Former UBC competitor, who has Olympic standard in the 5,000 metres but no sure berth to Tokyo yet, says: ‘There are still so many unknowns, but I think COVID-19 has honestly prepared us to deal with unknowns the last 18 months or so’

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North Vancouver’s Natalia Hawthorn sounds like she’s somehow managing to keep her mind from racing faster than her feet right now.

The former University of B.C. distance runner hit a Tokyo Olympics qualifying time in the 5,000 metres when she clocked a 15:05.91 at a race in Walnut, Calif., on May 9. She’s currently one of five Canadian women with standard in the hunt for three spots in what’s a convoluted process in even standard Olympic qualifying periods.

For this year, Olympic spots in track and field were supposed to come down to a combination of qualifying times, world rankings and performances at trials, which go June 24-27 in Montreal.Athletics Canada recently announced that, due to the restrictions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no longer mandatory to attend the trials and the automatic nomination to Tokyo for trials winners has also been removed.

It further clouds the process. Hawthorn does seem to have it framed as well as one could.

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Olympic qualifying for track and field closes June 29.

“There are still so many unknowns, but I think COVID-19 has honestly prepared us to deal with unknowns the last 18 months or so,” said Hawthorn, 26, who came west from Bracebridge, Ont., to attend and compete for UBC and opted to stay after that was done.

“You have to realize that you can only control the controllables. You need to focus on your training and be excited about the opportunity and just run. It’s about keeping your focus and not letting your mind jump too far (ahead) and question what’s going to happen.”

Hawthorn currently has the fifth fastest time of the quintet of Canadian women who have gone under the Tokyo standard of 15:10.00.Toronto’s Gabriela Debues-Stafford, with a 14:44.12 she ran in September 2019 to set a Canadian record, leads the way.

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Hawthorn has been able to find races in the U.S., and that’s led her to making Spokane, Wash., her home base for the time being, staying with relatives of her finance Coleman Allen, a former UBC swimmer she met in a kinesiology class at the school.

“Do I go back for trials and have that two-week quarantine and probably have just one more race? I’m leaning towards staying in the States, putting myself in more places where I’ll have an opportunity to run fast and avoiding a two-week quarantine,” said Hawthorn.“It would be nice if the trials were mandatory and everybody had to be there and somebody was going to earn their spot on that day, but Athletics Canada has done the best they can in this year to manage this situation.

“We’re all in the same boat. That’s one thing I keep reminding myself. We’re all in this together.”

Hawthorn “tentatively” has three more races currently on her calendar, starting with a 1,500-metre race Saturday in Portland.

Things are fluid, like so much of our lives right now. The U.S. Olympic trials are set June 18-27 in Eugene., Ore., so American athletes will be gearing up for that.

You’re bound to see track competitors trying to pick their spots where they can establish their best time, Hawthorn admits.

“We haven’t seen everybody get out there and race yet. There might be some athletes coming out of the woodwork right at the end,” said Hawthorn, who didn’t name names in that regard.

“I definitely think about the Olympics and get excited about it, but it’s important to not get too excited too soon because so much can still happen.”

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Hawthorn wouldn’t have been in the mix for these Olympics if they had not been pushed back a year because of COVID-19. She opted to quit working full time and focus on her running goals in 2019. Her fastest race time in the 5,000 metres two years ago was a 16:03.09. She ran a 15:18.67 at a meet in Eugene, Ore., on April 24.

“I attribute it to consistent training, staying healthy, focus and prioritizing,” she said. “I didn’t have enough time in my day to do everything I wanted to do when I was working full time.”

Hawthorn’s day job is in track and field at least. She works for Vancouver-based Streamline Athletes, which she describes as a data-driven, high school-to-college sports recruiting platform specific to track and field and cross-country athletes.

SEwen@postmedia.com

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