Pembroke’s Maddy Kelly is new Canadian women’s 800 metre champion


Toronto — A young Pembroke woman who started running competitively while in Grade 8 registered a huge upset on Saturday evening in Montreal when she knifed threw the pack in the women’s 800 metre final at the Canadian Track and Field Championship to edge out her childhood idol at the finish line.
Madeleine (Maddy) Kelly, 23, daughter of Chris and Caroline Kelly, won her first-ever Canadian championship, crossing the line in a time of 2:02.37, mere one-hundredths of a second ahead of Eganville native, Melissa Bishop-Nriagu who finished second with 2:02.40. Laurence Cote was third at 2:02.50.
“I’m extremely happy,” she told the Leader Monday afternoon, adding she was honoured to be succeeding Bishop-Nriagu, the former Canadian champion.
A graduate of Fellowes High School, she credits Panet High School teacher and coach Rick Schroeder, for getting her interested in running competitively.
“I really started seriously training after I joined Rick Schroeder’s Coureur-de Bois group,” she said. “I was 12 and in Grade 8 then.”
Kelly qualified for the OFSSA championships in each of her four high school years in both cross-country and track, where she ran both the 800 and 1500 metres. Her best finish in the respective provincial championships in track was sixth and in cross-country seventh.
After high school, she enrolled at the University of Toronto and despite graduating last year, she still runs under the University of Toronto Track Club banner.
“Since Rick, I’ve been coached by my U of T coach, Terry Radchenko,” she said.
Kelly said she has always preferred the 800 to the 1500 as it is a faster pace than the longer distance.
“I still run the odd 1500,” she said. “It’s actually something I’d like to do a little bit more.”
This was her sixth Canadian championship, her fourth as a senior and two as a junior. She has never made the podium at a national event, but that all changed Saturday night.
“That was far and away my best result ever,” she stated, noting her time was slower than her Personal Best of 2:01.90 which she set at a meet in Toronto on June 15.
She admitted going into the final she felt a bronze medal might be an achievable goal.
“My coach and I had talked and the goal this year was certainly to get a medal, but I did not expect it would be a gold. I knew what times the other women had run in the past and I was just being realistic with the fact I had not run as fast as Melissa (Bishop-Nriagu, four-time champion) or Lyndsey (Butterworth, 2018 champion).
“I’ve run close to her PB but I’ve still never run as fast as her, so that felt like a realistic goal,” she added. “ I thought maybe I’d be third.”
She started the race in lane eight, moved inside with the pack at the 200 metre cut-in mark.
“When you’re all the way outside in Lane 8, you really want to get out quickly because otherwise you kind of get swallowed by the group and you really can’t see anyone. You need to go fast, otherwise, you could be getting caught by the whole field and not have any idea.”
She was third by the cut-in mark and stayed there the entire time.
“I stayed on the rail the entire time and any time I considered making a move on the outside, the woman who was racing ahead of me, she just kept pushing forward, so the gap didn’t open. And if the gap wasn’t opening between the front of the group and me, I wasn’t that concerned with making an unnecessary move, as long as I was still in contact with whoever was leading.”
Coming into the last 100 metres, she made her first move from Lane One to Lane Two.
“Then my second move was when I found that hole and kind of wiggled through Melissa and Lyndsey.
“I didn’t know if I’d won,” she added. “In the last 30 metres, I was trying to figure out how I was going to make it happen. I saw the hole start to open and I didn’t know if I’d fit, I didn’t know if could get my body through these two people. After I pulled that off, I don’t even remember crossing the finish line.”
Looking back on it now, she said she needed a perfect race and that is what she put forth on Saturday for the win.
After the race, she was congratulated by the former four-time champion, Pan-Am gold winner, world silver medalist and two-time Olympian, Bishop-Nriagu.
“She was so gracious. She congratulated me and told me I was part of the next generation of runners who are coming up.
“The 800 metres is really strong in Canada right now and Melissa is the reason for that,” she stated. ”People have gotten better because she raced and she set the bar so high.
“Our national record is so incredibly fast in the 800 and she’s got the one with her name next to it. She’s the reason there were so many women in that final who could have been on the podium because we’ve all run so close in time to each other”
Kelly said it was “crazy and “so cool” that she and Bishop-Nriagu are both from Renfrew County and grew up less than 30 minutes apart.
“I love Renfrew County and I love the Valley and I’m very, very proud to call it home. It was so special my entire life as a runner, I had her (Melissa) to look up to.
“I didn’t ever really have to find out about Melissa Bishop. I ’ve just always known who she was because she ran at everything I ran at.”
After her win, she commented she had been pursuing Bishop’s records at the county meets since she was 12.
Kelly said sometime when she’s running at home, people will yell “Go, Melissa” at her by mistake.
“Which I think is a real compliment,” she remarked.
Despite her gold medal win, it does not qualify her for the upcoming 2019 IAAF World Championship in Qatar in the fall.
“I have not run the world standard (2:00.60) yet,” she noted. “The goal is hopefully in the next two to three weeks to run world standard.
“So I’ve got a couple of races lined up to try and do that,” she added.
She competes in Hamilton August 5 and then she has a race in Memphis, Tennessee on August 10.
“I’m not certain what the third race will be yet, but we have a couple of ones we’re looking at.”
Kelly was delighted her parents, her two younger sisters, Erin and Elizabeth, and her boyfriend, Jeremy Rae were in attendance for her win.
“None of this happens in a vacuum. Without my parents, my family, my friends, my boyfriend . . . and all these people. I don’t do this alone, I’m very grateful.”
Her boyfriend is a former runner and cyclist who really understands the sport.
She is currently employed as a writer at Canadian Running Magazine and has covered the premier runners the past few years and now one of her co-writers is doing the story on her.
“You dream about it a little bit. I did not see this coming. This is a very pleasant surprise.”
Kelly’s father, Chris, said he was still hoarse on Monday from screaming.
“It was exciting,” he said. “She’s thrilled and it was thrilling for all of us. The whole family was there. It was terrific.”
Mr. Kelly said it feels so great to see his daughter succeed after all the hard work she has put into her career.
“And it’s wonderful to witness excellence,” he remarked.