Teetering on the edge of Olympic qualification is always tough for a track and field athlete. It’s a nail-biting situation made even more difficult over the last year-plus by the scarcity of competitions due to COVID-19 restrictions.
How can you pick up World Athletics ranking points if you’re not racing?
And so steeplechaser Regan Yee, the Trinity Western grad by way of Hazelton, has found herself constantly checking those rankings to see if she can hold on to a top 45 position to ensure she can claim a spot on the Canadian squad for the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
She was 33rd in July of 2019, eight months before the 2020 Games were pushed back a year.
“Oh yeah, I’ve been checking the rankings every week,” says Yee, who slipped to 37th in March 2020 and 41st in early May of this year as other women started adding points when meets began being staged in Europe and the U.S. As of Monday, Yee had slipped to 44th as she chose to stay home this spring to avoid facing quarantine restrictions on return to Canada.
“With no racing opportunities, it’s been very nerve-racking. But, basically, all I need is one good race and that should shoot me back up there again.”
She’s hoping that race comes Saturday at The Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Track Classic at Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium. The ideal scenario would be a race quick enough for her to meet the Olympic Qualifying standard of nine minutes, 30.00 seconds, but even anything close to that would mean a boost in her ranking.
Yee has a personal best of 9:35.49 from July, 2019.
The steeplechase at the Jerome should be one of the most competitive races of the meet. The field is headlined by Genevieve Lalonde, the Canadian record holder (9:29.82) and 2019 Pan-Am Games gold medallist and two other B.C. runners with a shot at making it to Tokyo. Alycia Butterworth is currently ranked 56th in the world with a personal best of 9:40.71 and 2016 Olympian Maria Bernard-Galea is tied 57th with a PB of 9:36.12.
All four ran on May 29 at Swangard in the Saturday Night Lights Endurance Series — Lalonde in the 5,000 metres and Yee, Butterworth and Bernard-Galea in a 2,000-metre steeplechase.
Butterworth won the steeplechase in 6:16.59, while Yee (6:28.32) and Bernard-Galea (6:28.42) were third and fourth, respectively.
“It went pretty well for Alycia, she destroyed me,” a laughing Yee said of her training partner. “It was my first official (steeplechase) race since the Worlds in 2019. I was a little rusty.
“My training runs have been OK, just getting out on the trails. But staying sharp for in terms of a racing environment has been tough. You lose that race sharpness that you need. That’s been the toughest part of it, just not having the competition.”
Yee ran a 4:12.12 in the 1,500 metres at Victoria on Wednesday night, just a second behind the winner Lalonde. “Hopefully that will sharpen me up a bit.”
Yee, 25, admits to being somewhat conflicted about the Tokyo Olympics finally going ahead.
“That’s a tough one. Selfishly, I want it to go ahead, it’s something I’ve been training hard for he past four years. But as a person who’s part of this pandemic, looking at the (low) vaccination rates in Tokyo and the (negative) mood there with the people, I’m not sure. But it seems like they’re doing everything they can possibly do to make it a safe event.”
Yee still has a strong connection to the small northwestern community in which she was born. Her parents continue to live there and in 2019, her former high school basketball coach, who is an artist, worked up a calendar of her art as a fundraiser for Yee.
“I’m still close to my community. I regularly receive messages from past teachers, kids and their parents. I think it would make my community so proud (to be an Olympian. It would just be an honour to represent my country.”