The women’s 800 m at the Canadian track-and-field Olympic trials came down to a sprint, and Bishop was up to the task as she secured her required top-3 finish with a second-place result. Photo: Klaus Andersen / Athletics Canada
By Ian Ewing
Name: Melissa Bishop
Event: Women’s 800 m
Personal best: 1:59.82
Age: 24 (on August 5)
Residence: Windsor, ON
Associations: University of Windsor, Ottawa Lions
Previous Olympics: First
It might seem like she’s come out of nowhere, but first-time Olympian Melissa Bishop has targeted this for years.
Having never before qualified for a Canadian international team, the 23-year-old Ottawa Lions track-and-field club athlete took the running world by storm last month when she ran a 1:59.82 in the 800 m finals at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. That beat the Canadian Olympic A standard of 1:59.90 and set her up for a trip to London, which she clinched by placing second at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Calgary on June 30.
Although few might have predicted her meteoric rise a year ago, Bishop was already planning for it. Having graduated last spring from the University of Windsor with degrees in Human Kinetics and in Education, she opted to defer her acceptance into grad school in favour of taking a year off from working and studying to focus solely on running.
“After last summer, I decided that I need to take the year and give it every shot to try and make the Olympics,” explains the Eganville athlete who traveled to Ottawa for training during her high school years. “Obviously it was the best decision!”
The track star who turns 24 just three days before the Aug. 8 800 m heats started taking running more seriously when she got to Windsor. Bishop credits her Lancer teammates and their legendary track and field coach, Dennis Fairall, for that. Although she’s now out of school, Fairall remains her personal coach.
Her long-time Ottawa Lions coach, Ray Elrick, says it was just a matter of time until Bishop reached this level.
“Melissa always had a bunch of talent,” Elrick explains. “It was just a matter of channeling that talent, and she’s done it this year.”
Bishop became only the third Canadian woman to ever run under two minutes in Eugene, while Canadian teammate Jessica Smith became the fourth a week later en route to an Olympic berth of her own.
“It was very, very exciting,” Bishop says of running the Olympic A standard in Eugene. “Jessica Smith, she was there with me in the same meet. We had a little celebration; we screamed and hugged when we found out the results.”
Expectations adjusted to match elite
Heading into London, Bishop still needs to fully embrace the idea that she deserves to be there. It’s a conscious effort, she explains, to put herself on the same level as the rest of the world-class athletes.
“Just putting yourself on a level playing field, it calms you down a little bit,” notes Bishop, who got some advice from Canadian 800 m legend Diane Cummins after qualifying.
“You need to expect to be rubbing arms with [people like] Usain Bolt,” Bishop recalls Cummins saying. “They’ll all be in the Athlete’s Village. You have to put yourself on that level.”
Bishop’s goal at her first Olympics is to get through the heats and into the semi-finals. That will likely require another personal best time, but she’s perfectly OK with that. Being alongside the world’s best at the London Games is an idea that seemed pretty farfetched not too long ago.
“Four years ago, when we had Olympic Trials here in Windsor, I didn’t even make the 800 m final. Now, here I am four years later, I’ve made the final and I’m an Olympian. Like, that is…” she pauses. “Oh, it’s just crazy!”
WED., AUG. 8 – ROUND 1, 5:35 A.M. ET
THU., AUG. 9 – SEMI-FINALS, 1:30 P.M. ET
SAT., AUG. 11 – FINAL, 2 P.M. ET