90-year-old sets world record in track meet hit by wildfire smoke and COVID restrictions

North Vancouver's Lenore Montgomery becomes first 90+ woman with official time in 1,500-m race

Wildfire smoke and COVID-19 restrictions did nothing to slow down North Vancouver 90-year-old Lenore Montgomery as she set a pending age-group world record in the 1,500-metre run at a track meet hosted Sept. 12 by the Greyhounds Masters Track and Field Club.

The 90-year-old clocked a time of 12 minutes 34.67 seconds in the 1,500-m race held under smoky skies at Bear Creek Park in Surrey. Montgomery’s time has already been confirmed by Canadian Masters Athletics and is pending approval by World Masters Athletics. There currently is no official WMA world record for that race as no 90+ woman has ever completed the distance at an officially sanctioned event.

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It was incredible to see Montgomery doing lap after lap on the track on her way to the new world record, said longtime Greyhounds head coach Harold Morioka, who now at age 77 serves as a liaison and record keeper for the club.

“She’s an amazing lady,” he said. “Everyone is amazed when they watch her running. … She just goes as hard as she can.”

Morioka said that Montgomery, who already holds official world records for the 3,000-m and 5,000-m distances in the 85+ age group, could have been even faster in the 1,500 this time around if her training hadn’t been disrupted by COVID-19 restrictions, which prevented the club from holding practices from March until the middle of July.

“I think she could do better,” he said with a laugh. “She didn’t have much opportunity to train this year. … Maybe she could push herself even more. But when you’re 90, you just have to be careful.”

Montgomery’s teammate Deborah Lee, another North Vancouver resident, was one of five Greyhounds to set Canadian age group records at the meet. The 70-year-old Lee clocked a time of 18.15 seconds in the women’s 70+ 80-m hurdles to break the Canadian record by 2.05 seconds.

“Eighteen seconds is a pretty fast time for a 70 year old,” said Morioka, who admitted that it is always nerve-wracking watching masters athletes compete in hurdles. “It’s scary. With Deborah, she’s gone down so many times because she drags her trail leg and drops her toe.”

The last hurdle of the race always gives Lee the most problems, said Morioka.

“I told her, ‘When you get to that last hurdle, just jump. Get over the hurdle.’ And you know what? She hit it with her trail leg. I was scared, but she just nicked it and didn’t fall.”

Morioka said Montgomery and Lee were both “extremely humble” about their record-setting exploits.

“They never talk about their accomplishments,” said Morioka, who was happy to do the talking for them.

The recent meet was a monumental one for the Greyhounds as they just purchased electronic timing equipment, allowing them to hold their first officially sanctioned meet. COVID restrictions limited them to just 50 participants and officials at the meet, and only Greyhounds members were allowed to compete.

They were tough circumstances not just because of the pandemic but also because wildfire smoke put the air quality at a reading of 10, extremely poor conditions. A nearby track meet for youth athletes on the same day was cancelled, said Morioka, but the Greyhounds opted to go ahead with their meet. Poor air quality plus a virus that attacks the respiratory system isn’t the ideal setup for senior athletes, but everyone who came out to the meet was thrilled to be there, he added.

“Everyone was just so happy that they could compete this year because they thought they were going to go through the whole summer without competing,” he said.  

At the Greyhounds meet Montgomery also set a Canadian record in the women’s 90+ 800-m race with a time of 6:13.82.

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