Nineteen months have passed since Brandon McBride failed to qualify for the men’s 800-metre final at the world track and field championships, a disappointing outcome he now uses as motivation in his Olympic medal pursuit.
“It seemed everything was going smooth until the last 20 metres. Until then, my finish had been stronger than ever,” he told CBC Sports in a recent phone interview between training sessions. “It took me a while to come to terms on what happened.”
McBride arrived in Doha, Qatar in September 2019 brimming with confidence one month after running a season-best time of one minute 43.51 seconds for a bronze medal in the Diamond League Final and only 31-100ths of a second off his Canadian record.
Midway through his world semifinal heat on Sept. 29, McBride chose not to attack an opening to the inside as leader Ngeno Kipngetich of Kenya slowed the race. Looking back, the Canadian runner said, “I would have taken the inside and control of the race.” Instead, Amel Tuka of Bosnia pounced.
McBride worked his way around Kipngetich and near the 700-metre mark was neck-and-neck with Tuka, who had the advantage running on the inside, more energy and sped down the straightaway at Khalifa International Stadium for the victory.
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The 26-year-old McBride had used more energy passing others and was overtaken by American Bryce Hoppel and Alvaro de Arriba of Spain over the final 20 metres, finishing fourth in 1:46.21.
“I think I was ready for something special [at worlds] and I could have tweaked a couple of things that would have helped my stride remain fluent and my body stay relaxed those 20 metres. The last couple of metres are crucial and the smallest things affect them. I see that big-time now.”
My training is quite intense. I tend to overdo it and that’s probably the reason I don’t like to race a lot.— Brandon McBride, who plans to run May 29, his 1st race in 20 months
Three months until the Tokyo Olympics, the Windsor, Ont., native is planning his first race since 2019 worlds — a 1,500 at the Portland Track Festival in Oregon on May 29 — followed by an 800 on June 5 at the Music City Track Carnival in Nashville.
Moved south in January
“I’ve never been one to race a lot, especially during my professional career,” said McBride, who ran the 800 seven times in three months in 2018 when he broke Gary Reed’s national mark and eight times over four months the following year leading up to worlds.
“I’m not really thinking about [the long layoff] but more about the process of getting my body ready. If I do that, I’ll be ready come race time. I don’t need a lot of sharpening and my training is quite intense. I tend to overdo it and that’s probably the reason I don’t like to race a lot.”
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McBride had planned to compete indoors earlier this year but didn’t have access to a track until February. When COVID-19 restrictions kept doors locked at the University of Windsor, McBride moved south in late January with girlfriend Yesmina Captan to train at Mississippi State University in Starkville, his alma mater.
McBride is hoping the mandatory 14-day quarantine, including three-day stay in a hotel, and other restrictions are loosened in Canada by early May to allow him to return home, otherwise the four-time national champion faces the likelihood of remaining in Mississippi until travelling to Tokyo.
“These are the sacrifices that need to be made for the sport,” said McBride, who keeps busy off the track working to complete his master’s in business from Wayne State University in Detroit. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say this is the hardest season I’ve ever had, between coming back from a down year [with no racing] and throwing in a quarantine, lockdown and restrictions.
He looks forward to making it worthwhile in July with a chance to correct his mistakes from worlds and reach the medal podium in Tokyo.
“It’s something I think about all the time and I’m excited to be put in that situation again,” said McBride, who didn’t reach the final in his 2016 Olympic debut, finishing 14th. “I know what I need to do and I’m a much better all-around me. [Righting a wrong] is mainly for myself, but it’s not like I need to get a medal or top eight.
“What I really want is to step off the track after the [Olympic final] knowing I executed my race plan to the max and ran the best I possibly could run. If I do, I’ll hold my head high. I did not feel like that stepping off the track in Doha.”
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