Standing on the international podium, holding up a Canadian flag, was an inexperience unlike any other for northern B.C. runner Tyler Dozzi.
After exploding a 42-year-old track and field record last year, lacing national silver in track and field, and scooping up national gold in cross country the year before, the renowned young Terrace runner has now seized silver in the Pan American Cross Country Championships.
READ MORE: Dozzi blows up provincial record, feels bittersweet
Dozzi and five other Team Canada runners competed in the race last Saturday against 39 of the top under-20 men’s runners from North and South America.
Dozzi won silver, and together with the other runners on Team Canada claimed gold in the international championship, with the most runners in high ranks overall.
Originally from Terrace B.C., Dozzi moved in Grade 11 to Vancouver and ran for Oak Bay High School and for the Prairie Inn Harriers running team based in Victoria. Now he’s in his first year at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Despite his extensive running background, Dozzi says the Pan Am race was one of the most mentally and physically taxing races he has ever run.
Held in El Salvador, it was 35 C, and was an 8K cross-country race, with runners making four laps around a two-kilometre course.
Dozzi says going in, he wasn’t as fit as he wanted to be, due to an injury to his Achilles late last December, which limited his training for most of January. He did get a chance to train a few times on a treadmill in a special heat chamber at a Lululemon gym in Vancouver, which he believes helped him a lot.
As the runners took off on the 8K course, officials along the sidelines offered sponges and even bags of cold water for runners to pour on themselves to help cool down.
Dozzi said Team Canada worked well together, running in a pack and passing sponges off to help each other stay cool.
He worried that he took off too fast at the beginning and his arms began to burn about halfway through.
“My arms started to burn up, and I didn’t know if that was from the running or from the sun, but I was a bit concerned. But I decided rather than to focus on the pain, just to focus on how long I had been training for this, and on how badly I wanted to perform well for Canada.”
At about 3K, a number of runners started to slow and a pack of four took the lead, consisting of Dozzi, Canada’s Thomas Knobs, America’s Connor Lane and Colombia’s Jhonathan Polished Friar.
Dozzi says he and fellow Canadian runner Knobs ran together in third and fourth place, switching back and forth in front to help each other out.
In the final 250 kilometres, the two Canadian runners let loose, fighting to take the lead. They passed the Colombian, but didn’t quite catch the American.
“We weren’t able to catch him. It was a little bit too late,” said Dozzi.
The American, Connor Lane, won gold at 25:06, Dozzi took silver just 13 seconds behind, at 25:19, and Canadian Thomas Nobbs got bronze at 25:23. Other Canadians Andrew Alexander and Max Turek took fourth and seventh, respectively. (See full results from El Salvador Athletics below)
“I finished the race strong,” said Dozzi, “and very, very overheated.
“It was definitely one of the most painful races I have ever run,” Dozzi said, referring to the battle of overcoming the intense heat.
“There were a few runners struggling at the finish line, some collapsing,” he explained.
And yet, even with the incredible pain and difficulty, Dozzi said the resulting experience was unforgettable.
“It was a pretty spectacular feeling stepping onto the podium, holding the national flag, especially when I stepped up with the team,” said Dozzi.
“It was unique from any other race, any other medal ceremony I’ve ever had because it wasn’t just me winning there. It wasn’t just me having a personal success… it was actually being on a national team, representing my country , and doing well in the race.
“To step on the podium and receive a medal for Canada, not just for myself, was a completely unique experience,” he said.
Dozzi says he is aiming for Olympics, probably 2024, but he has a few more key steps to take before then. His next goal is to represent UBC at the national university championships, and then, this summer, to make the national team for the under-20 track and field world championships.
That championship is the equivalent to the Olympics, but for under-20 athletes, and will be in Finland this summer, July 10-15.