Track star leads Vikes to CIS success

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The March 7–9 Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Track and Field Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, marked the final stage of the indoor track season. The Vikes team took 14 athletes, competed in 11 events and came away with four medals: two gold and two bronze.

“I really enjoyed the weekend,” says Vikes coach Brent Fougner. “I thought we overall ran really well . . . On the women’s side, everybody had phenomenal weekends. They just put it all together when it counted, and that takes a special person to be able to do it when the pressure’s on.”

Fougner says he was especially proud of his sole fifth-year, Brittany Therrien, who raced her last CIS championship with “one of her best [1500-metre races] in her varsity career.” Therrien placed eighth in the women’s 1500m with a time of 4:34.93.

Fourth-year team captain Kendra Pomfret was the first Vike to come away with hardware, taking bronze in Friday’s women’s 1000m with a time of 2:52.93, almost four seconds off her personal best of 2:49.23. Pomfret says there is a huge difference between running against the clock and competing to win a race.

“I think I realized this weekend that running tactical races to win, even when they’re in slow times, are often a lot harder than running a PB,” says Pomfret. “It’s really hard to position yourself when the race could kind of go to anyone . . . I was happy with tactically how I raced it. I felt like I was pretty gutsy.”

“Kendra [was] up against a very talented field,” adds Fougner. “She executed her race perfectly.”

The Vikes women’s 4×800-metre relay team then raced to a much-anticipated gold with ease.

“The four by eight was kind of anti-climcatic,” says Pomfret, who had been hoping to challenge the event’s 25-year-old CIS record. The team of Pomfret, fourth-year Jenica Moore, second-year Grace Annear and last year’s CIS Rookie of the Year, Rachel François, finished in 8:51.36, 10 seconds behind the 8:41.66 record.

“We thought we could go after that record,” says coach Fougner, “but only if there were some [strong competitors].” Last year’s champions, Guelph, who the Vikes had hoped would drive them past the record, placed third, nine seconds behind. “Their women weren’t having a great weekend,” says Fougner “and their coach had said they weren’t going to push this relay because they all had other races.”

On the final day of competition, François stepped to the line to defend her 2012 600m gold. She was joined in the final by second-year teammate Annear, who placed sixth in 1:33.12. After a year of struggling to match her 2012 CIS Rookie of the Year hype, François had finally struck form in the Feb. 22–23 Canada West Championships with a personal best of 1:30.01.

“The atmosphere in that stadium watching Rachel’s race was unbelievable,” says Pomfret, who watched trackside. “I was actually bawling my eyes out within her last 60 metres . . . When you train with someone and you’re with them for that long, sometimes even in workouts, you can tell how fast they’re going to run.” Pomfret adds, “She just looked so calm, so collected, but so powerful and so strong throughout the whole thing. She finished in the same form she started . . . that doesn’t happen very often.”

François came from third halfway through the final lap to take gold with a finish-line dip. Not only did she defend her title, but François also set a personal best and new Vikes record of 1:29.69.

“She finished the race,” says Pomfret, “and everyone was looking at each other like, ‘She’s back.’ ”

“It was the most fun thing ever,” says St. Albert native François. “I got a lot of friends out, and my whole family was there. My old track club was there — just even having them there to feed off their energy [helped]. They made me a sign.”

Still buzzing from her 600m gold, François came back out to the track for the 4×400-metre relay.

“Obviously her 600 was huge,” says Pomfret, “but [the 4x400m] was probably the most impressive thing [François] did all weekend. She just had this look on her face that was ready. She was ready for a good chase.”

Pomfret passed François the baton in fourth place, around two seconds behind third, and François brought the Vikes back to take bronze. “It’s a relay; we all work hard for it,” says Pomfret, “but Rachel definitely won that [bronze medal] for us, hands down.”

The Vikes men had a tougher time on the track as third-years Adam Gaudes and Thomas Riva both placed fourth in their events. Gaudes ran 1:20.51 in the men’s 600m, while Riva put up a 2:28.10 run in the 1000m. The men’s 4x800m relay team of Gaudes, second-year Cole Peterson, third-year John Pratt and rookie Brendon Restall also came fourth in 7:37.34, six seconds behind Guelph, who took gold.

As the indoor season finishes for another year, for the top Vikes runners, this is where the real season begins.

“Indoors and even cross-country — it’s all just a dress rehearsal for outdoors,” says Pomfret. “This is the time that really matters.” She explains, “Outdoors is when you can make your national teams. It’s when you’re going to set your biggest PBs doing things like 600s, and 1000s are only working you down for your actual race like an 800.”

“They’ve got a bit of a down week, and then we’re getting ready for an outdoor season, which starts the last week of April,” says Fougner. “For some of them, that goes through June, and then for our top people like Kendra, Rachel and Adam, they’ll be gearing up for World University Championships.”

For now, though, the Vikes track team has time to enjoy the weekend’s results. And back-to-back 600m gold medallist Rachel François is going to do just that.

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