June 24th, 2024

Canadian sprinter Grace Konrad takes significant strides at Pan American Games

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press on November 2, 2023.

Canada's Grace Konrad, left, and Madeline Price react following the women's 400m hurdles final at the Pan American Games, in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

SANTIAGO, Chile – It’s been a year of firsts for Canadian sprinter Grace Konrad.

She claimed her first national title in the women’s 400 metres and ran a personal-best time in her world championship debut in the summer.

On Wednesday, the 24-year-old nurse from Edmonton raced in the Pan American Games final.

Konrad narrowly missed the podium in fourth in her first international multi-sport Games final.

“The focus today was just to run bold,” she said still puffing and panting several minutes after her effort. “I’m just working on a theme of . . . to be able to just run confidently knowing that my identity is secure in Christ and in my faith and just being able to go out and risk it all.

“I wasn’t feeling super-confident going into today, so I just tried to go out strong and keep my heart in it and fight for it at the end.”

Chilean crowd favourite Martina Weil won in 51.48 seconds followed by Ecuador’s Nicole Caicedo in 51.76 and Colombia’s Evelis Aguilar in 51.95.

Konrad challenged for the podium, but couldn’t quite bridge the gap in 52.10.

“She just missed out on a medal,” Canadian sprint coach Glenroy Gilbert said. “A close fourth. Her strength is that last 120 (metres). She just didn’t get there today. Overall, she’s had a great season.

“This is November. Most people in our part of the world are only beginning to train now, so very good stuff. I think her future is certainly very bright for somebody who is fairly new to the sport.”

Konrad’s teammate Madeline Price of Toronto placed seventh in the 400 final on a cool, rainy night at Estadio Nacional.

Konrad relishes the last 100 metres when she goes deep into her reserves.

“Everything kind of goes numb and you just kind of go for it and don’t feel the pain anymore,” she explained. “I have that competitive heart I guess. I couldn’t feel myself quite gaining fast enough on the other girls, but I was going to give it a shot.

“Just outside the medals, but I was pretty happy with how it went.”

Konrad nearly quit running in her fourth and final season at Trinity Western in 2021-22. She struggled with plantar fasciitis while finishing her nursing degree.

Spartans coach Shane Wiebe said it took several conversations to convince her to continue running.

“I was a little worried for her because I thought ‘oh no, here’s a gem that will flicker out too soon,'” Wiebe told The Canadian Press.

“She’s a workhorse to the enth degree. There were some days where we had to actually back her off of the work.

“She thrives under heavy loads of running and lifting and doing all the extra things that she kind of just knew instinctively that were required for her to excel at high level.

“She has really blossomed these last couple of years.”

After running a 51.60 in her world championship debut, Konrad was a member of Canada’s 4 x 400 relay team that finished fourth in Budapest, Hungary.

“It would be incredible to be able to run with them at the Olympics,” she said. “We’re a little bit hungry for a medal because me and the other girls have been fourth a lot of times and now I feel that too.”

Konrad trains under Rob Fisher in Edmonton and also works as a casual nurse at Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital.

“It’s a great place to work. I’m really grateful they’re flexible with me,” Konrad said. “I’m able to work my shifts around training and the staff there are really great, I’m able to learn a lot there and just feel so privileged to be able to be part of these little children’s lives and their families’ lives.”

Also at the track Wednesday, Kaila Butler of Port Coquitlam, B.C., won bronze in women’s hammer throw for her first international medal.

“It’s overwhelming. It’s a really big deal for me,” said Butler, who didn’t score on her first two throws.

A toss of 65.10 metres on her fifth of sixth tries put the Canadian on the podium.

“Definitely a rough start but to overcome the weather and the emotions is really special,” she said.

The 25-year-old finished second to reigning women’s world champion Camryn Rogers of Richmond, B.C., in July’s Canadian championship.

Butler trains in Kamloops, B.C., with reigning world men’s champion Ethan Katzberg of Nanaimo, B.C.

“Just being able to add my part to it and help continue on boosting myself and boosting the sport, especially in our province, has been really amazing,” Butler said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2023.

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