In world-class professional athletics, timing is just as important as time.
In terms of time alone, Oblique Seville was the second fastest men's 100-meter sprinter at last week's World Athletics Championships. With 9.86 seconds he set his personal best and won his semi-final. If he had matched that feat in the finals, he would have left Budapest with a silver medal and the $35,000 payday awarded by the World Athletics to the runners-up.
But in the final, Sevilla ran a tad slower on the stopwatch at 9.88, but was in a different area code in terms of importance. In lieu of a silver medal, he has a fourth-place finish and a spot in the long line of people who are preparing “I used this loss as fuel” soundbytes and hoping to deliver them after they win a medal at next summer's Olympics have.
The idea that the right timing can make the same outcome more rewarding also works by and large. So the next best time to win the first global gold medal like four Canadians in Budapest and introduce yourself to mainstream sports fans is anytime. If you're competing, you might as well try to win. Ethan Katzberg, Camryn Rogers, Marco Arop and Pierce Lepage didn't just try. You did it.
And the best time for a gold medal coming out party?
The summer before the Olympics, when fans and sponsors try to figure out where to put their intentions and money for the 11 months leading up to the world's most-watched sporting event. In a sport where clothing stores and sponsorship money are at least as important as prize money, this kind of attention isn't just flattery, it's currency. So, in the run-up to Paris, when we see this year's medalists on billboards, TV commercials or cereal boxes, we know they've seized their golden moment.
In total, Canadian athletes won six medals in Budapest, making sixth place overall in the medal standings. But the four golds represent Canada's highest-ever total. Only the United States can win more world champions this year with 12 golds.
If you are a fan of Canadian athletics, you can hardly imagine a better scenario for the sport in this country. Every Canadian medalist has either upside potential or staying power, so every Canadian track and field fan has real reason to be optimistic about the Paris Olympics.
Unfortunately, I have to remind everyone here that next year's results are anything but guaranteed. If you want a reminder of how quickly things can change among elite athletes, take a look at the men's 100-meter dash.
Last year in Eugene, Oregon, we saw a USA win – Fred Kerley took gold, followed by Marvin Bracy-Williams and Trayvon Bromell. That year, Bracy-Williams and Bromell, both hampered by injuries, failed to qualify for the World Championships. Kerley had a bye in the men's 100m in Budapest, but was eliminated in the semifinals. At this level, the edges are razor-thin. If you lose a half step somewhere, your opponents won't slow down for you and the stopwatch won't care about your resume.
That's why we should resist the temptation to assume that Canada's team as a whole, and its medalists in particular, will head into next year with momentum.
Can they continue to build on the foundation that has brought them to this point? Absolutely, especially if they end the summer healthy and head into the off-season injury-free.
And can they reinforce the chemistry and continuity they've built with coaches and teammates? Naturally. Support teams, like athletes, always strive to improve from season to season.
But betting companies won't let Arop start his next 800m just because he won gold in 2023. Everyone starts from a standing start and runs the same distance in every race, regardless of how many medals they have won in the past. That's what makes it so difficult and so special to repeat as a champion.
Should the momentum not quite take hold here, the quartet of new Canadian champions can capitalize on the next best thing.
Katzberg, 21, is the youngest among them. The oldest is LePage, who is a relative dinosaur at 27 years old. We have a highly scientific term for this phase of her career: “The Sweet Spot”. Mature enough to win at world level but young enough to keep improving. If Arop and Rogers had made those breakthroughs at the age of 36, I'd be very “cautious” about my cautious optimism about what they could accomplish in Paris next summer. But it's possible that neither has peaked.
A national record for Arop? More national marks for Rogers and Katzberg?
Not exactly bold predictions, which is encouraging news for people investing in the success of Canadian Athletics in Paris.
The same goes for the variety of events where there were medals. Two gold medals in the hammer throw alone, one each in the 800m and the decathlon, plus a silver in the decathlon from Damian Warner and a silver in the shot put from Sara Mitton. This type of medal distribution is the best-case scenario for Canada, which, like the US, is trying to train medalists in as many disciplines as possible, but unlike the US, cannot get to the top of the medals by sheer numbers.
These two countries are at opposite ends of the spectrum from countries like Jamaica, whose 12 medals were all won in the sprint and show jumping, or Kenya, which won 10 medals, all in distance running. A Kenyan runner named Abraham Kibiwot took bronze in the Steeplechase and the result made big news back home – because he didn't win any gold. No Kenyan has won a world steeplechase title since 2019 and this development is seen as a crisis in a country that feels rightfully assuming responsibility for the event.
It's also the kind of hand-wringing that ensues when your national team's goal is to dominate a category of events. Even if few distance runners have a bad year and a few more stars drop out of the competition, you can't rely on throwers, sprinters or jumpers to stay on top of the medal table.
But what Canada lacks in depth in a category, it makes up for in reach. No medals from male sprinters this year? No problem. The hammer throwers closed the gap. Season loses in semifinals? You can regroup and try again next year. Meanwhile, here's Arop with a hard-fought gold medal on the track.
Individual brilliance and solid team performance, with room for improvement on both fronts until Paris. If you're a fan of Canadian athletics, you've got to love this timing.