Charles Philibert-Thiboutot is off to a tremendous start in his quest to represent Canada on the track at the Tokyo Olympics next summer.
The Quebec City native raced for the first time since October 2018 on Saturday and finished third in the men's indoor 5,000 metres in 13 minutes 30.79 seconds at Boston University to lower his outdoor and indoor personal-best times.
Philibert-Thiboutot's performance also shattered the Quebec record by 26 seconds, set by Alain Bordeleau in 1986.
"I am at the peak of my physical abilities, and this race will allow me to know where I am in my return," Philibert-Thiboutot told the Le Journal de Quebec newspaper recently. "I had an exceptional high altitude camp [in Flagstaff, Ariz.]."
The 28-year-old's outdoor season was wiped out in March by a stress fracture in his right foot after an injured left Achilles sidelined him for two months last fall.
Despite a long rehab, Philibert-Thiboutot believed he had a chance to beat Bordeleau's time.
"After correcting mechanical failures," he said, "I'm more efficient, and my form came back pretty quickly [in training]."
Late last summer, Philibert-Thiboutot and his coach, Felix-Antoine Lapointe, believed they found the answer as to why the runner couldn't keep up to his opponents over the last 100 metres of the outdoor 1,500, his signature race.
WATCH | Charles Philibert-Thiboutot wins 3rd straight Canadian title:
While watching Philibert-Thiboutot's races from the 2015 Pan Am Games and 2016 Rio Olympics on YouTube, they discovered his leg turnover was much slower than most of his competitors who had finished strong. Trying to reach further with his legs in a burst of speed over the final 100, the coach determined, made the Canadian athlete's leg turnover slower.
Philibert-Thiboutot then worked to get his feet on the ground faster rather than lengthening his stride down the straightaway.
"When I reach the final 100 [now], my cadence is going to go from 170 steps a minute to 185, 190," he told CBC Sports at the time. "In the first few workouts it didn't feel natural or that I was running well but my coach said, 'Your stride has never been that nice.' I'm excited to see how it's going to play out."
Dream of being among world's best runners
Philibert-Thiboutot didn't get much of a chance to find out after placing third in the 1,500 at the NACAC track and field championships in August 2018 at Toronto. His final race that year was on Oct. 21 when he finished sixth in the half marathon at the Toronto Waterfront event.
"The most I have been able to compete healthy [since the 2016 Olympics] was three months of training and racing," Philibert-Thiboutot said in a blog post earlier this year. "I have this conviction deep inside me that I can be one of the best runners in the world.
"It is a dream that is still very much alive. … Just give me 12 months where I can be healthy, and who knows …"
Philibert-Thiboutot's 1,500 PB of 3:34.23 achieved in Monaco in July 2015 is just shy of the 3:35.00 qualifying standard for Tokyo. He ran a 3:37.21 season best in 2018 at the Heuser-Zolder KBC Night of Athletics meet in Belgium.
"Because of my injury, I'm starting from scratch," Philibert-Thiboutot said. "I have to finish in the top 45 at the international level, which I managed to do from 2015 to 2018. The [world] ranking will be based on the average of my five best races [through June 29]. I must also finish in the top three at the Canadian championship."
In 2018, Philibert-Thiboutot said he was in "3:34-type shape" when he clocked 3:46.19 in Ottawa to win his third consecutive national title.