GNAC Athletes Make Most Of Olympic Trials Experiences
David Ribich placed 12th in the 1,500-meter final at the U.S. Olympic Trials and ran 3:38.75 in the semifinals. Photo by Paul Merca/Tracktown USA.
David Ribich placed 12th in the 1,500-meter final at the U.S. Olympic Trials and ran 3:38.75 in the semifinals. Photo by Paul Merca/Tracktown USA.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

MONTREAL, Que. – For much of the last two seasons, Lindsey Butterworth’s racing was focused on shedding those vital seconds to get closer to the Olympic qualifying time in the 800 meters.

But when it came to the day where the former Simon Fraser standout needed to run the race of her life, coach Brit Townsend told Butterworth not to focus on time but on the overall performance and believing that she could compete with the best in the world.

“We focused more on competing,” Townsend said, “and it happened. It was really like a dream.”

Butterworth proceeded to run that race of her life, clocking nearly a one-second lifetime best to win the 800 meters at the Athletics Canada Olympic Track and Field Trials. Her winning time of 1:59.19 surpassed the Olympic standard, assuring Butterworth a spot on Team Canada for next month’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Butterworth, who won both the Division II indoor and outdoor 800-meter titles for Simon Fraser in 2015, became only the seventh Canadian woman to run the 800 in under two minutes.

“It was so awesome,” said Townsend, who coaches Butterworth alongside her athletes at Simon Fraser. “She has been knocking on the door for some time with those two-flat times. We had a great race where it all came together. She ran a great race and a great time.”

Butterworth’s Olympic-qualifying time was the highlight among 12 current and former GNAC student-athletes that competed both in the Canadian trials and the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene.

Despite the challenges of training and competing through the COVID-19 pandemic, the 12 found themselves as part of one of the most exciting weeks of track and field in North America in a number of years.

Butterworth’s run to Tokyo featured an unlikely assist from her training partner: recent Simon Fraser graduate Addy Townsend.

Townsend, the 2019 Division II national runner-up in the indoor 800, was set to run the 1,500 meters in her first Olympic Trials on Sunday when she received a request from Athletics Canada to run as a pacer for the 800 meters. With travel restrictions necessitated by the pandemic, there would be only one 800-meter race in the trials and one chance to run those Olympic qualifying times.

“They asked the girls if they wanted a pacer and they said yes, especially since it was only one race,” Brit Townsend said. “Addy has proven to be a good pacer and was asked to pace the race by Athletics Canada. She handled it well and with a lot of maturity.”

Being asked to pace the 800 provided a measure of consolation to Addy Townsend, who was left out of the official field despite having the 10th best Canadian time (2:03.20) this season entering the trials. She did the job well, pacing the field through the first 400 meters in 57.09 seconds before stepping off and letting the race develop.

Butterworth did not disappoint, biding her time for making her move in the final 200 meters. She passed Madeline Kelly with 70 meters to go and pushed past Melissa Bishop-Nriagu, the owner of Canada’s best time this season (1:58.62), to claim the Canadian title and that all-important Olympic qualifying standard.

And waiting at the finish line was Addy Townsend. The two embraced at the finish line knowing that the two teammates had worked together again to make dreams a reality.

“I think the two of them shared in that win together,” Brit Townsend said. “They were both so emotional at the end. They train together and it meant so much to both of them.”

The combination of the emotions of Friday and the blustery weather in Montreal took its toll on Addy, who dropped out of Sunday’s 1,500 meters after just 400 meters. But her ability to her teammate qualify for Tokyo is sure to pay dividends when it comes time to try and qualify for Paris in three years.

When the former Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus was demolished in 2018, many feared that the mystique of “Hayward Magic,” the facility’s ability to produce incredible track and field moments, had died with it.

The U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials proved without a doubt that the magic is alive and well in the new Hayward Field and a number of GNAC connected athletes shared in their part of that magic.

Former Western Oregon middle-distance standout David Ribich made the most of his first Olympic Trials, making the finals in a very competitive men’s 1,500 meters. The four-time GNAC champion in the metric mile (2015-2018) and the owner of the all-time fastest time in Division II history in the indoor 3,000 meters (7:50.81), placed 12th in the final with a time of 3:44.43.

Ribich’s best races, however, came earlier in the week in the preliminary and semifinal rounds. In Thursday’s preliminaries, Ribich was one of six automatic qualifiers for the semifinals when he placed third in the opening heat in a time of 3:45.71.

