Sage Watson spent the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic connecting to her roots and enjoying a much-needed mental break at her family ranch in the Alberta hamlet of Seven Persons.
When the 26-year-old hurdler wasn't working out on a gravel road, she reflected on her "finally" moment in the semifinals of the 2019 track and field world championships when Watson broke Rosey Edeh's 23-year Canadian record in the 400-metre event.
"It wasn't a surprise but more like finally I got this record that I've been training so hard for," said Watson, who posted a time of 54.32 seconds in Doha, Qatar, 7-100ths faster than Edeh in the 1996 Olympic final at Atlanta. "This past year, I've been thinking of how low I can get this record. That's my main goal.
"I think, for sure, I'll be able to run 53 seconds. I don't know when that'll be but I'm definitely capable of that. I think 52-high is possible, too. It's a matter of continuing to stay healthy, staying on top of my training and making sure I'm getting in good competitions."
WATCH |Sage Watson breaks 23-year-old Canadian record:
Watson, who also aspires to winning a world or Olympic medal, will call it a season after Sunday's Diamond League meet in Stockholm (CBCSports.ca, 10 a.m. ET) and return to training in October for the Tokyo Olympics that were postponed from this summer until next July.
Watson, who is scheduled to race at 9:50 a.m., has trained hard on the track since April and had her first injury-free season in five years, but says it's time to give her body the chance to recover.
"I have more knowledge as a pro athlete what my body's doing and what it can withstand," she said. "I see a physio and massage therapist once a week so I'm paying attention to the smaller details and that's played a huge factor [in remaining healthy]."
Watson, who clocked 56.29 for a third-place finish in her outdoor season debut on Wednesday in Hungary, has a history of foot trouble.
WATCH | Watson 3rd across finish line in Hungary:
In 2014, a stress fracture in her foot forced to take a year off. Watson was also sidelined for a portion of the next season when the injury resurfaced and hampered her again for a brief period in 2016 before she received proper treatment.
Watson, who went to the University of Arizona, recovered for the 2017 campaign that saw her win the women's 400 hurdles at NCAA championships, but a sprained right foot forced her to miss the 2018 Canadian championships. She was also sidelined for a month early last season with a foot injury.
"[Understanding] when and when not to push [my body] in training has been huge for me," Watson said. "Instead of a track workout on the days my body isn't feeling [well] I can do a pool or bike workout."
Looking to Tokyo, Watson said she'll be more focused on the task at hand than during her 2016 Olympic debut in Rio, where she failed to make the final and placed 11th overall.
Arop looks to build on recent success
"I was still a college student and had never experienced the [Diamond League] pro circuit and what it was like to travel," said Watson, who returned to Arizona in July to work with coach Fred Harvey. "I think I'm going to be more confident on the track [in Tokyo]. I've started to learn what I'm capable of and that comes from knowing your body.
"I feel more grown up and ready. I also know what it takes to make a final. I've made the past two world championship finals [in 2017 and 2019] and those are kind of equally as hard as making the Olympic final."
Joining Watson in Stockholm will be middle-distance runner Marco Arop of Edmonton, who has reached the podium in each of his two recent outdoor races.
The first-year pro set a personal-best time of 1:44.14 in the men's 800 at the Diamond League season opener in Monaco on Aug. 14 and finished second at a Continental Tour meet in Poland on Wednesday.
WATCH | Marco Arop sets personal-best time in Monaco:
Arop, 21, cited a slight increase in his training volume and an ability to stay focused while recovering from a hamstring injury early in 2019 for a breakout season that featured a Pan Am gold medal and seventh-place finish in his world final debut.
In February 2019, the former Mississippi State University athlete ran 1:45.90 indoors to break the Canadian record and set a school mark.
New long jump concept
Several top international athletes will compete at the BAUHAUS-galan competition in Sweden, including:
- Norway's Jakob Ingebrigtsen, 19, who eclipsed the European 1,500 record in Monaco with a time of 3:28.68.
- Teammate and 2019 world champion Karsten Warholm, who asked Monaco promoters to add a men's 400 hurdles race, got a sponsor to cover the costs and went out and ran 47.10 seconds, the eighth-best time in history.
- Kenya's Hellen Obiri, the reigning world champion in the women's 5,000, who will battle Laura Muir of Great Britain in the 1,500. In Monaco, Muir finished second in 2:30.82 to claim a new British and Scottish record for the women's 1000.
Stockholm will also see the launch of the "Final Three," a new long jump competition with the top three jumpers after five rounds going head-to-head in a mini final in the men's and women's events. Should there be a tie, the best performance from the previous five rounds would determine the winner.
"We want to be innovative and try out new concepts. Given the impact that COVID-19 has had on the [circuit] this summer, this is certainly the right year to experiment a little," said Diamond League CEO Petr Stastny. "This format is likely to award athletes who have the ability to perform under the most intense pressure."