Athletics Canada hopes to take last-ditch shot at qualifying men’s 4×400 relay team for Paris Olympics

Canada’s men’s 4×400-metre relay chances for Paris 2024 are hanging in the balance, and depending on what happens by the end of this week, their Olympic dreams will still be intact or could be over before they even had a chance to be fully realized.

There is still a lot that has to happen for a Canadian men’s quartet to qualify for the Games this summer — the first impasse comes at the end of this week.

This qualifying window to compete at the World Athletics Relays championships, which serves as a qualifier for Paris, closes on Sunday. The top 32 teams in the world at the end of this week qualify for the event, scheduled for May 4-5 in the Bahamas.

This past Saturday at the Florida Relays in Gainesville a Canadian foursome composed of Aaron Brown, Marco Arop, Ibrahim Ayorinde and Callum Robinson posted a time of three minutes 3.73 seconds, good enough to put Canada in the 31st position.

Mexico has since posted a time faster than that, putting the Canadians on the brink in the 32nd and final position with just days left in the qualifying window.

“We’re sitting on the edge with fingernails barely holding on but we’re still holding on,” said Glenroy Gilbert, Athletics Canada’s head coach. “Australia got bumped out so what are they going to do? Do they have a plan? Will they scramble at the last minute to try and bump us off?”

Gilbert said there is consideration whether Athletics Canada tries to post a quicker time by cobbling together a team and competing at sanctioned event this week.

“This weekend would be the last shot at doing anything. There is talk of trying to do something,” he said. “I don’t know if it will happen because everything is last minute.”

There is a serious push from Athletics Canada to qualify as many relay teams for Paris 2024 as possible. Many of the teams have already put forward competitive times, including the men’s 4x100m relay team, as well as the women’s 4x400m relay team. 

Canada would need a top-14 finish at World Relays to earn an Olympic spot in Paris, and not since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics has Canada qualified a team for the men’s 4x400m relay.

NCAA reinforcements?

Gilbert said that if they can sneak into World Relays, then he plans on forming a team of Canadians competing in the NCAA, including Christopher Morales Williams, a 19-year-old at the University of Georgia who posted the fastest indoor men’s 400m time ever of 44.49 seconds at the NCAA SEC championships last month. 

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Canadian sprinter isn’t fazed that his 44.49-second run isn’t officially recognized as a record because the 19-year-old reasons he has a whole career ahead of him.

Not long after that the Vaughan, Ont., runner won the men’s 400m title at the NCAA indoor track and field championships in Boston with a time of 44.67 seconds.

“We have bodies. The only issue that we’ve struggled with over the last couple of years has been timing,” Gilbert said. “They are all NCAA athletes and it’s always a struggle getting them out of their program to do national team stuff.

“My hope is that we can get this team to the World Relays because if we do, we’re looking at a spot for the Olympics in Paris and if that happens, we could see this team run pretty quick.”

Gilbert said he’d also like to see Canadian runners Will Floyd and Myles Misener-Daley on the team. Both train with NCAA teams.

And then there’s Arop, the 800m world champion, who ahead of last weekend’s relays told CBC Sports he would “love” to be part of a 4x400m relay team trying to qualify for the Olympics.

“I love the big moments and competing at that level. I’ve done it before and quite a bit with the Mississippi State team but I never ran the 4x400m with the senior Canadian team at a major championships,” Arop said. “I would be really excited if I got to compete in it.”

A beaming Canadian men's middle-distance runner, with the Canadian flag draped over his shoulders and gold medal around his neck, poses for a picture at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
Marco Arop says he would relish an opportunity to help Canada qualify for the Paris Olympics in the 4×400-metre relay. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Gilbert said Arop has always found a way to help the team when called upon and if it works with his outdoor schedule and planning for the Olympics, would encourage Arop to join the Canadian team at the World Relays.

“If it doesn’t interfere with his program, he’d be one of those guys we’d love to have down there. I always leave it with Marco and his team. His commitment to coming to Florida is selfless. It shows you why he’s such a beloved athlete. He’s such a selfless guy,” Gilbert said.

“He’s a rare, unique athlete. Based on the conversation with him and his coach he’ll be available.”

There will also be an emphasis put on the Canadian men’s 4x100m relay team at World Relays in the Bahamas. Gilbert said he expects the full roster to compete, including six-time Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse.

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A team of Brown, Jerome Blake, Brendon Rodney and Malachi Murray had been formed to compete in the Florida Relays, however, just 30 minutes before the team was set to take the track, Blake’s back spasmed and it ended Canada’s race before it started.

“We were 30 minutes before the gun and we were grabbing stuff to go to the track and his back flared up on him,” Gilbert said.

“I believe he’ll be okay.”

Brown, Blake, Rodney and De Grasse stunned the Americans to win the world championship in Eugene, Ore. during the 2022 World Athletics Championships. They failed to qualify for the final at last summer’s worlds in Budapest.

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