It promises to be a memorable Thursday evening for Brit Townsend when two Canadian women toe the line in the 800-metre heats at the World Athletics Championships.
The scene at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., will take the retired middle-distance runner back to Helsinki and the first world competition in 1983 when she placed eighth in 1,500 final before improving to seventh at the Los Angeles Olympics the following summer.
It is also the first time Townsend has had more than one athlete compete at a single major championship since she began coaching track and field and cross-country at Simon Fraser University in 1998.
“This is special, especially since one of them is my daughter,” she said of 24-year-old Addy before departing Burnaby, B.C., for worlds. “When you step on the stage at an Olympic Games or world championships, it’s something you can’t really experience in other areas of your life. For that, I’m grateful she’s going to get that experience.”
Addy Townsend will be making her worlds debut, fresh off a fourth-place effort last month at Canadian championships following a mysterious illness that sidelined her for a month. She’ll be joined by training partner and fellow SFU alumni Lindsey Butterworth, who was second in the same race in Langley, B.C., and is making her third world championships appearance.
A two-time Canadian champion, Butterworth made her Olympic debut last summer and geared up for worlds with her third performance of the season under two minutes (1:59.89) on July 9 at the Oxy Invitational in L.A.
Brit marvels at Butterworth’s consistency in staying healthy and strong — “she’ll never miss a weightlifting session, even if she has to do it on the deck of her condo” — and noted the serious, composed athlete brings a relaxed attitude to practice.
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“They complement each other because Addy’s a lot of fun and full of excitement at practice,” Brit said. “She kind of lights up the space and Lindsey shows you can balance things other than the sport” in her job as SFU Athletics’ NCAA program co-ordinator and academic adviser who is also working on her master’s degree.
Eyeing personal best
Butterworth is eager to lower her 1:59.19 personal best from last year’s Olympic trials, said Brit, who believes the North Vancouver, B.C., native can run faster and wondered if being in a world championship environment will be a difference-maker.
A year ago, COVID-19 restrictions in North America robbed Butterworth of the chance to practise race tactics and strategies at several championship-calibre events and properly prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, where she placed 32nd despite feeling as fit as ever.
Conversely, Butterworth’s pre-worlds race schedule featured World Indoors (where she was sixth in 2:03.21 in March), the competitive USATF Golden Games in Walnut, Calif., and two meets on the Diamond League professional circuit.
For the two Diamond League races in Birmingham, England and Rome, she and her coach discussed positioning, with emphasis on race process rather than the outcome.
You have to be ready for anything, and that’s what we have to be able to do if we’re going to advance [to Friday night’s semifinals].— Coach Brit Townsend on Canadian 800-metre runner Lindsey Butterworth
“I think [those races] were super valuable and [Butterworth] took advantage of them,” Brit said. “We talked about where she wanted to be in the first 100 metres, the first 200, the first 400.
“[At what point] do you make a move [on the opposition] if you’re not in good position? It’s all good to talk about those learned lessons but we have to apply them [at worlds].”
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On Thursday, Brit would prefer Butterworth run with the front group from the outset of her heat and get in position to control the race.
“My hope is she’ll [be in position to] make moves when she needs to,” the coach said, “instead of being last in the first 200 [metres] like she was in Tokyo and then it’s just a battle [to recover].
“We don’t know if it’s going to be slow or fast in the first 400 [of Thursday’s heats]. People can try and make a race plan, but you have to be ready for anything, and that’s what we have to be able to do if we’re going to advance [to Friday night’s semifinals].”
Bound for Commonwealth Games
Butterworth placed 36th in her 2017 worlds debut in London and two years later was 41-100ths of a second behind the last qualifier for the final in Doha, Qatar.
After these worlds, Butterworth will travel to Birmingham and represent Canada for the first time at the Commonwealth Games.
For Addy Townsend, being selected for world championships is a dream come true. But the former soccer standout from Coquitlam, B.C., isn’t taking anything for granted, given her recent health concerns.
She missed competitions in Nashville, Guelph, Ont., and last month’s Harry Jerome Track Classic in Burnaby due to dizziness and an elevated heart rate but was her tactical self, according to her mother, in posting a time of 2:01.30 against a “good field” at nationals.
Addy also couldn’t compete in the NCAA with SFU for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic and closure of the Canada/U.S. border.
“She missed so much without NCAA [events] and also had mono,” said Brit. “Just a lot of setbacks she has battled through and is finally being rewarded for her commitment.
“Worlds will be a valuable experience for her, how she handles [the moment] emotionally, physically and mentally. Walking into a stadium that is full, I remember it being an incredible [feeling] at a world championships and Olympic Games, but you have to separate it from your performance.”
I thought she would win an NCAA title that would launch [her running career] but she’s getting thrown into [worlds]. She’s ready and excited.— Brit Townsend on her daughter, Addy
On April 14, Addy learned plenty while racing against some of the best athletes in the world in a breakthrough performance at the Bryan Clay Invitational meet in Azusa, Calif., where she crossed the finish line third in a season- and personal-best 2:01.24.
“I knew she had the ability and talent, but it takes so much more than that,” said Brit, adding Addy has been selected to race the 1,500 at the Aug. 19-21 NACAC Track and Field Championships in Nassau, Bahamas. “When she started to see it, believe it and realize it, I knew it could happen. She started to do the [necessary] little things like being more focused and disciplined.
“I thought she would win an NCAA title that would launch [her running career] but … she’s getting thrown into [worlds]. She’s ready and excited and pretty good at getting thrown into tough situations.”
In six years with SFU, Addy was a five-time Great Northwest Athletic Conference outdoor champion in the 800 and was named GNAC women’s indoor track athlete of the year in 2017 and 2020.
She entered this season with improved work habits and a vision of what was possible in her future. Attitude is the biggest change Brit has noticed in her daughter on the track.
“She got carded [funding from Athletics Canada] and that was an injection of confidence, realizing people believed in her and [AC] was targeting her for the future in the sport,” Brit said.
“I’m not putting any pressure on her. [The experience at worlds] gives you an incredible strength, self-belief and self-esteem, and that’s what you want for your children. I’m excited for her and the journey she’s about to begin.”