Former GNAC Standouts Take Track & Field's Biggest Stage
The 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene marked the first time the meet was held in North America.
The 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene marked the first time the meet was held in North America.

Saturday, July 23, 2022
by Blake Timm, GNAC Assistant Commissioner For Communications

EUGENE, Ore. – It is the first World Athletics Championships to be held in North America and it is being held in GNAC Country.

The 2022 World Championships brought the world’s top track and field athletes to venerable Hayward Field for 10 days of high-level competition.

The meet also featured three former GNAC and Simon Fraser athletes, all with the rare opportunity to perform close to home on the international stage.

Competing in her third world championship, Lindsey Butterworth advanced to the semifinals of the women’s 800 meters. Her training partner, Addy Townsend, raced in the women’s 800-meter preliminaries while Cameron Proceviat, a late addition to the Team Canada roster, advanced to the semifinals in the men’s 1,500 meters.

For Townsend and Proceviat, it is their first World Championships. And for both of them, the chance to compete at a familiar venue close to home made the experience that much sweeter.

As he watched the second heat of the men’s 1,500-meter preliminaries in the mixed zone last Saturday, Cameron Proceviat was certain that his first race at the World Championships would be his last.

“My spot just slipped away,” he said as he watched a fast heat that included fellow Canadian Charles Philibert-Thiboutot, who placed second. After placing ninth in the first heat in 3:37.43, Proceviat had to wait to see if he would be one of six time qualifiers for the semifinals.

As it worked out, he was the beneficiary of being in the fastest heat of the three preliminaries, making it into the semifinals with the final time qualifying position. He went on to finish ninth in his semifinal heat and 19th overall on Sunday, running 3:38.83.

It was a great outcome for an athlete who had been added to the Team Canada roster just a week before his race.

“I knew I had more races so I kept training,” said Proceviat, who placed fourth at the Canadian Championships in June. “There were only four or five days where I had to adjust from accepting that I didn’t make the team and then turn around and get ready.

“I said, ‘It’s fine. We’ve still been training. We’re ready to go. This was the plan all season.’”

Proceviat was a two-time GNAC indoor champion at 800 meters and was the conference runner-up outdoors three times at the distance. While he started seeing success at the metric mile late in his collegiate career (he placed second at the 2016 GNAC Outdoor Championships), it was in his post-collegiate career where he began to blossom.

Proceviat admits to being a bit star-struck being lined up against runners that he has looked up to over the years. His preliminary heat included 2019 world champion Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya. In the semifinals, he lined up against Great Britain’s Jake Wightman, who stunned the Eugene crowd with his upset victory in Tuesday’s final.

As it worked out, Proceviat’s race plan against the world’s best worked out just fine. But it took some time to realize that.

“I wanted to stay out of trouble and unfortunately it meant that I was a little bit back,” Proceviat said of his prelim race. “But I also got to run pretty smooth and wasn’t jumbled around. I got a little boxed in at the end and I think I could have taken at least another half-second of second off in the last 200 but I had nowhere to go.”

That extra second would have been nice, but in the end he didn’t need it.

For all of her professional career, Lindsey Butterworth’s family has never seen the biggest races of her life live. That changed with the World Athletic Championships taking place in Eugene.

“The last World Championships that I was at was in Doha (Qatar in 2019),” Butterworth said. “That was someplace no one was coming to. To have both of my parents here, for my stepmom, fiancée and sister to be here is special.”

So when those family members saw her compete in the opening heat of the women’s 1,500-meter preliminaries, they saw Butterworth come from behind to earn the top time qualifying spot for Friday’s semifinals.

In an uncommonly fast prelim heat, Ethiopia’s Diribe Welteji pulled the field through the first 400 meters in 57.57 seconds. That left Butterworth in need of making up some time on the final lap. She did just that, crossing the finish line in 2:00.81. The time was faster than 11 of the runners who qualified for the semifinals based on their place.

“That was a bit unexpected,” Butterworth said. “Every big race I have been in hasn’t been that fast, so I was expecting more of a tactical race. I think that I could have been better in the final 200 and I know that I am capable of a faster time, but you have to be prepared for any type of race that is about to happen.”

Butterworth went on to finish seventh in her semifinal heat and 21st overall, clocking a time of 2:01.39 in a more characteristic tactical race.

