After Rio I took some time to relax, reflect, travel with family, and get some distance from the Games. The Olympics, to put it simply, were amazing. After two decades in the sport, after enduring the many highs, lows, and years of injury and disappointment I had finally achieved my dream – it was and it still is all a bit surreal.
However, my Olympic experience was not all positive. For me, making the Olympic team was bittersweet. Many of you will know at least some part of the story about my wife, Rachel Cliff, and how she met the qualifying standard for the women’s 5,000m only to be left off the team. This obviously had a huge impact on us both. So while I was supposed to be relishing in what was meant to be the highpoint of my career, I was being torn apart by what had happened to her. And, while she handled the disappointment with class and courage it was a very challenging period for us both (to put it mildly). 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 fully plan on returning the favour by being in Tokyo to cheer her on as she lives out her Olympic dream).
My race in Rio was challenging from a few perspectives. For my whole career I had always had one goal – to represent Canada at the Olympic Games. To be honest there had never been much thought put into what I would do once/if I 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 concrete goals.
Of course every athlete competing wants to win a medal but, the rational side of me knew that wasn’t likely in the cards. I also really wanted to make the finals, and knew that if everything aligned just right it was possible; however, I came into the games ranked 32nd of 45 and only the top 15 make the finals – it was a long shot. I was also 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.
Ultimately 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 both physically and mentally prepared, and then once the gun went off, to give it 100%. If I did that, there was nothing more I could ask of myself.
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. I knew right then, that that would be my final race. I took a few moments to look around the stadium. 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.
Highlight of the Games
My race being the obvious highlight, there was a few other defining moments that stand out to me and continue to send shivers down my spine. One of them I would like to share with you. As the track and field team didn’t arrive into the village until the 2nd week of the Games we missed the opening ceremonies – as a result, one of the highlights for me was the closing ceremonies. Walking into the Olympic Stadium behind the Canadian Flag with all your Canadian teammates knowing that the entire nation at home was watching and cheering was exhilarating and an experience I’ll never forget.
What Do the Olympics Mean to Me
Making the Olympics will, for obvious reasons, come to define me and my achievements as an athlete, but for me it has always been 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.