BRITISH COLUMBIA

Smith inches closer to spot at Pan Am Games after 800-metre win at Harry Jerome

06/09/2015 12:48 EDT | Updated 06/09/2016 05:59 EDT
BURNABY, B.C. - Jessica Smith has a leg up in the final dash for a spot at the Pan Am Games.

The 25-year-old Olympian won the women's 800 metres at the Harry Jerome Track Classic in two minutes 1.40 seconds on Monday night to record the best Canadian time of the season.

"My training in the last two weeks has honestly been going fabulous," said Smith. "I knew I was ready to break through (2:02.00). I raced quite a lot in May and doing that consistently ... that just works up to big things."

The top two athletes in each track and field discipline as of Sunday's cutoff date will earn a place on Canada's Pan Am team in Toronto. But with at least one other event where competitors can make up ground set for Wednesday in Victoria, Smith isn't about to let down her guard.

"Nothing is ever enough," said the native of North Vancouver, B.C. "There's a strong field of Canadian 800-metre runners and they will be chasing it every single day, so that's what I'm going to do.

"Anything can happen. Nothing is guaranteed, especially in this sport."

Fiona Benson of Dawson Creek, B.C., entered Monday's race with the top Canadian time of 2015 at 2:01.58 and actually bettered that mark by 0.10 seconds, but still had to settle for silver behind Smith.

"I like it a little more getting to hunt people down," said the 23-year-old Benson. "You don't think as much about your own pain and whether they're going to catch you.

"Everybody will be chasing that Pan Am spot. It will depend on how much they have left in their legs, and how much I do."

Benson, who said the 1,500 metres is her preferred distance, has shaved an incredible seven seconds off her 800-metre time this season and is enjoying the ride of being on the cusp of a Pan Am berth.

"It's exciting," she said. "I like to downplay everything and keep it low key and just come out and see what I have, but it is nice to have to come out and perform under pressure."

Melissa Bishop of Eganville, Ont., finished third in 2:01.67, while Ottawa's Rachel Aubry, who started the day with the year's second-best time, finished fourth in 2:02.82.

Smith came into the Harry Jerome with only the fifth-best time of the season (2:02.81), but powered to victory on the same track at Swangard Stadium where she ran what remains a personal-best 1:59.86 in 2012 to clinch a berth at the London Olympics.

The Pan Ams are followed later this summer by the world championships. Athletes also have the 2016 Games in Rio in their sights.

"It's another step in the right direction," Smith said of Monday's race. "It's definitely a progression to where I want to be, and that's dipping under that two-minute mark again."

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