Vikes vs. Vikettes

The women’s Vikes track team believes this year they can not only outrun their Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) competitors, but make Vikes history.

After finishing second at the CIS championships last year in the 4×800-metre relay, this year’s team has set their goal higher. They hope to not just win the event, but break the race’s 25-year-old Canadian record.

Fourth-year team captain Kendra Pomfret recalls running the event in her first year at UVic. The team wasn’t even expected to make CIS Championships, yet found themselves in medal contention midway through the final leg. In a fluster of exhaustion, the baton was fumbled and UVic slipped to ninth.

“It’s three years later now,” says Pomfret, “and we’re looking to not only win it, but get that record.”

The 25-year-old record the Vikes are hounding was set before any of them were born. It was set by a group called UVic “Vikettes” who dominated the track during the late 1980s. More amazingly though, one of the women who holds the record is current Vikes track coach Brent Fougner’s wife, Trish Fougner, née Wellman.

Trish Wellman was a standout track star for the Vikettes, winning multiple Canada West and CIAU national gold medals in the 1000m and 4x800m relay events.

Wellman still has her name in the UVic records along with teammates Tania Jones, Robyn Meagher and Brenda Shackleton for the 4x800m. Wellman also holds the 1000m record, while Meagher has the 1500m, and Shackleton owns the 3000m record.

Wellman, now Fougner, still keeps a Times Colonist clipping from 1988 titled, “UVic relay team shatters record.”

“Tania Jones, Robyn Meagher, Trish Wellman and Brenda Shackleton combined to win the race in eight minutes, 41.66 seconds,” the clipping reads, “shaving 5.86 seconds off the old [Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union] CIAU and Canadian senior mark of 8:47.52.”

“It’s definitely a highlight of my running career,” says Fougner. “It was an era of time where we had an amazing team here at the University of Victoria, and the depth we had was incredible; from the cross country team to that four by eight team that just came together… I don’t know if we even thought about the record, we were just running.”

Vikes coach Brent Fougner says his wife’s record will be tough to break, but is definitely possible.

“What drives the pace of the race is the competition,” he says. “If it’s a good, competitive race right ’til the last leg, that record could come down. If it’s one team that’s got the lead, it’s that much harder to push yourself. It really comes down to how competitive that race is going to be.”

If last year’s champions, Guelph, who ran the CIS final in 8:45.13, have returned their full 4x800m team and continue the form they held this past cross-country season, they will be the competition the Vikes need. Guelph had five women place in the top eight of the 5000m cross-country event, including the top two at nationals this past season.

But despite Guelph’s cross country success and their four-second victory over UVic last year at CIS Championships, the Vikes remain confident.

“I think we have more talent on the track and more determination to get [the record],” says Pomfret, who has recently hit good form at the University of Washington’s Feb. 10 Open Meet in Seattle. Pomfret won the 1000m race with a personal best of 2:49.23. The time places her fourth in this year’s women’s 1000m CIS standings.

Trish Fougner says that this year’s Vikes have some advantages over their record-holding forerunners.

“They are specialized 800-metre runners,” she says. “We weren’t.”

While Wellman’s best events were the 800m and 1000m, her teammates in that relay mainly focussed on longer distances. Robyn Meagher ran the 3000m at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the 5000m in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Brenda Shackleton crushed the Canadian 3000m record as a Vikette by 10 seconds while being a three-time cross-country champion, but was not as comfortable in the shorter 800m event.

“Brent has a selection of really good potential athletes that any one of them could go under 2:10 and do well for that relay,” Fougner says, “and so I think their chances are there.”

While Pomfret and teammate Rachel Francois are both 800m specialists in outdoor track, Pomfret comes at the event from a 1000m distance specialty base, and Francois takes it from a 600m speed base.

“I really feel like I’m becoming more comfortable in the [800],” says 2012 CIS Rookie of the Year Francois. “I just love it more every time I race it.”

Francois says since last year, she has worked hard on her race tactics, in particular her patience on the track.

“I’m a lot more patient,” she says before laughing. “Kind of working on it still,” she adds.

Francois says she makes weekly goals and goals for the day to keep herself motivated to train. “You just have to make everything fun, and having Kendra makes things a lot better.”

“Sometimes we feel we’re almost a little too overenthusiastic,” Pomfret adds. “Like when we’re sitting in bed texting each other at 1 a.m. about how we’re going to beat Guelph and who ran what results that weekend.”

While the excitement is there for this year’s team to take the record, the current champion can only watch.

“[Trish] anchored that relay,” says coach Fougner, “so I think she has mixed emotions about breaking it. But that’s what records are for.”

“I think if it wasn’t for Brent coaching them, I would be mad,” says Trish Fougner. “But because they are his athletes, I’d be really proud if they broke that record… It just shows that Brent has an amazing team this year… I think it would be awesome.”

“[Trish Fougner] was an incredible 800-metre runner,” says Pomfret, “so if we ever have any questions, she’s there.”

Pomfret, Francois and Fougner all agree there is a back-and-forth between this year’s group and Fougner (Wellman), who represents her team of Vikettes with the record.

“It’s just a joke thing when they keep going, ‘your record’s going down’ and I’m like ‘you guys will never get there,’” says Fougner, “and at the same tim,e I do want them to [break it]… It’s there for them to take and it’s just a matter of the track, how they’re feeling that day, and how things come together.”

At the Feb. 22–23 Canada West Championships in Regina, the current Vikes 4x800m team broke the Canada West record that has stood since 1988. Set by Fougner and her Vikettes en route to running the still-current CIS record, this year’s team made up of Pomfret, Francois, Jenica Moore and Grace Annear appears to be following in the spike steps of Fougner’s Vikettes.

The Vikes 8:46.94 Canada West gold medal time bested the Vikettes record by over four seconds and propelled the team into first on the CIS rankings above rivals Guelph.

With the March 7–9 CIS Championships up next, UVic history remains the Vikes’ motivation. With Trish Fougner always available to provide advice or banter on snatching the women’s 4x800m CIS record, it’s certain this generation of Vikes won’t forget the women who blitzed the track before them.

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