You have to go all the way back to 1985 to when a Canadian woman last ran 4:00 for the 1,500m.
This year alone, 23-year-old Gabriela DeBues-Stafford has done it twice, and on Saturday, set a new national record at the Olympic Stadium in London, the same site as the 2012 Summer Games, running 4:00.26. In a sport where every millisecond counts, DeBues-Stafford was able to beat the previous record by 0.01 seconds. Lynn Kanuka (then Lynn Williams) ran 4:00.27 in 1985.
Prior to 2019, no Canadian had come even within one second – not an insignificant margin in the 1,500m – of Kanuka’s record. Kanuka was two years older than DeBues-Stafford at the time of her record, which suggests that, though certainly does not guarantee, DeBues-Stafford could go even faster.
In Saturday’s race, which was a Diamond League event, a world-class track and field circuit that could be considered ‘majors’ in the context of another sport, DeBues-Stafford finished third overall. The Canadian just so happens to train with the winner of the race, Brit Laura Muir, as DeBues-Stafford has been training much of this year overseas in Europe, specifically Scotland.
In 2019, DeBues-Stafford has run faster than 4:02.50 four times and that does not include the 4:17 mile (a distance that’s 109m longer than 1,500m) which she ran in a comparable time given the difference in distance. She’s poised to become the first Canadian woman to break 4:00 in the 1,500m if she continues to progress.
What’s particularly exciting is how well DeBues-Stafford, a 2016 Olympian, has been finishing her races. In London on Saturday, in the final stretch, she went from fifth to third in the matter of metres within the final 50m of the race, providing for a thrilling finish as she was absent from the screen to all of a sudden being prominent. Closing in around 60 seconds for the final lap as she did is necessary to be competitive at all world-class races, as well as the ability to bide your time so you can run the most direct route possible (lane one) to the finish.
DeBues-Stafford, a graduate of the University of Toronto, has been running sub-4:10 for more than four years but 4:10 and 4:00 is the difference between being competitive at the Canadian level and being competitive on the world stage. Case in point about how close the pack is at that level: DeBues-Stafford’s 4:00.26 ranks her 12th in the world while seven spots ahead, the fifth-ranked runner’s top time is less than two seconds faster (3:58.84).
Shortly after the race, DeBues-Stafford’s agent tweeted out an interesting tidbit that puts her recent performances into better perspective. “In a span of 52 days, Gabriela DeBues-Stafford has broken three Canadian Records (5,000m, Mile, 1,500m) which stood for a combined 73 years,” he wrote.
This week, DeBues-Stafford returns to Canada to compete at our own national championships where she can qualify for the world championships in Doha, Qatar.