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Canadian distance star Levins hopes to keep both shoes on in Sopot

03/06/2014 02:56 EST | Updated 05/06/2014 05:59 EDT
Kevin Sullivan joked that he might need to put an asterisk beside his Canadian indoor 3,000-metre record.

That's because Cam Levins nearly beat it wearing only one shoe.

Levins, the 24-year-old from Campbell River, B.C., who's been rewriting Canada's track and field record book, will race the 3,000 metres at the world indoor championships this weekend in Sopot, Poland.

He qualified for the worlds in a 3,000 in January in Boston, running a full third of the race in one navy-blue socked foot.

"Someone behind me stepped on the back of my shoe, and I couldn't stop it from falling off," Levins said. "It was halfway on my foot for another 50 metres before it finally slid off."

Levins briefly considered stopping, but the meet — the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix — had the only 3,000 field fast enough to ensure he'd make the qualifying standard for world indoors.

He joked about his mishap on Twitter, writing "So happy to get standard for world indoors! Hoping next race I get to keep both shoes on?"

But his time — one shoe or two — was no joke. He crossed in seven minutes 41.59 seconds, narrowly missing Sullivan's Canadian record of 7:40:17 from 2007.

Sullivan tweeted about adding an asterisk to his record, writing: "@CamLevins 7:41.59 with 1 shoe has got to be the superior time."

Levins already owns the Canadian indoor 2,000 and 5,000-metre, and two-mile records. The 5,000 record that he shattered in January was 17 years old and his time was a full 19 seconds faster than he'd ever run indoors.

In Sopot, Levins' one-shoe time ranks him ninth amongst a mighty 3,000 field led by Ethiopia's Hagos Gebrhiwet, and Levins' training partner Galen Rupp of the U.S.

"It's a very deep field, and one of the most difficult events to place well in," said Levins. "I feel that there are no guarantees for who will get on the podium. However, I have raced a lot of these athletes before, and I'm confident that I can compete with them."

He races the heats on Friday, and his initial goal isn't to secure that Canadian record but simply to make Sunday's final.

"I'm ranked in a good position to do that, but cannot underestimate anyone or make any assumptions," Levins said. "Obviously, I won't push the pace along to get the Canadian record when, more importantly, you are racing to try and win or medal, just like any race. That being said, I would be more than happy to walk away with the Canadian record if the race develops in such a way that it's a possibility."

Levins had an outstanding track career at Southern Utah, winning both the 5,000 and 10,000 metre titles at the 2012 NCAA championships. He capped that season by becoming the first Canadian to win the Bowerman Award as the NCAA's top track and field athlete.

The five-foot-10 runner was famous in the running community for his killer mileage — Levins would log as many as 240 kilometres a week and would run as many as three, and sometimes even four, times a day.

But seeking quality over quantity, Levins moved to Portland in the spring of 2013 to train with coach and legendary distance runner Alberto Salazar and his Oregon Project.

Among Levins' training partners: Olympic 5,000- and 10,000-metre champion Mo Farah, and Rupp, the Olympic 10,000-metre silver medallist.

"The Nike Oregon Project is really much different and more intense than before," Levins said on his new training environment. "Everyone takes their training very serious, because it's no longer just a hobby but a job. We are professionals, and need to put all our time and effort into working out or recovering from workouts.

"To put it simply, I would say the most drastic changes for me have been an increase of the intensity and volume of workouts, addition of weight training, and reduction of mileage."

Levins is part of a nine-member Canadian team in Sopot that includes multi-event specialists Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Damian Warner. Theisen-Eaton, from Humboldt, Sask., won silver in the heptathlon at the world championships last summer in Moscow, while Warner, a native of London, Ont., won world bronze in the decathlon.

The rest of the team is: Nathan Brannen of Cambridge, Ont., (1,500 metres); T.J. Lawrence and Gavin Smellie of Toronto (60 metres); Mike Mason of Nanoose Bay (high jump); Nicole Sifuentes of Winnipeg (1,500); and Jenna Westaway of Calgary (800).

Despite his record-breaking indoor season, Levins can't say he's completely content with his performances.

"All athletes tend to set high expectations of themselves going into every race, and I'm no different despite the variances of competition levels," he said. "We're hoping for some big things outdoor season, and looking to go much faster. However, I will be happy as long as I am healthy, and continue to improve."

With no Olympics or world championships this season, he'd like to climb the medal podium at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. And of course, there are still some distance running records that don't have his name on.

"Definitely would like to improve upon some of my best times," he said, "and set some Canadian records in the process."

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