Part 1 of our conversation with Speed River Track & Field and Guelph University Head Coach Dave Scott Thomas.
Devotees of Canadian running know Eric Gillis in many ways. Three time Olympian Eric Gillis. Canada’s first top ten Olympic marathoner in four decades Eric Gillis. Canada’s most consistently brilliant men’s marathoner Eric GIllis.
Dave Scott Thomas just calls him Gilly. “I feel lucky because there are athletes I get to work with and watch them grow for 10 years,” Dave tells me over the phone from his office at Guelph University. “I’ve worked with Gilly for 15 years now and, I tell ya, he’s got me for life.”
Over the course of a decade and a half, the relationship between coach and athlete has certainly changed. Gillis and the other high profile athletes Scott Thomas works with – a roster that includes Reid Coolsaet, Krista DuChene, Ross Proudfoot, and Evan Esselink – mostly know what’s good for them. In such cases, Scott Thomas says he’s more of a consultant and supporter that’s always on hand when needed.
What hasn’t changed in those 15 years is how much fun Dave and Gilly still have, both still looking ahead with optimism and excitement. “It sounds trite, but this stage of training has been playful and well grounded,” Dave says, referring to GIllis’ build to his first IAAF World Championships in August.
The previous day, “We met on an old country road and hunkered down for 37K and Eric was as good as he’s ever been for that kind of session and still in the range of his best fitness.” Regarding conditioning, Dave reports that Eric was, “…moving well and the biomechanics looked good. We’re also in a good place with fuelling and hydration.”
London will be Eric’s first time competing at the IAAF World Championships. Dave says that Eric has been ready before, but, “The marathon is a weird beast and we’ve chosen to target other races in the past. Beijing, for example, presented a risk factor with the heat and pollution.”
Dave adds that when the fall marathon season rolls around, “There’s a strong sense of patriotism and we want to run in Toronto in the fall. We want Canadian runners running in Canada and [Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon Race Director] Alan Brookes does such a great job that Toronto is usually where we want to be in the fall.”
With Gillis planning a move back to his native Antigonish, Nova Scotia later this fall to take up a coaching position at St. Francis Xavier, the timing and Gillis’ excellent conditioning made London a logical choice.
Eric and Dave haven’t yet hammered out a precise plan for London, but if Eric is healthy, “We’ll gun for another top ten.” Once the official start list is available, Dave will look 40-50 competitors deep to examine their progression and tweak the game plan accordingly.
The expectations going into Worlds are cautiously optimistic, just as they were prior to Rio, but Dave is excited. “In Rio we targeted the high end of our expectations and nailed it,” Dave recounts, adding that, “Eric is still that fit now.”
Dave still speaks of Eric with the enthusiasm one would accord a new protege with massive potential. The two still feel there’s work to be done even at this stage of what’s been a very fruitful partnership. Summing up the relationship, Dave exclaims, “It’s been a gift to work with Gilly. I can still show up on a country road to hand him bottles and have fun doing it.”
- Ravi Singh