In the few weeks between attempts at qualifying for the London Olympic marathon, Dylan Wykes got a tattoo.
It's a passage from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the words falling in a draping arc down his right shoulder: “Now bid me run and I will strive with things impossible.”
The marathoner from Kingston, Ont., qualified for the Games last Sunday in Rotterdam, Netherlands, in dramatic fashion, running the second-fastest marathon ever by a Canadian, and dipping under the qualifying standard just a week before the deadline.
Wykes almost didn't run at all. He nearly called it quits on his Olympic quest after dropping out of a marathon in Japan on March 4 —what he figured at the time may have been his last chance —because of stomach problems.
“I just wanted to quit and forget about it,” Wykes said.
“He was pretty low after that,” said his coach Richard Lee. “Going into Japan he was for sure in the best shape of his life and hoping to do some pretty special things. When I picked him up on the Monday after the race, it was like talking to a brick wall, he had totally shut down.”
Lee laid on some tough love when the two went for a walk one day in Vancouver, where Wykes lives and trains.
“I had lost my patience, he had just come so far and gotten so close, I could not let him walk away without giving it another shot,” Lee said. “It wasn't a pleasant talk, I pulled out all the stops. . . . At the end, I said this talk has either been a kick in the pants or a kick in the head, it was up to him to decide which it is.”
Wykes ran two hours 10 minutes 47 seconds in Rotterdam, beating Canada's qualifying standard of 2:11.29. Jerome Drayton's Canadian record run of 2:10.09 — set 37 years ago — is the one faster marathon time by a Canadian.
Wykes told few people he planned to race in Rotterdam.
“I purposefully tried to lay low before this one. I really wanted to try to keep the pressure off,” he said. “I wanted to stay as focused as possible on what I thought I had to do without having to worry about what other people thought and expected of me.”
Wykes called his mom Ginny Belmore shortly after crossing the finish line.
“My mom was freaking out, it was pretty funny,” Wykes said.
The 28-year-old joins Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis to give Canada three marathoners at an Olympics for the first time since 1996 — a talented trio who will push each other when they step up to the start line Aug. 12 in London.
“I think they're flat out the best three potentially good marathoners in Canadian history,” Lee said.
Coolsaet, from Hamilton, Ont., ran 2:10.55 at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October, while Gillis, from Guelph, Ont., ran 2:11.28 in the same race, dipping under the qualifying standard by just one second.
Peter Fonseca, Carey Nelson and Bruce Deacon ran the marathon for Canada in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics — Fonseca was the top finisher, crossing 21st in 2:17.28.
The years since have been lean ones for Canadian marathoning. Deacon was Canada's last runner to run the 42.195-kilometre distance in the Olympics in 2000 in Sydney.
Lee said the success of the Wykes-Coolsaet-Gillis trio isn't surprising.
“It's the personalities, all three of these guys are just so professional about what they do, and they're driven and there's no wavering in whether this is what they want to do or how far they want to go with it,” Lee said. “Definitely you've got the right personalities with the right physical gifts and the drive to do it.”
The Canadians will benefit from the fact there will be three of them in London, the coach said. “They're not going to bow down to each other, for sure once the gun goes they're going to be at each other's throats,” Lee said. “But as far as the comfort of having like-minded people around you and training leading in, just going for runs, keeping things loose. . . . that's really important in an environment like that.”
Lee said their recent training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz., was proof of that. The three trained together at an altitude camp in the days leading up to the Rotterdam marathon.
“I can tell (Wykes') mood and it definitely picked up when those guys showed up in Flagstaff,” Lee said. “I knew his spirits were on the way up. That's going to play in their favour at the Olympics because it's a pretty intense environment.
“The more you can keep yourself under control and keep things loose the better you're going to do.”
Coolsaet will run Sunday's Toronto Yonge Street 10K as part of his training for London, and will be a favourite to win.
Tara McKay-Korir of Ottawa is among the top-ranked women in the field. She'll be cheered on by her husband Wesley Korir of Kenya, who won the 2012 Boston Marathon earlier this week.
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