Former Oceanside Track and Field Club runner Thomas Riva reacts after crossing the finish line with the victory in the men's 1

Riva races for Rio berth

Kwalikum Secondary grad and Oceanside Track and Field Club alum enters Olympic trials as defending national champion

The Parksville Qualicum Beach region has already qualified one athlete to the Canadian squad for next month’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Thomas Riva, a 2010 Kwalikum Secondary School alum and reigning Canadian champion in the men’s 1,500 metre run, hopes to join that group along with three other local athletes when the 2016 Canadian Track and Field Championships and Olympic Trials begin today in Edmonton.

Rower Kai Langerfeld, 28, a Ballenas Secondary grad, will follow in the footsteps of his father, 1976 Canadian Olympian York Langerfeld, after being named to the Canadian rowing team.

At the track and field trials in Edmonton, meanwhile, Riva will be joined by Parksville Qualicum Beach MLA Michelle Stilwell, a four-time Paralympic medal-winner; two-time Olympian Michael Mason of Nanoose Bay; and Ballenas Secondary School alum Alycia Butterworth, who will race in the women’s 3,000-metre steeplechase.

But they all have something Riva does not — an Olympic standard mark that will be necessary if he is to qualify for the Rio Games.

Riva, 24, will be returning to the track where he won the national title in the metric mile last July in a time of 4 minutes, 6.16 seconds. But the former University of Victoria runner, who is studying mechanical engineering at the school, is chasing an Olympic qualifying standard of 3:36.20.

He made an attempt last month at the Portland (Oregon) Track Festival — the same meet in which Butterworth achieved her Olympic qualifying mark in the women’s steeplechase — but was forced to withdraw from the race in the final 400 metres.

“I have run a low 3:37, and I’m going to have to run a second better than my best,” said Riva. “But things have been turning around since Portland, so that’s good. It’s going to come down to how I feel on the day.”

Riva had other competitive meets available to make a run at the standard, including one in his current hometown of Victoria. But he felt his training schedule did not give him his best shot at reaching 3:36.2 and still putting him in the strongest position to qualify this weekend in Edmonton.

“I had some races lined up, but had some things go off the rails,” he said. “We backed off and put in a training block and shifted the focus to nationals. We decided, ‘Let’s not chase these races.’”

In essence, he’s put all his eggs into the Olympic Trials basket, in a national championship competition that normally results in slower, tactical races.

When he won last year’s championship, his winning time was “only” 4:06.16.

“It’s going to be different, for sure,” Riva said. “It was nice not to have to put pressure on myself in time-trialing. At the same time, it leaves a lot up to chance.”

The Olympic Trials run today through Sunday. Track and Field Canada will announce its Olympic Team nominations in a ceremony in Edmonton on Monday.

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