Canadian middle-distance runner Marco Arop has never been afraid of being the frontrunner.
For years his race plan to lead the pack had been mostly successful, until on a sweltering night at Tokyo in his Olympic debut Arop ran out of steam in the final stretch.
After leading most of the race he faded in the last metres, an agonizing scene as the pack caught him and passed him. Arop would miss qualifying for the final, finishing 14th.
“I used to think if you’re in the best shape you can win the race any way. I’ve learned the hard way that’s not how it works,” Arop said.
As painful as that experience was, the 23-year-old from Edmonton was graceful in his defeat.
“It was a huge learning experience. I felt that to this point that was my biggest learning experience. I’m really grateful for it. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I think I’m a better person because of it,” Arop said this week at the national championships in the Township of Langley, B.C.
Since then, Arop has moved away from his singularly focused race plan of trying to be the frontrunner, now paying attention to how his body is feeling and how the race is going.
On Friday night he put his athleticism and race tactics on full display at McLeod Athletic Park Stadium, winning his semifinal in a time of 1:48.44. He’ll compete in the final on Saturday evening.
“I felt it at the end there. I had to make sure I wasn’t playing around. I have to take these guys seriously,” Arop said after the race.
“It wasn’t until about the 700 metre mark I put my foot on the gas.”
With a new perspective on how he wants to run, Arop says he’s been feeling amazing of late. He says he had a somewhat rough start to the season laced with injuries. But as of late, Arop has been putting complete races together.
He first won a bronze medal at the Doha Diamond league event last month, only to follow that up with a gold medal performance in the Birmingham Diamond League.
“For a while I’ve always tried to force things and go into a race with a single plan. I’ve learned I have to let go and let the races play out. That goes for a lot of things. Things aren’t always going to go as planned and you have to learn how to adapt,” he said.
“Have a plan but if things don’t go your way you have to adjust. I’m still trying to figure that out in some races and training but it’s helping me now.”
‘He’s a Ferrari’
Athletics Canada high performance director Simon Nathan has high praise for the rising star.
“He’s a Ferrari. He’s just a smooth, talented runner. The world is his oyster,” Nathan said.
“It came apart slightly for him at the Olympics but I’ve been incredibly impressed with his ability to sit down and try and work out what happened. And then come up with a plan. He’s done everything right in addressing what happened and is coming back stronger.”
It’s something Athletics Canada head coach Glenroy Gilbert is paying close attention to when it comes to Arop’s trajectory.
“Marco is really good at running one 800m on the Diamond League circuit. How do you do it three times though?” Gilbert said.
“I can see this kid being on the podium at worlds because he’s that good talent wise. He’s one of the best in the world. It’s how you put it together for three.”
Reasons to be optimistic
That’ll be the task next month at the world championships in Eugene, Oregon for Arop. Gilbert says his previous Diamond League races and his performance at nationals this week are reasons to be optimistic.
“All of this is him building a toolbox. The last two races there was a complete shift in the way he approached his race. He’s setting himself up to see what the race looks like and how to attack it. He’s big. He’s a beautiful runner. He’s really confident, which you would never know because he’s so shy. But he’s really, really confident.”
A self-described overthinker, Arop is listening to his body and instincts more than any other time in his career. And he’s excited to see where it can take him.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes I feel I got it and then sometimes I take a hit. At this point it’s somewhere in the middle of the journey. I don’t know when I’m going to feel like I finally figured it out. I don’t know if I ever will,” Arop said.
“It’s just you and yourself. You learn a lot about yourself. How you deal with losses. You learn a lot as an athlete and person.”
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