CAMBRIDGE – Nate Brannen doesn’t want his last race in the Olympics to be remembered for a fall.
That’s why the 29-year-old middle distance runner from Cambridge says he’ll take one more shot at the Summer Games – a long four years away in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Half of Canada watched Brannen’s heartbreaking fall in his 1,500-metre semifinal at the London 2012 Games. In the immediate aftermath, he knew he’d finish out the season, but wasn’t sure how much more he had in the tank after that.
But after he was finally able to sleep in the days following that disappointing race, Brannen’s mind eventually solidified around the idea of committing another four years of training to get to Rio.
“After I was able to get some sleep, the next thought was, ‘alright, four more years.’ The planning kind of started then,” he said, over the phone from Berlin. “Getting ready for four more years down the road is a tough one, but I’m committing and ready to make the leap forward.”
Rio would be Brannen’s fourth shot at an Olympics. He watched the 2004 Games in Athens at home on TV, after rolling his ankle just weeks before trials. Brannen ran in Beijing four years later, missing out on the 1,500-metre final by less than a second.
In London, he looked poised to make the final but says he was clipped by another runner during the tightly-packed semifinal, sending him tumbling to the track with bloody spike marks up his calf.
Ironically, Brannen’s dramatic fall in London may provide just the financial boost he needs as he plans for another four years of training.
Brannen’s contract with sneaker company Saucony is up in January – leaving the runner short of cash needed for the intensive training, travel and physical therapy required to be an elite athlete.
Instead, he may get the support he needs from ordinary fans who have been moved by his gut-wrenching finish in the Olympic semifinal, after picking himself up off the ground.
“(The response) has been amazing. I’ve have time to think about it and started putting things in perspective… in some ways that fall kind of brought everyone behind me and made the story bigger than I ever would have expected,” he said.
The runner’s fans will soon be able to donate to Brannen’s training through a new website designed to raise funds for Canada’s elite athletes, pursuit.norex.ca. Brannen’s story helped the founders of Pursuit pick him as one of the faces of their project, which is being launched Sept. 29 in Toronto.
“That’s the biggest barrier for most athletes, that financial support, especially in track in field,” Brannen said. “Right now, I don’t know where my next paycheque will be coming from. It’s tough when you’re trying to run fast and do the best you can do, but also have this financial worry in the back of your head.”
It doesn’t hurt that the former Preston High School track star is also having the best season of his career, outside of the Olympics. At a race in the Netherlands at the end of May, he scorched a personal best of 3:34.22, and beat the Olympic A standard by more than a second.
Two weeks after his fall in London, he set a new Canadian track record at a race in Austria. Brannen ran 2:16.52 for second place in the 1,000-metre race at the Gugle Games in Linz, breaking the old Canadian record of 2:16.88 set by Graham Hood in 1996.
On Sunday, Brannen again proved he’s in the best shape of his life – beating the second, third and fourth place finishers from the 1,500-metre Olympic final in a Diamond League race in Birmingham, U.K.
“It was redemption to get back in there and race those guys,” he said. “I knew I was as good or better. That was my chance to prove it.”
Brannen has one more big goal this season to help put the Olympics behind him. He races Sunday in Berlin, and is gunning for an ambitious 3:32 finish – two seconds faster than he’s ever run.
“That’s what I’m chasing. Hopefully this weekend the race is good and I can do what I’m hoping to, and that’ll put a little bit of closure to the Olympics,” he said.