Tactics were everything on Friday for Winnipegger Nicole Sifuentes as she punched her ticket to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Needing to be third or better in the women’s 1,500 metres at the Canadian Track and Field Trials in Calgary, Sifuentes got the job done, finishing third in the afternoon event final.
Friday’s time wasn’t relevant to Sifuentes, the former Nicole Edwards, since she had added an Olympic A-plus standard time (4 minutes 4.76 seconds) earlier in the month in winning a race in San Diego.
"I knew I was close to being on the team, but it’s still possible to mess it up or have it slip through your grasp quickly," Sifuentes told the Free Press by telephone not long after the finish. "Top three is not exactly a cakewalk in my event or any other event. There are other people that want to win a national championship.
"The nerves were definitely there today and yesterday."
Sifuentes had no trouble getting through Thursday’s semifinals and Friday’s challenge appeared to be more about the pace of the final.
It was eventually won by Malindi Elmore in a pedestrian 4:13.58. Hilary Stellingwerff was second at 4:13.94, with Sifuentes in third, just .48 seconds behind the winner.
"This was slow, the slowest of the season," she said. "Tactical, that’s exactly what it was.
"But this is as good as it could be. Second, first, I didn’t really care. I’m third and thrilled with the result. I was close to second, close to first, but third is all I needed and I’m going to be an Olympian and that’s pretty crazy."
Sifuentes’ work with coach Mike Maguire included preparing for a slower pace and how to approach such a race.
"The (idea) was to relax as much as possible through the first half of the race, even three-quarters, knowing that the pace would likely be slower," she said. "Then to have a good finish. But when the pace is slower, there are more people nearby and ready to strike later because more people are able to run at that pace.
"I expected it. I knew I could handle the pace and that I could finish. And I knew I’d have finish and could go for the win. Going for the win, I placed third. There was no way I’m going to aim for third because who knows where that would have gotten me."
Sifuentes’ focus turned out to be a big asset on Friday.
"I actually don’t feel very good today but that doesn’t really matter," she explained. "It’s something that my high school coach (Dianne Sproll) taught me, that it doesn’t matter how you feel, just go out and do it. Get it done. Don’t think about how your body feels, just think about what you’re going out there to do.
"That has stayed with me since high school."
The Vincent Massey Collegiate grad, now married to her University of Michigan engineering classmate and rowing team member Tony Sifuentes, turns 26 today.
Her cheering section on Friday included her parents and her husband, who took care of getting the news to her wider support group.
"A lot of people I know were watching the results and my husband called everyone he knew almost immediately," she said with a laugh. "And my dad said last night he had a list of 28 people ready to send messages to when I got the job done."