“I just didn’t feel like I had that last gear in the final 300 meters,” Butterworth told Athletics Canada. “I felt really good going into that second lap from 400 to 500 meters, but in the last 150 range I just didn’t have another gear and I really needed that other gear at that point.”

The 2015 NCAA Division II champion in the 800 meters, both indoors and outdoors, and the 2015 GNAC Female Athlete of the Year, Butterworth has the most international experience of any former conference track and field athlete. In addition to competing at the 2019 World Championships, Butterworth placed fifth for Canada at the 2019 Pan Am Games and made her Olympic debut in Tokyo last summer.

Currently working as an academic advisor in the Simon Fraser athletic department, Butterworth continues to train with SFU athletes under head coach Brit Townsend. She credits being a continual part of the SFU team, past and present, for keeping her ready for international competition.

“The consistency in the program has really worked for me,” Butterworth said. “Being able to train with the Simon Fraser team and being able to chase some of the younger 800 guys and having them push me has been a big advantage for me.”

Adding to the excitement is the presence of her training partner, Addy Townsend. The 2017 Division II All-American in the indoor 800 meters was named to Team Canada after placing fourth at the Athletics Canada trials in June.

“It is super fun to see her make it this year and to see what her progression has been like,” Butterworth said. “It’s really fun to be part of that and for us to be here together is special.”

Thirty-two years ago, at the first World Athletics Championships in Helsinki, Brit Townsend ran to an eighth-place finish in the 1,500 meters.

Now it was Addy Townsend’s turn to get her first steps in on the sport’s biggest stage.

Running in the fourth of six preliminary heats in the women’s 800 meters on Thursday, Addy Townsend battled to finish seventh in a time of 2:03.79. The tactical race included the line of U.S. two-time World Championships medalist Ajee Wilson and France’s Renelle Almose, who was ranked eighth in the world.

“I was dealing with a bit of sickness the week before this, but I definitely expected more for myself,” she said. “It was a great experience but I know that there is more there.”

Working through adversity has been a constant presence in Addy Townsend’s career. After working through injuries following her All-American year in the indoor 800, Townsend saw her junior and senior seasons at Simon Fraser wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while she wanted more from her first World Championships experience on the track, Addy made the most of her time in Eugene.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” she said. “Just being surrounded by a bunch of different people is so encouraging. “The whole team, the Canada team, is super cool. It’s an experience of a lifetime.”

Adding to that experience is Brit Townsend, her mother, her coach and her biggest supporter. She not only understands what it takes to be a world-class athlete but also how Addy can get there.

She will be an important ally as Addy looks ahead to more international competition.

“She knows that I belong here,” Addy said. “She wants to keep me believing that I belong here and we will keep working towards that together. Having her here is really, really fun.”

The 2022 World Athletics Championships has shown the spotlight on high-level athletes that came up through the NCAA Division II ranks.

None of those performances were bigger than those of a pair of Ashland University alums: Katie Nageotte, who scored gold in the women’s pole vault, and Trevor Bassitt, who ran to a surprise bronze medal in the men’s 400-meter hurdles.

All three Simon Fraser alums competing in Eugene agreed that Division II, and the GNAC in particular, is a great proving ground for athletes that want to compete at the next level.

Proceviat points in particular to the success that former Western Oregon distance standouts David Ribich and Dustin Nading have seen at the professional level.

“I am thankful that the GNAC gave me a chance to really develop,” Proceviat said. “I started out coming in eighth at conference meets and by the end, I was finishing near the top. It was that kind of racing experience and those positive experiences that allowed me to take the next step.”

Addy Townsend said that she still considers the GNAC part of her family. “I still talk to a lot of people in the GNAC and watching the competition is so exciting,” she said. “You’re with a group of people that all want to make it to the next level. I think you almost have to prove to yourself that you belong.”

The collective advice of the SFU trio for the current crop of conference athletes is to believe in themselves and take advantage of the opportunities that the conference provides.

“Keep at it. Work hard. Commit to it and what you want your goals to be long-term,” Butterworth said. “It’s not going to happen overnight but that consistent hard work pays off.”

“Out of high school, I had no offers except walking on at SFU,” Proceviat said, “and I trusted in the program off the bat. I trusted in my coaches and used all of the resources I was given and ultimately kept believing and putting the work in. And this is what it could take you to.”

And when the next generation of GNAC athletes makes it to the world stage, they will have plenty of people to provide support.

“I always cheer for my fellow D2 athletes,” Addy Townsend said.