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Django Lovett hits Olympic qualifying standard in high jump on last day of trials

MONTREAL — Django Lovett began the day on the bubble, his Tokyo Olympic dreams largely at the mercy of world rankings, and how his high jump rivals around the world were faring. Unless he hit the magic Olympic qualifying mark.

MONTREAL — Django Lovett began the day on the bubble, his Tokyo Olympic dreams largely at the mercy of world rankings, and how his high jump rivals around the world were faring.

Unless he hit the magic Olympic qualifying mark.

So the 28-year-old from Surrey, B.C., left nothing to chance, clearing the Tokyo standard of 2.33 metres on his third and final attempt in winning the Canadian Olympic track and field trials on Sunday.

He was celebrating before his butt hit the mat.

"I just yelled, I let it out, it felt so good," Lovett said with a laugh.

Michael Mason of Nanoose Bay, B.C., who's virtually guaranteed a Tokyo berth based on his world ranking, was second with 2.29.

Athletes can qualify for Tokyo based either on world ranking or by hitting an automatic target.

Lovett — whose dad John, a guitar player, named him after jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt — started the day right on the world ranking bubble. A national title with a decent height might have moved him up enough. But it was far from guaranteed.

"Or I could just get 'er done and get the standard, I chose the secure one," said Lovett, the bronze medallist at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

His personal best height was a bit of a surprise. He hadn't competed in a month, and had just finished a two-week quarantine requirement due to Canada's COVID-19 travel restrictions.

"So, definitely didn't know what to expect, but I've done so much work this year, and I knew I could do it," he said.

The event was missing Olympic and world champion Derek Drouin, who announced he was withdrawing from the competition, effectively ending his quest to make the Tokyo team. Drouin, who was in a race against the clock after tearing his Achilles in January, said his body wasn't recovered enough to compete this weekend.

"I can't give enough praise to Derek, that guy is a fighter, he's fought for the last five years to give himself a chance to get back to to Olympic glory," Lovett said. "And obviously, it was sad news, and we're gonna miss him at the Games. But he's Olympic champion through and through and he's got all respect."

Lovett was the third athlete to hit a qualifying mark at the trials, which were in doubt of even happening until about three weeks ago, due to the pandemic's third wave. Lindsey Butterworth dipped under the standard in the women's 800, while John Gay qualified in the men's 3,000 steeplechase.

The qualifying road to Tokyo has been strewn with challenges for Canadian athletes. The wind on Sunday was just one more, the blustery conditioning at Claude Robillard Sports Complex playing spoiler in the 1,500-metre races. Athletes dealt with 37 km/h winds, with gusts of up to 55 km/h.

Charles Philibert-Thiboutot of Quebec City won the men's race, but his time of three minutes 40.78 seconds was well off the automatic Olympic standard of 3:35.

"It sucks to have to have excuses. But the wind today was just something else," the 30-year-old said. "I think had pretty good momentum heading into (the final lap), but when I turned the corner with 200 to go, it just hit me like a train. The last 200 was just a mess. I know I'm fitter than this. It's just a question of having better conditions."

Philibert-Thiboutot, who raced at the 2016 Rio Olympics, has been flirting with the standard all season, running 3:36.44 earlier this month in France, but also had to quarantine since returning home.

He'll race again in Montreal on Tuesday, and must hit the standard, since Sunday's time wasn't fast enough to inch him up the world rankings.

Julie-Anne Staehli won the women's 1,500 in 4:08.83, missing the standard of 4:04.20.

The 27-year-old from Lucknow, Ont., hadn't been concerned with the standard as she's already qualified for Tokyo in the 5,000. The race was a chance to work on her speed and tactics ahead of Tokyo. She also said the wind, particularly on the backstretch, was a huge factor.

"I just I knew that backstretch over the last 300 was going to play into the finishing kick . . . I was able to just kick and come out with a win," she said.

Lucia Stafford, who took the silver in 4:09.61, has been flirting with the standard in what's been an excellent season, and is hoping to join her sister Gabriela DeBues-Stafford in Tokyo.

Stafford, whose best is 4:05.30, will race again Tuesday, and is hopeful that regardless of her performance there will earn a spot on the Tokyo team based on world rankings.

"Obviously I'd love to get standard, but I don't think today was a good day to do that. And also, I wanted to focus on racing today (for the Canadian title)," she said. "So, I guess we'll just have to wait and see what they say on July 2."

World Athletics will release their final rankings, plus the list of relays for Tokyo, on Thursday, and Athletics Canada expects to announce its team on Friday.

DeBues-Stafford, who this season became the first Canadian to break the two-, four-, and 15-minute barrier in the 800, 1,500 and 5,000 metres combined, didn't compete in Montreal, as Athletics Canada announced athletes with standard could make the team without travelling to Montreal.

Lucia said she received a good-luck message from her older sister before Sunday's race.

"The biggest thing is she just tells me to be confident and stay calm," Stafford said. "Confidence has been a big thing that I've had to relearn . . . so having to remind myself today that: OK, you're good, you're ready, you're fit. Just go out there and do it. So, (Gabriela) reminded me of that."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2021.

The Canadian Press