Last weekend in Langley, Deon Clifford didn’t let a little rust get in the way of clocking a good time.
At the Langley Mustang-hosted Pacific Invitational, Clifford, a South Surrey resident and Ocean Athletics club member, finished first in the 2,000-metre steeplechase (boys 16-17-year-old division) despite not having trained for, or competed in, the event since last year. In the meantime, he has mostly focused on middle-distances races, including the 1,500-m, which he also won in Langley.
But it was his impressive steeple performance that caught the eye of national team staff, who named the Earl Marriott student to Team Canada for next month’s World IAAF World Youth Championships.
His time, six minutes, 2.9 seconds, was enough to rank him second in the country for his age group, thus meeting the standard for entry into the world championships, slated for Lille, France, July 6-10.
“It went good overall. I’m really happy with the steeplechase, (despite) not having practised much, and I also had a good 1,500 race,” he said.
And while Clifford has clocked his fair share of medal-winning performances in recent years, his impressive performance in the steeplechase did surprise some onlookers.
“I think Deon expected to do well, but the rest of us, we probably weren’t quite as confident – he hadn’t done it in so long,” said Jim Clifford, Deon’s father and a coach at Ocean Athletics.
Deon’s form was not perfect, Jim said, pointing out that rather than jump over hurdles in the steeplechase – as most do – Deon simply stepped onto and then over them. His speed on the track, however, made up for any lost time.
“Doing it that way, it slows you down but it also just really drains your energy. Deon’s working now to get his hurdling (skills) back, so he should be even better,” Jim said.
Deon’s showing in the 1,500-m was enough to win gold at the Pacific Invitational meet, but his time, 3:59.73 only placed him fourth in Canada; athletes need to be in the top two to make the roster for next month’s world meet.
Jim said the scheduling of events during next month’s meet makes it difficult for athletes to compete in dual disciplines, anyhow.
Deon decided earlier this month he’d compete in the steeplechase in Langley; even though he was out of practice, he figured it gave him a better shot to qualify for the world youth event.
“It was just a bit easy to hit the standard. It’s a more challenging race (than the 1,500-m), but I like it,” he said.
Clifford will be the third Ocean Athletics member to compete at an international event, joining Sam Walkow and Luc Bruchet.
“I’m ecstatic, excited, but not nervous,” the teenager said.
Also this week, four other OA members were named to Team BC, which will compete in July at Junior Nationals in Winnipeg.
Runners Jack Williams and Jake Bruchet, and throwers Ryan Sommer and Del Ingvaldson will all take part.