Liz Gleadle had been awaiting this opportunity for a long time.
She didn’t disappoint her fans, or herself, on Sunday.
The 23-year-old Vancouver native set a new Canadian record at the Harry Jerome Track Classic, tossing her javelin 61.15 metres to all but confirm her first Olympic berth this summer in London.
“I love this meet, I love competing at home, my whole family was going to be here, and it was exactly what I wanted to do,” said Gleadle, who estimated she had 30 family members and friends on hand for the meet at Swangard Stadium.
Gleadle, who now trains in Lethbridge, Alta., set the record on her first attempt.
“As soon as it left my hand, it was like, ‘Yes, this is it!“’ she said.
Gleadle broke her previous record of 59.85 metres and needs only to finish in the top three at the Canadian Olympic trials, which go June 27-30 in Calgary, to secure her ticket to London.
“I’ve been due for a real personal best, a real big jump, I felt, and today was the day to do it,” said Gleadle.
Vancouver’s Krista Woodward placed second with a toss of 53.27 metres. But the result spelled disappointment for Woodward, because she failed to meet the Canadian Olympic Committee’s B standard under calm conditions.
To qualify for London, athletes in field events must achieve the B standard twice or the A standard once.
Woodward has achieved the B standard once, but needs another B-level showing — at least 59 metres — to have a chance to go to London. She must get it by June 30.
Tiffany Perkins of Abbotsford, B.C., placed third with a throw of 52.02 metres.
Gleadle had previously achieved the two B marks.
“I feel like I’ve got a bit of a leg up now,” said Gleadle.
The kinesiology student overcame months of hard work, sacrifice and no shortage of pain to set the record. She took a year off from her studies to devote herself fully to training for the Games.
“I ate, I slept, I trained twice a day, I napped,” she said. “I ate well. I ate more. I put on 10 pounds. You make (aiming for the Games) your passion, you make it your life — and there are rewards to it.”
Gleadle has overcome arm and back injuries the past two seasons that hampered her performances at national championships and a freak leg injury earlier this year while training in Lethbridge. In January, she was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time when a hammer thrower’s ball broke off from its chain and hit her in the leg, forcing her to miss a month of action.
She was to provide proof of the hard work to her friends and family on Sunday, who rarely get a chance to see her throw the javelin.
“I wanted them to know I don’t just go to the gym and run around in spandex,” said Gleadle. “I actually do throw javelin, and now you can see that I’ve done it.”
Meanwhile, Dylan Armstrong, one of Canada’s top Olympic medal hopes, won the shot competition with a toss of 21.24 metres while competing mainly against himself as the rest of the world’s best were absent. No other competitors cracked the 20-metre mark.
The Kamloops, B.C., native, who criss-crossed the globe in recent weeks to compete at international meets, said he was surprised to exceed 21 metres.
“It was a great meet, but I am tired, and to throw over 21 metres — considering what I’ve been through the last two weeks here, we’re right on track,” said Armstrong, who strives to produce strong performances when he’s fatigued and competes more frequently than his peers.
Ming-Huang Chang of Taiwan threw 19.82 metres to place second, while Justin Rohde, a Bainbridge, Ohio, native who is now a Canadian citizen and trains with Armstrong in Kamloops, placed third with a toss of 19.55 metres. He has met Canada’s Olympic A standard, but falls short of the International Amateur Athletics Federation requirement to be a citizen for at least two years of a country he wishes to represent.
In other highlights Sunday, 800-metre runner Jessica Smith of North Vancouver, B.C., earned a berth at the Games, pending an expected top-three finish at the Olympic trials, as she came from behind to win her event in one minute 59.86 seconds.
A euphoric Smith ran under two minutes for the first time in her career, and was hugged at the finish line seconds afterward by coach Brit Townsend and Melissa Bishop of Eganville, Ont., who has already met the Olympic standard.
“I’m in disbelief that I’ve actually gone under two,” said Smith, who defended her 2011 Jerome title. “I ran under 2:01 here last year, and it was a three-second (personal best) from 2:04. I’ve run under 2:01 a couple times this season, and to get that consistent is amazing.”
Smith beat runner up Alice Schmidtby 0.007 seconds after the American posted a time of 1:59.93. Bishop finished third in 2:00.45.
In another feature event, Jessica Zelinka of London, Ont., won the women’s 100-metre hurdles in a wind-aided career best time of 12.76 seconds.
“I knew I could get under 13, but that was an amazing time for me,” said Zelinka, whose previous career best was 12.97 seconds at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Ginnie Crawford (12.87 seconds) of the U.S. placed second. Former world champion Perdita Felicien of Pickering, Ont., who is considered a medal contender in London, placed third in 12.96 seconds, 0.02 seconds behind the winner.
“I wasn’t happy with my time, but I was happy with my first six hurdles and how I competed and how I fought,” said Felicien.
Zelinka’s clocking met the Olympic A qualifying level, but she is a heptathlete and does not plan to compete for hurdles gold at London. The heptathlon, which includes a number of events, was not on the Jerome schedule.
“I just come in here just solely to work on competing,” said Zelinka.