An ambitious project to produce the first Canadian Olympic marathoners in a decade has been scaled back with barely a year to go before the London Games.
The Brooks Canada Marathon Project has stopped operating as a club and the Toronto house where team members lived has been put up for sale for $1.3-million.
"One of the things that we found is that there are just not enough people who want to just concentrate on the marathon," said Toronto businessman and former marathoner Mike Dyon, who launched the project in 2007 with his brother Paul. "I was a bit surprised. Even in the sport itself, more people are tending toward the half marathon."
Mike and Paul Dyon own a company that distributes Brooks shoes in Canada, and they had high hopes when they created the marathon club. They spent more than $1.5-million getting it started, acquiring a nine-bedroom house near Toronto's High Park and buying two vans to transport team members. The idea was to bring together a group of elite marathoners from across the country and provide them with living expenses, top coaching and everything else they needed to train together full time.
The aim was to qualify a strong contingent of Canadian marathoners for the 2012 Games. It was an ambitious objective, considering that while Canadian athletes are competitive in many Olympic events, the marathon has been a notable exception. No Canadian has run in an Olympic marathon since the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, when Bruce Deacon finished 44th. And while Canadian records in almost every other event fall regularly, the men's marathon record dates back to 1975, and the women's to 1985. So far, only one athlete has met the Canadian standard for the 2012 Olympics: Reid Coolsaet, who doesn't run for the Brooks project.
Globally, the marathon has been enjoying a resurgence with many top distance runners, particularly Africans, moving up to the longer race to take advantage of better prize money. At this year's Boston Marathon, for example, 11 men ran faster than the Canadian record of 2:10.09, and the top two ran the best marathon times ever, 2:03:02 and 2:03:06.
The Brooks club had as many as ten runners in 2008, but is now down to six. Dyon said the club's best hopes to qualify for the Olympics are Matt Loiselle, who recently ran 1:03:47 for a half marathon, and Andrew Smith, who has run a 2:16 marathon.
Dyon added that even though the Brooks project is no longer operating as a club, Brooks will continue to sponsor its runners through the Olympic qualifying race, which is the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October, and the Olympics if they are selected to the Canadian team. (The closing date for the sale of the team's house will not be until after the Toronto marathon, he said.) The runners and their coach, Hugh Cameron, are also joining a new organization called Athletics Toronto, which will have a larger mix of runners in various events and is lining up sponsors.
"We're happy with the [Brooks]project," Dyon said. "It has been fun. After the Olympics in London, we're going to look at it. I still want to do something leading up to the Pan Am Games in Toronto. But I think it is going to be more than just the marathon. More of a distance group with the emphasis on the longer stuff."
He declined to say how much the venture has cost in total, and he won't judge it a success or failure until after the Olympic qualifying race in October. "We just don't know yet," he said when asked to assess the project. "That's still a few months away."