Nearly two months have passed since Andrea Seccafien made a final attempt at running under the Tokyo Olympic qualifying standard in the women’s 10,000 metres.
Neither her coach Nic Bideau nor anyone from her support team was in attendance that mid-May evening in Irvine, Calif., where good friend and fellow Canadian Kate Van Buskirk was the pacesetter.
Van Buskirk knew of Seccafien’s goals entering the Sound Running Track Meet, having joined her the previous month for an altitude training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz. After finishing her pacing duties and dropping out of the race, Van Buskirk stood at the start/finish line to tell Seccafien her split time for each lap in hopes she would maintain Olympic and Canadian record pace.
Seccafien would win by more than seven seconds, dipping well under the 31-minute 25-second standard in a personal-best 31:13.94 to break Natasha Wodak’s 31:41.59 national mark from 2015.
Pardon my shaking hands and screeching voice but <a href=”https://twitter.com/aseccafien?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@aseccafien</a> just ran the GUTSIEST race I’ve ever witnessed to run 31:13 for a new Canadian record and Olympic standard!!! <a href=”https://twitter.com/sound_running?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@sound_running</a> <a href=”https://t.co/0V3z362Ext”>pic.twitter.com/0V3z362Ext</a>
“When she crossed the line,” Van Buskirk told CBC Sports this week, “I broke COVID protocols and ran on the track. We hugged each other and there’s this video of us holding each other and [Seccafien] saying to me, ‘Is this real life?’
Barring the unforeseen, Athletics Canada will officially name Seccafien and Van Buskirk to the Olympic team on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET. But first they will again share the track at Thursday’s Bislett Games Diamond League meet in Oslo, Norway.
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At 2:41 p.m., Seccafien will race the 5,000 for the first time in a month while Van Buskirk will lead a world-class field — featuring reigning world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya — to at least 2,000 metres at a 14:35 pace.
“She would like to run a personal best,” Van Buskirk said of Seccafien, who lowered her PB to 14:57.07 on May 29 at the Portland Track Festival in Oregon. “Based on what I’ve seen in her training, she is capable of running much faster. If we get a calm night, you could see a really fast time from Andrea.”
Van Buskirk, who was forced to pull out of a June 12 race in Nice, France due to injury, said she might pace a little further than 2,000 metres on Thursday, depending on the weather and how she feels.
Seccafien and Van Buskirk could experience some fatigue following a 33-hour ordeal travelling to Oslo from St. Moritz, Switzerland, where they had been training recently at 6,000 feet above sea level with three of Seccafien’s teammates from Melbourne Track Club.
The trek began Monday at 2 p.m. with a drive to Italy that ended three hours later with them arriving at the wrong airport. After a two-hour drive to the correct airport the next morning, Seccafien and Van Buskirk boarded a two-hour flight for Copenhagen that was followed by a two-hour layover in the Danish capital. Once they landed in Oslo, they stood five hours at the airport to get through passport control and have a COVID-19 test.
Her professionalism is almost unparalleled in what I’ve seen in the sport. She’s incredibly committed and very disciplined.— Kate Van Buskirk on fellow Canadian distance runner Andrea Seccafien
“I’ve gone through difficult travel for races, but this took the cake, I think,” Van Buskirk said. “I’ve been told the distance from the hotel [in Oslo] to the track is 10 minutes. I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Seccafien and Van Buskirk have spent nearly every waking hour together over the past three months. Several years ago, they were training partners for a brief period after Seccafien left Speed River Track and Field Club in her native Guelph, Ont. They have become closer the past two years, seeing each other at major competitions and connecting online.
Seccafien moved to Australia with fiancé Jamie Whitfield in 2017 while Van Buskirk resides with her partner in Toronto, where she hosts a weekly conversation about the running world called The Shakeout Podcast.
“From a training perspective, we’ve pushed each other a lot,” Van Buskirk said over the phone from Oslo. “Her professionalism is almost unparalleled in what I’ve seen in the sport. She’s incredibly committed and very disciplined.
“We have similar values and that is helpful, allowing us to speak easily about a lot of different things. We both have a strong interest in world events and, obviously, our sport.”
Positive and calming presence
Flagstaff is where Van Buskirk became a big fan of Seccafien’s culinary skills.
“Andrea’s an amazing cook. Everything she makes is delicious,” she said. “She did a salmon that was really good. She’s Italian so she makes amazing pasta, and excellent coffee as well, showing up with her AeroPress coffeemaker, hand grinder and scale to weigh the beans.”
For Seccafien, who is hopeful of competing in the 5,000 and 10,000 in Tokyo, Van Buskirk has brought a positive and calming presence into her life during a stressful outdoor running season.
Seccafien’s mental health suffered greatly through much of 2020 after enduring two lockdowns in Australia during the coronavirus pandemic. She took a break from training before the second lockdown of 111 days and didn’t compete from March through October.
Seccafien and Van Buskirk will return to Flagstaff on Friday to train for 18 days before joining the Canadian team at a holding camp in Gifu, Japan, before the Olympics.
The goal in Tokyo, Van Buskirk noted, would be to race together in the 5,000 final. The 30-year-old Seccafien was 11th in the heats and placed 20th overall at her 2016 Olympic debut in Rio. At 34, Van Buskirk would be a first-time Olympian after failing to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics and Rio.
“That Olympic flame, man, it burns really, really strong. I’m elated and very grateful. I’m hopefully going to be in a position to say I will be an Olympian this year,” said Van Buskirk, who serves on the board of directors with Athletics Canada. “It’s going to be a dream I and my entire support system have invested a lot in.”