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Globe and Mail

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Athletics: World Championships

Reed on track to take serious run at crown: Runner helping team-mates in their bid to qualify for relays


VANCOUVER -- Now that he has broken his national record in the men's 800 metres, Gary Reed plans to assist Canadian team-mates in attempting to qualify for the next world track and field championships.

Reed will participate in the 4 x 400 relay next week at the Harry Jerome International Track Classic at Swangard Stadium, only four days after running the 800 at the Victoria International Track Fest tomorrow.

These are busy times for Reed as he prepares for the world event at Helsinki in early August, two weeks after the nationals in Winnipeg.

Reed burst into international prominence last weekend when he upset Olympic champion Yuri Borzakovskiy of Russia in the 800 at the prestigious Prefontaine Classic at Eugene, Ore. Reed's time of 1 minute 44.82 seconds was one-tenth of a second faster than his former national record.

"I've matured since the Athens Olympics [last year], learned to be more patient," Reed said yesterday before training in Victoria. "I'm doing a much better job of relaxing and handling the anxiety associated with racing."

Reed didn't make the final at Athens. He won a qualifying heat in 1:47.74, then placed 12th in the semi-final in 1:47.38 and had to watch the hard-charging Russian win the gold medal.

What separates Reed from other 800 runners in Canada is that he is more of a sprinter than a middle-distance runner. He has moved up from the 400 and has a strong finishing kick.

Reed was third with 50 metres remaining in the Prefontaine Classic and had enough left to catch and pass the leaders when it mattered most.

Now, he plans to combine with Canadian sprinters Tyler Christopher, Adam Kunkel and likely Ray Ardill in trying to achieve the world championship qualifying time of 3:04 in the 400 relay at the Jerome Classic.

Reed, 23, ran in the 400 relay at the 2001 world championship in Edmonton and now goes up against the United States, Liberia and Trinidad and Tobago in the Jerome race, which might be the highlight event of the meet.

"Gary has tremendous long-term potential in the 800 because he brings great closing speed from his sprinting background," Canadian track coach Doug Clement said.

"A lot of our former 800 runners also ran the 1,500, while Gary does it the other way.

"He brings more speed to the 800 than any other Canadian has had. He's a long way from the world record, but he certainly has the potential to move ahead for the next Olympics [Beijing in 2008]."

Reed, born in Corpus Christie, Tex., moved to Canada before he was a year old and learned about running in elementary school after he admittedly "geeked in all the other sports."

He wrote "Track is my life" in the Grade 7 yearbook at Diamondville Elementary in the Nicola Valley near Merritt in the southern B.C. Interior.

At 5 foot 9 and 135 pounds, the splinter-like runner has prospered under the coaching of Wynn Gmitroski at the PacificSport Canadian Sport centre near Victoria.

"My coach is silently confident the sky's the limit, and I kind of like that environment," Reed said. "He's a pretty clever guy and he's worked with other runners in the 800, like Angela Chalmers and Diane Cummins.

"I would say my improvement has come from being more consistent and having gained experience by running at the Olympics. I should be of prime age and peaking for the next Olympics.

"I wasn't even close in Athens and got my butt kicked in the semi-final. But I'm living my dream as a full-time runner, working hard every day, and figure to have some good years ahead."

Clement agrees, after watching Reed perform last weekend in Eugene, impressed by his closing speed and gritty determination.

"Gary has the characteristics not like any other 800 record holder we've had in modern track and field history in Canada," Clement added. "Gary got passed in the backstretch by the Russian last race, but when it came to the straightaway, he came back and took him right on the tape.

"It was a momentous occasion because I don't think we've ever beaten an Olympic champion like that. He's a little guy and the 800 can be very physical, but you've got to admire that closing speed."

Idol thoughts

Many Canadian boys grow up with pictures of professional hockey players on their bedroom walls. For dual American and Canadian citizen Gary Reed, born in the United States and raised in Canada, his idol was a runner from Africa. Kenyan-born Wilson Kipketer, now 32, runs with Danish citizenship these days and holds the world record for 800 metres: 1 minute 41.11 seconds. Last weekend, Reed reset the Canadian record to 1:44.82 as he chases his boyhood hero.

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