watching and cheering us on was exhilarating. Those ceremonies and that night was all about celebrating the Games and the success of our team – it is an experience that I’ll never forget!
While I believe that making the Olympics defines me and my achievements as an athlete, I have always believed that it's about the journey, not the end result. The Olympics were never a certainty and I wouldn’t have viewed my career as unsuccessful had I not made the team. Having taken some time to reflect on the past 20 years, it’s the friends I’ve made, the places I have visited, and all the great moments along the way. That in my mind is what will define my athletics career.
The Olympics were never a certainty and I wouldn’t have viewed my career as unsuccessful had I not made the team.
The Olympics, to put it simply, were amazing. After two decades in the sport, after enduring the many highs, lows, and years of injuries and disappointments, I had finally achieved my dream – it was, and still is, a bit surreal.