Count Andrea Seccafien among the Olympians who believe the Tokyo Olympics can and will happen this July, even without athletes having to be vaccinated, despite a recent surge of coronavirus cases in the city.
If the NBA, NFL and other leagues can operate with few positive tests, the International Olympic Committee and Japanese organizers should be able to formulate a plan for a safe Games to accommodate an estimated 11,000 athletes, according to the Canadian runner.
“I don’t want to be a martyr for my sport, but I would trust what the IOC is planning, in terms of safety protocols,” Seccafien, who moved to Australia in 2017 with her now-fiancé, said last week in a phone interview. “Maybe I’m a bit naïve but I think there’s too much money and planning involved [to cancel] and it would destroy too many [Olympic] sports.
“I’m going to train regardless, and worst-case scenario is I’m very prepared for a Games that don’t happen, but there will be races and a season.”
Seccafien will block out the emotional highs and lows of the Olympic debate on Tuesday in Australia and attempt to run under 31 minutes 25 seconds to reach the Olympic standard in the women’s 10,000 metres at Box Hill Athletics Track in Victoria.
The race, scheduled for 3:40 p.m. ET on Monday, is part of the 60th edition of Zatopek:10, which doubles as the Australian national track and field championships in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.
The 30 year old qualified for the 5,000 in October 2019 at the world championships in Doha, Qatar, but wants to run both events in Tokyo.
WATCH | Andrea Seccafien runs sub-15-minute 5,000m for 1st time:
Seccafien will be racing the 10,000 for the first time since the Zatopek:10 event on Dec. 14, 2019 when she clocked 32:48.30 at the event named after Czech runner Emil Zatopek, who inspired the Australians with his willingness to engage with them as equals at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
Best-ever threshold runs
Last month, Seccafien was victorious at a half marathon in Australia’s island state of Tasmania, her first race since late February 2020 before her mental health suffered greatly during two pandemic lockdowns. While Seccafien continued to run on a nearby trail system, she took a break from training in June before the second lockdown of 111 days.
She is expected to push the tempo in Box Hill against defending Zatopek:10 champion Gen Gregson, who edged out the Guelph, Ont., native in 32:47.83 a year ago. Accomplished marathoner Sinead Divver, Seccafien’s other Melbourne Track Club teammate in a strong field of about 20, clocked 31:25.49 at 2019 worlds.
The Canadian and 43-year-old Divver were regular training partners in recent weeks when Seccafien had some of her best-ever threshold sessions of running a pace faster and harder than a regular easy run that indicated the Olympic standard is attainable.
“On the track you can kind of fake it a bit,” said Seccafien, “but the threshold is a good representation or your aerobic fitness and that is obviously good for the 10K.
“We’ve been doing three sessions a week and I’ve been able to manage that workload. Good sessions, feeling good, running a lot and not super fatigued or injured.”
Seccafien expects a hard run Monday but might catch a break if a forecasted race temperature of 17 C with a 24 km/h wind can hold. It’s supposed to feel like 38 C the day before.
She also plans to draw on the experience of staying on pace and grinding through painful stretches of a long race, a skill Seccafien first learned at the University of Toronto, where her workouts often included a pace setter. She was also forced to grind out the final 8 kilometres of a half marathon last Feb. 2 in Marugame, Japan, where she set the Canadian women’s record.
“I was alone, the course was slightly uphill at that point and I was going into the wind. All of these really, really difficult conditions and I was riding the line of the record,” Seccafien remembered. “I didn’t have time to spare because I was hurting so bad.
“I think the determination to stay on that pace, at least, is something I learned. Sometimes you have to focus on keeping moving forward.”