Despite a nasty bout of food poisoning, Hilary Stellingwerff ran the fastest she’s ever run Thursday — beating the tough Olympic A standard in a race in Rome and bringing her just one last step away from the Summer Games.
The Speed River Track & Field Club’s Olympic hopeful had been fighting chills, fever and nausea when she stepped to the line at the high-caliber Diamond League 1,500-metre race.
Facing the three fastest women in the world in that event, Stellingwerff placed eighth, beating the Olympic A standard by almost a second with a time of 4:05:08.
All that she needs to do now to qualify for her first Olympics is finish in the top three at the Canadian championships in Calgary in late June — something she’s done every year since 2005.
“This was the opportunity we’ve been waiting for,” said her long-time coach, Dave Scott-Thomas. “We know how hard she’s worked for this. We’re just ecstatic.”
Scott-Thomas and Speed River manager Chris Moulton were watching the race online and started cheering in the last few hundred meters when the runner made her move toward the front. When they heard the official time, they broke out into a dance and started high-fiving.
Only hours before she was to race, it wasn’t looking good. An apparent bout of food poisoning she picked up in Morocco had caused her to pass out in her bathroom, Scott-Thomas said. Stellingwerff even threw up in her pre-race warm-up.
“She was throwing up on a pretty regular basis, and having a hard time keeping stuff down,” he said. “When I saw her line up at the start line, I knew she was pretty tired and weak.”
Sarnia-raised Stellingwerff, the only Canadian runner in the race Thursday, had to watch the Beijing Olympics from the sidelines four years ago after a battle with anemia left her unable to qualify.
Her race in Rome, won by Ethiopia’s Abeba Aregawi with a world-leading time of 3:56.54, set the fast pace she needed, something that had been missing from her recent races. Nine runners in the race were under the Olympic A standard.
Before the race, Moulton said it was her best chance yet to finally hit the elusive A standard time.
“The field is phenomenal. The Diamond League is basically the top rung of our sport. It’s like the World Cup of any other sport,” he said.
Stellingwerff needed to run the 1,500-metre race in under four minutes and six seconds to go to her first Olympics. That time had proved elusive in previous races this season, with disappointing paces that made it difficult to push for the required time.
At a race in Rabat, Morocco last week, she finished third with a time of four minutes and 9.01 seconds. On May 18, at a race in Los Angeles, she was even closer, finishing with a time of 4:07.64.
Beating the Olympic standard time means Stellingwerff doesn’t need to race as scheduled this Saturday in Floro, Norway. But, depending on her health, she may choose to run anyway to help set a pace for her Speed River teammate Malindi Elmore, Scott-Thomas said.
Elmore, the 2004 Olympian who joined Speed River in January, is also hoping to beat the Olympic cut-off and improve upon her season best of 4:07.90, which she set in Daegu, Korea May 16.
With Stellingwerff’s race, the Guelph club has four athletes very close to going to the Olympics. Marathoners Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis have already qualified, and steeplechaser Alex Genest just needs to place in the top three at nationals.
Another 1,500-metre runner in the club, 2008 Olympian Taylor Milne, hopes to beat the Olympic A standard at a race in Vancouver June 10.