Justyn Knight open to doubling on track at Tokyo Olympics, remains focused on season

Justyn Knight isn’t ruling out the possibility of running the 1,500 and 5,000 metres at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Toronto native inched closer to an automatic berth in the 1,500, finishing 85-100ths of a second shy of the qualifying standard on a rainy and windy Saturday at the USATF Grand Prix in Eugene, Ore.

“It is definitely something to seriously consider if I got the standard,” Knight, who has already qualified in the 5,000 for his Olympic debut, told CBC Sports. “Right now, I am just focused on having a good season.”

Knight’s time of three minutes 35.85 seconds — second only to Australia’s Ollie Hoare (3:33.54) — was a personal best, fastest by a Canadian this year and ranks 15th on the all-time national list for men.

It also marked the first time in six races the competitive Knight wasn’t first to cross the finish line, dating to Jan. 25, 2020 in New York City.

“I wasn’t pleased with the time I ran,” he said. “I know I’m better than that, but I felt good.”

Knight said Saturday’s race went out harder than the 1,500 at the Texas Qualifier in February, with the lead pack reaching 800 metres in one minute 52 seconds. Hoare later created a gap Knight couldn’t close about 300-400 metres from the finish at renovated Hayward Field, site of next year’s world championships.

No speed training before race

“The last 400, I wasn’t able to accelerate the way I usually would,” said Knight, who was known for a strong finishing kick when he starred as a cross-country and track runner at Syracuse University. “It’s just embarrassing how the race got away from me with a lap to go.

“I didn’t do any speed [training] leading into this race. If I had, I would’ve had a better performance.”

Knight has never focused solely on the 1,500 for an entire season, preferring to use it as a warmup to the 5,000, his signature event.

The Reebok Boston Track Club member noted he’s proud of how he handled himself in Saturday’s race and on Feb. 26 in Texas, where he clocked 3:36.62 in the 1,500 following a 2021 world-leading 8:13.92 PB in a two-mile race in New York.

I would love to be one of the greatest 1,500-metre runners to represent Team Canada.— Canadian runner Justyn Knight

“I showed my tactics and ability to close hard in Texas,” said Knight, the Canadian record holder in the indoor 1,500. “On Saturday, I showed the ability to [maintain] a fast pace but the 1,500s I’ve run [this year] don’t accurately reflect what I’m capable of in the event.

“When all is said and done, I would love to be one of the greatest [1,500-metre] runners to represent Team Canada.”

The 24-year-old Knight isn’t sure when he will get another shot at the standard since his focus will shift to preparing for the May 23 Diamond League season opener in Gateshead, England, where he will run his first outdoor 5,000 of 2021. The event was originally scheduled for Rabat and later relocated due to coronavirus restrictions in Morocco.

Tokyo, meanwhile, is under emergency orders aimed at stemming surging cases of coronavirus as fewer than one per cent of the population has been vaccinated. Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Olympic organizing committee, has said several test events would continue during the emergency period, but without fans, as the July 23 start to the Games draws closer.

The rollout of the second edition of the so-called “Playbooks” — an International Olympic Committee guidebook explaining how the event can be pulled off — is also expected to be unveiled Wednesday. Organizers reportedly will announce daily testing for athletes and drop a 14-day quarantine requirement, allowing athletes to train when they arrive.

“I’m focused on running and eager to compete in Tokyo,” said Knight, who fell 1.36 seconds short of qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics in the 5,000. “Obviously, I want to ensure we can do it safely for all athletes, staff and citizens of Tokyo and Japan.”

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