Cam Levins posted a Canadian record-finish and shattered his own national record with his fourth-place result in the men's marathon at the World Athletics Championships Sunday in Eugene, Ore.
The Black Creek, B.C., native finished in a time of two hours, 7.09 seconds and slashed more than two minutes off his previous national record of 2:09:25, which was set at the 2018 Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
Peter Maher had the previous best Canadian finish in the men's marathon at the world championships in 1993 with a 10th-place result in Stuttgart, Germany.
"I really just took a lot away from the last Olympics and realized I need to be better in every way," Levins, who finished 72nd in the men's marathon at the Tokyo Olympics, said.
"I really worked and changed myself as an athlete from last year to this year. I know I've earned this and I deserve to run with these guys. I felt great. I would have only been happier if I was one place higher but it's the best race of my life so I can't be disappointed with it."
The 33-year-old said he "had no idea" his performance had been historic.
"I was here trying to medal and that's what I wanted," he said. "But that's wild."
Tairat Tola of Ethiopia pulled away over the final kilometres to win gold in 2:05.36. Teammate Mosinet Geremew won the silver in 2:06.44, while Bashir Abdi of Belgium took bronze in 2:06.48.
Canadian Rory Linkletter posted a personal best of 2:10.24, finishing 20th. Fellow Canadian Ben Preisner finished 28th in 2:11.47.
"All three of our Canadians I think ran really, really well today," Levins said. "We're just in kind of an amazing era of marathoning, and I'm happy to have my name up there with some of the best ones.
"I'm going to, I hope I have a long career still ahead of me, and that was just the tip of the iceberg."
Back in 2018, in his marathon debut, Levins achieved what had eluded Canadian marathoners for decades, breaking Jerome Drayton record that had stood for 43 years.
The future looked bright.
But he failed at three attempts to run the Tokyo Olympic qualifying standard before hitting it with a week to spare.
Levins wasn't re-signed for 2022 by HOKA, the team he'd been with since 2018. He has no sponsor.
He posted on social media that he's seeking redemption in Eugene. And did he ever deliver.
"It was crazy going from one of the last-place finishers at the Olympics, to one of the top finishers at the world championships," Levins said. "I took so much away from the Olympics last year, I just realized I need to be better, in just like every aspect of my training.
"I really had an incredible buildup, like the last six months, I've trained really well, the hardest I have in every conceivable way," added Levins, who won the Canadian half-marathon championships recently in Winnipeg. "When I got to the start line, I knew I was ready."
But the marathon is difficult to predict. Anything can happen over the last 10 kilometres, no matter how well-prepared athletes are, Levins pointed out.
"I felt great throughout the race. But even despite that, it's still really hard on your legs, hard to keep going like that," he said. "I was feeling great, but it was still a difficult last 10K. When I was coming into the last lap, I was telling myself 'I'm here to medal, I'm gonna do this.' I was definitely telling myself that I was here for a big performance.
"I think that's part of the big result is always believing that was going to happen, besides just preparing for it."
Levins hung in amid a large group at the front on the fast and flat course that featured plenty of scenic views. The 30-year-old Tola broke free over the final couple of kilometres.
Fans lined the course several people deep, a welcome sight after so many marathons over the past two years were contested in bubbles due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Canadian friends and family members weren't permitted to travel to Tokyo for the Olympics
On Sunday, Levins had his parents Barb and Gus, his wife Elizabeth, and his in-laws there.
"There were tons and tons of people in the crowd itself. I heard my name a zillion times. It was super cool. The Oregon crowd here was so, so great," he said. [My family was] jumping back and forth on the course, I saw them quite a bit. Mostly I heard my parents, rather than saw them, I recognized my mom's voice pretty good a couple of times."
Levins hadn't had the chance to find his family in the crowd just minutes after his finish. But his thoughts were already about how thankful he was that they've had his back.
"It can be hard for your family, someone like my wife, to keep supporting me even when I lost my contract and funding in general, so it's been really amazing," Levins said. "It's been a tough last year. It's also been a really rewarding last year as far as training goes. I couldn't be more thankful for them."
Levins, who lives a couple of hours north of Eugene in Portland, is coached by Victoria's Jim Finlayson.
The runners were able to push the pace with the temperature hovering at a comfortable 13.9 Celsius with cloud cover. That's quite a contrast to the conditions at worlds in Doha when the men's marathon was held at midnight to avoid the searing heat. The temperature was still around 29 Celsius.
Decorated track career
Levins moved up to the marathon after a decorated track career. He won bronze in the 10,000 in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and raced to 11th place in the 10,000 and 14th in the 5,000 at the 2014 London Olympics, despite catching the flu before the finals.
After a slight delay, 1972 Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter signalled the start of the race that sent the runners along a three-loop course that finished in front of the University of Oregon's Autzen Stadium. The route wound through the cities of Eugene and Springfield.
The course crossed over the Willamette River and ventured alongside Pre's Trail, the bark running trail that's named in honor of University of Oregon running icon Steve Prefontaine, who died in a car accident in 1975.
The field was missing Kengo Suzuki after the Japanese team had a few cases of positive tests for COVID-19. Also not racing was Kenyan marathoner Lawrence Cherono, who was provisionally suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit after testing positive for a banned substance used to treat chest pain resulting from lack of blood supply and oxygen to the heart.