If warm-up races point the way to the future, the 36-year-old Canadian marathon record is poised to fall at the London Olympics.
Canada has no had an Olympic marathon runner compete at the classic distance since 2000, but Canada has qualified three men for London -- and they've all posted big wins in their most recent outings.
Sunday, it was the turn of Eric Gillis to take the spotlight. The native of Antigonish, N.S., who trains at the Guelph, Ont., Speed River club, came charged through tape at the Canadian half-marathon championship in Montreal's Parc Jean Drapeau in a quick one hour, four minutes 37.7 seconds (1:04:37.7), beating Matt Loiselle of Windsor (1:04:45.). Third was Rejean Chiasson of Toronto (1:04:54.0). The women's race was won by Kate Bazely of St. John's in 1:16:34.0. She was 9.4 seconds ahead of Leslie Sexton of London, Ont., on a sunny but breezy day -- 35 km an hour winds -- on the old Expo islands.
Gillis, 32, will take two weeks off before he immerses himself in training for the 42.195-km marathon test with Reid Coolsaet of Hamilton and Kingston, Ont., native Dylan Wykes. But he calls Sandays victory "a confidence booster."
The four-lap Olympic marathon, beginning and ending on London's Mall, takes place on the last day of the Games, Aug. 12.
"I was a bit nervous going into the [Sunday]race. I hadn't been feeling biomechanically sound recently," said Gillis. While training at altitude in Arizona, he had developed iliotibial band syndrome in his right leg, and irritation that can cause knee pain. It's the kind of injury that makes you avoid running, stair-climbing and squat lifts.
The condition limited Gillis's workouts, but physiotherapy has since corrected the problem.
"I had a poor race (in Vancouver, where Loiselle beat him); and it has been a busy week with the Olympic announcement [of Canada's marathoners)]nd a photo shoot. I was content to just sit back in the pack, and as the race went on I started to feel really good.
"About 17K, Matt and I started to test each other. I felt really good and took off on him with about 800 metres to go.
"We start our London training on May 7th, so this was a really good confidence booster."
Last week, Gillis was an observer as Coolsaet, 32, won the Toronto 10-km race. A week earlier, Wykes, 27, set the best time by an active Canadian marathoner in finishing seventh in the Rotterdam Marathon in 2:10:47. Jerome Drayton's Canadian best, set in 1975, is 2:10:08.
Gillis's half-marathon is less that half that, but it's not simple mathematics to extrapolate a marathon time from that. He had raced only once in 2012 (fourth over 10 kilometres in Vancouver, April 15th in 29:30.0) finishing more than 12 seconds behind Loiselle.
But Gillis is confident in his general fitness level and ready to tackle the London worklaod.
"I feel like I have a better base than last year," he said. Both he and Coolsaet will sharpen tactics and speed one final time in the Canada Running Series in the Vancouver half-marathon on June 24th.
"I do have the confidence but a different confidence; less sharpness going into 10Ks and half marathons, but more consistent training under my belt. I had a good race in Toronto, stayed injury free for the most part afterwards, and got in my training. I do feel confident going into London," he said in a statement.
Two years ago, Loiselle won the 21K race in Montreal, and in 2011 he pushed Gillis's training partner and Olympic stablemate Coolsaet to the finish on a windy course. Last year, Coolsaet beat Loiselle when the wind was 50 km an hour. Sunday, under sunny skies, the wind was at 35 km an hour.
Gillis said he had no time expectations. He was fourth overall in the 2011 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. His time of 2:11:28 there beat the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:15:00. But Athletics Canada set a more stringent standard of 2:11:29 for Canadians. He just made it. Four years ago he was added to Canada's Olympic 10,000-metre roster as a "Rising Star."
Canadian freestyle wrestlers John Pineda of Vancouver and Jeff Adamson of Saskatoon fell short in their qualifying bids for the Olympic freestyle draw at Taiyuan, China. In the 84-kg category, Adamson won his first match on technical points against Sergei Kolesnikov of Israel but lost the second against Soslan Gattsiev of Belarus. The 60-kg Pineda lost his first match to eventual bronze medalist Shawn Bunch of the United States. Both Canadians will travel to Helsinki, Finland for the last opportunity to qualify for the Games, May 4-6.
Olympic medalists Carol Huynh and Tonya Verbeek have already qualified for the women's draw.
Sasha Mehmedovic of Montreal won the silver medal in the 66- kg class and Kelita Zupancic of Whitby, Ont., took bronze among the women at 70 kg in the at the Pan American judo championships at Montreal. They locked up spots at the London Games, this summer.
Also qualifying were Pan American champion Alex Emond of Montreal at 90 kg and mathematically assured (by points) are Antoine Valois-Fortier (81 kg), Nicholas Tritton (73 kg), Sergio Pessoa Jr (60 kg) and, among the women, Amy Cotton (78 kg).
Britain's William Fox-Pitt, aboard Catherine Witt's New Zealand thoroughbred Parklane Hawk, won the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event at Lexington, Ky., the third leg of six qualifying events for eventing at the Summer Games.
Fox-Pitt, the leader after cross country, matched American Allison Springer and Arthur in the jumps, each with a single knockdown. Canadian Peter Barry of Dunham, Que., and Kildoran Abbott were 11th in the 12-horse field. Canada won an Olympic berth with a silver in events and last year's worlds.