Thomas Riva is turning in a textbook campaign in his progression from being one of the best 800-metre runners in the country to winning the men’s national 1,500m championship in his first go.
The Gordon Head resident, and reigning University of Victoria Vikes male athlete of the year, successfully made the jump to being a full-time 1,500m competitor by winning on Saturday during the Canadian Track and Field National Championships in Edmonton.
“It’s probably the biggest race he’s ever had, against the best guys in the country,” said Riva’s coach Brent Fougner. “He’s shown he can run fast this year, and we thought he was ready to move from the 800m to the 1,500m, [where] it’s all about tactics and knowing when to kick. And Riva kicked at the right time.”
Riva finished first in a time of four minutes and 6.16 seconds. He narrowly edged second-place Cha Philibert-Thiboutot of Quebec (4:06.58.3) and third-place Daniel Gorman of Nova Scotia (4:06.88).
Fougner is the head track coach and will continue with Riva, who is part of Athletics Canada’s Western Hub, which will soon be based out of the new track at the Pacific Institute for Sports Excellence.
“The thought process all along is you need to develop the [necessary] speed to be competitive on the world level [at the 1,500m], and we felt this year was the year to make the jump,” Riva said.
He just got a lot closer to his goal of representing Canada at the 2016 (Rio) Olympics. Saturday’s race in Edmonton was a slower one, with some game play in the first three laps leading to some higher lap-times. “The standard is 3:36 and I’ve run 3:39 so there’s still a few seconds to knock off, but we’ll see,” said Riva.
National CIS 800m champion and reigning UVic female athlete of the year Rachel Francois was fifth in that event with a time of 2:09.79, though she ran a 2:06.37 in the qualifying heat. Langley’s Fiona Benson continued her strong season, winning the 800m in a time of 2:08.52.
“Again that was a tactical race where the first lap around was [slowed to] 68 seconds,” Fougner said. “Francois has struggled with that but [it’s important to note] every women in front of her is five or six years older, including Olympians.”
Francois is currently on hiatus from UVic to focus on qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Other Vikes results include fifth-year Kendra Pomfret, who was ninth overall in the women’s 1,500m race with a time of 4:29.75. Vike Nicole Soderberg was 12th in the same race (4:40.97).
Second-year Vike Ben Weir (Glenlyon Norfolk School) finished 17th in the men’s senior 5,000m (14:53.85). The event was won by Cam Levins, the Canadian 10,000m Olympian, with Geoff Martinson, a former Vike, finishing fourth. Levins won with a time of 13:51.34, Martinson was fourth (14:07.38), Weir was 17th (14:53.85) while ex-Vike Cliff Childs was 15th (14:53.85).
Full results at 2015 Canadian Track and Field championships website.