Three months ago Tyler Christopher had absolutely no intention of competing at the 2008 IAAF World Indoor Championships but the 24-year-old Canadian arrives in Valencia today with a gold medal in mind.
Competing in Birmingham, UK, on 16 February Christopher blazed a personal best indoors 400m time of 45.80 seconds – the fastest in the world this year - and his plans quickly changed.
“I thought it would be good preparation and a way to break up the long period of training back to back and see how it goes,” he explains. “The world indoors were this year so I thought I would give it a shot.”
National record ‘unexpected’
That he will do. Despite a loss in Stockholm where he placed third in 46.75 he believes he is in good enough shape to bring home the gold medal.
“The 45.80, it wasn’t unexpected,” he declares serving up a warning to his peers. “I kind of wanted to go faster but the only reason I didn’t was, not because of my fitness, it was more my inexperience at running that race. I got locked into where I was during the race. Normally after 200 metres I get into a relaxed mode and there I ran hard for about 300 metres and then realized, "oh crap!" That was the reason I ran 45.80, it was just inexperience.”
“In Stockholm, I ran a pretty slow time but I kind of got pushed to the back. I was told you could maybe make up one spot, maybe two if you are extremely lucky. I pushed all the way from behind and at the end ran by one guy to get third. It wasn’t lack of fitness. I had so much energy at the end I felt like I had run a practice run and I kind of walked off and went, ‘Oh, well.’ I will put that in as a learning experience. Now at least I know what can happen in the worst situation in a race. I won’t let that happen again.”
After winning the bronze medal at the 2005 World championships in Helsinki much was expected of Christopher in Osaka last year. But he was a spent physical force at the end of the 400m final as the Americans led by Jeremy Wariner swept the medals. Christopher finished 6th in 44.71 seconds.
Rather than dwell on the disappointment or make adjustments to his training for the Olympic year he and coach Kevin Tyler put it behind them.
“We haven’t really sat down and had a conversation about it,” he says. “I trust my coach will have it all figured out and I will do what he tells me to do.”
“I just think that in ‘05 I had capped off the season with 44.44 seconds Canadian Record and in ‘O6 I never ran that fast at all. In ‘07 I ran 44.8. The Osaka semi-final race was the fastest I had run in two years. I tapped myself out there and wasn’t strong enough to recover from such a run. If the semis had been a little slower, closer to 45 seconds, maybe I would have had more energy but I think that was the reason.”
Still inexperienced indoors
Although he is from Chilliwack in British Columbia, Christopher moved east to Edmonton several years ago to train with coach Kevin Tyler at the University of Alberta’s high performance training facility. Among his training partners are Adam Kunkel, finalist in the Osaka 400m Hurdles and sprinters Pierre Brown (personal best 10.12) and Emmanuel Parris (10.26A).
“A couple of them are 100m runners and they are pushing me because I don’t like being slower than anybody,” he says with a laugh. “Well these 100m runners are running pretty quick so I have to step up my game.”
The experience of running the first two hundred metres in lanes then breaking for the inside is new to Christopher, especially at this level. This season is therefore an eye opener.
“It’s a lot different,” he concludes. “You want to make sure you are out first so that you don’t have to deal with all that. Obviously that (Birmingham) was a good example. I got thrown right to the back and I was the strongest of anybody but went to the back and that’s where I stayed.”
Christopher takes the definition of ‘full time athlete’ to another level. When he is not training, travelling to competitions or receiving physiotherapy to aid in recovery from the evils of training, he is a video games enthusiast. Occasionally he and his colleagues will visit local elementary schools to encourage track and field at the grass roots level.
“Oh yeah. I love working with kids,” he says. “I love working with kids It brings the kid out in me!”
Paul Gains for the IAAF