Friday’s semifinals proved not only to be a fast race for Ribich but a strategic run that played best to his abilities. Seemingly blocked in on the inside lane in the final 200 meters, Ribich surged to move into an automatic qualifying place for the final, taking a close fifth in his heat with a season-best time of 3:38.75.

“David ran well in both the prelims and the semis,” said former Western Oregon head coach Mike Johnson. “I think he expected that he would be able to run the same type of race in the final. He did for a while (running third over the first 400 meters), but then he didn’t. In either case, David proved that he can run with the best in the world.”

Running in her first Olympic Trials, Seattle Pacific volunteer assistant coach Allie Ostrander found herself as part of one of the fastest women’s steeplechase races ever run on American soil.

The three-time NCAA Division I champion in the event for Boise State, Ostrander earned a spot in the final by earning a time qualifier in the June 20 preliminary, running 9:35.56.

Thursday’s final was nothing but fast. Emma Coburn set a meet record with her winning time of 9:09.41 while American record holder Courtney Frerichs was second in 9:11.79.

While Ostrander was not in the top-three, the field helped carry her to a lifetime best time of 9:26.96 to finish in eighth place. It was a four-second improvement over her previous best of 9:30.85, run at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar.

Former Seattle Pacific standout Kaylee Mitchell, who now runs for Division I Oregon State, finished 32nd in Thursday’s steeplechase prelims with a time of 10:26.69.

The only GNAC connected athlete to compete in her second U.S. Olympic Trials this year, former Western Washington standout and 2014 Division II runner-up Katie Reichert placed 22nd in the qualifying round of the women’s javelin with a best of 146 feet, 9 inches.

While his Olympic Trials experience was a short one, former Western Oregon athlete Derek Holdsworth took another step towards his dream of representing the U.S. at the Olympic Games.

Running in the men’s 800-meter preliminaries on the first day of the trials, June 18, Holdsworth placed 21st with a time of 1:49.10. He finished fifth in the event’s fourth preliminary heat and missed both an automatic place qualifying spot or a time qualifying spot in the semifinals by less than a second.

“I thought that Derek was ready to race and his attitude has been great, both before and after the race,” said Johnson, who continues to coach Holdsworth post-collegiately. “I think he is poised to do something special. Things would have been different had there been more chances for him to race against high-caliber competition.”

Holdsworth is establishing himself as an 800-meter runner to watch despite having had those high-caliber opportunities disappear. After transferring to Western Oregon from Trinidad State, Holdsworth won the GNAC indoor 800-meter title and had Division II’s best time by over a second before COVID-19 not only wiped out a chance for an indoor national title but also his final shot at a final collegiate outdoor season.

In the lead-up to the trials, Holdsworth was limited by an injury that wiped out eight weeks of training and competition during the spring. He did not secure his spot in the trials until running 1:46.65 at the June 3 Stumptown Classic in Portland.

“Not being able to get that base in cost us,” Johnson said. “In either case, Derek had a fine year.”

While much of the GNAC focus at the Canadian trials was on the 800 meters, a trio of Simon Fraser runners put together an impressive finish in Sunday’s men’s 1,500 meters.

Simon Fraser alumnus Cameron Proceviat ran a solid race to place second in a time of 3:43.37. In the process, Proceviat brought a pair of current SFU student-athletes along in a pair of performances that should put the conference on notice. Junior Aaron Ahl placed third in a time of 3:43.52 while freshman Charlie Dannatt placed fourth in 3:44.33.

Brit Townsend said that those times don’t illustrate how strong the performances actually were.

“I was so windy and I was so proud of how well they all performed,” she said. “The lead guy (Charles Philibert-Thiboutot) was so far ahead that Cam was basically running by himself. Aaron and Charlie had some competition with them and those times don’t indicate how well they ran with that wind.”

With the closure of the U.S./Canada border due to the pandemic, Simon Fraser’s track and field program was unable to compete in 2021. For Ahl and Dannatt, that meant racing against themselves in a series of intrasquad events that Brit Townsend put together. Ahl’s best in those meet of 3:42.23 would have ranked fourth in Division II while Dannatt’s time of 3:42.51 would have ranked fifth. Both would have automatically qualified for the Division II Championships.

Simon Fraser alum Julia Howley placed sixth in Friday’s women’s steeplechase final, running a time of 9:47.24. Former SFU athlete Jeremiah Lauzon, who will run for West Texas A&M next year, placed fifth in Friday’s men’s 200 meters in 21.58 seconds.

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