08/27/2015 11:37 EDT | Updated 08/27/2016 01:12 EDT

Melissa Bishop sets Canadian record in 800 to book spot in world final

BEIJING — Melissa Bishop glanced over her shoulder at the scoreboard one final time Thursday night, as if to make sure she'd read it correctly.

Then moments after making history in the women's 800 metres, she switched her focus fully to Saturday night, and the final at the world track and field championships.

The 27-year-old from Eganville, Ont., shattered Diane Cummins' 14-year-old Canadian record, racing to a blistering time of one minute 57.52 seconds in a tactically-perfect race. It was the fastest time of the night out of three semifinals.

"I need to call Diane. I'm very excited," she said, of her friend and longtime Canadian middle-distance star.

Bishop didn't have long to soak in the excitement. She spoke to reporters for 90 seconds before being whisked away by Athletics Canada staff to cool down.

"I need to prepare, it's coming up quick, not a whole lot of time, so its all exciting and really fun, but I need to forward to the next two days," she said hastily.

Cummins' mark was 1:58.39 she set in Rieti, Italy in 2001.

Bishop is peaking at just the right time after a rocky start to her season. She had a torn abdominal muscle in the fall that wiped out her indoor season, then suffered an ankle injury in May that sidelined her for nearly a month.

She rebounded in spectacular fashion to win last month's Pan American Games last month in Toronto. The picture of her crossing the finish line with arms outstretched, and massive grin will be one of the most enduring images of those Games.

Bishop was in second spot with about 200 metres to go and appeared like she might get boxed in. But a path opened up down the homestretch, and she sailed through to a victory in her semi.

"I didn't see (the time) until it came up on the screen, but obviously I was more than impressed and excited," she said. "We've been sitting on this for so long, it was about getting in the right race."

Cummins cheered on Bishop from her home in Missoula, Mont.

"I am so happy for Melissa," she told The Canadian Press. "We became friends towards the end of my career and I know Melissa to be a sweet caring honest person who works her butt off. She is keeping the women's 800 metres alive.

"I love her to bits and am so happy she is achieving these great results that she and her coach Dennis (Fairall) thoroughly deserve."

Cummins, who was fifth at the 2001 world championships, dominated the distance in Canada for the better part of a decade and then retired last year at the age of 40.

"Honestly, yes it sucks my record has been broken," Cummins said. "But the fact that it's Melissa doing the breaking trumps that 10-fold. So proud and excited for her."  

Fiona Benson of Peace River, B.C., finished fifth in her heat Thursday and didn't advance. But her time of 1:59.59 was a personal best, capping a remarkable season for the 23-year-old that has seen her time plummet by a whopping nine seconds.

"With how fast everything has changed, I've just been taking it one race at a time," she said. I didn't really have any longterm plans coming in, then I ran that 2:02 (she opened the season with a seven-second personal best of 2:01.58), and it's been go out and have fun at the track and see what I can do."

She can't say for sure what has made the difference. She graduated recently from Trinity Western University where she said she was a "middle-of-the-road decent university athlete but that was it.

"And then, I don't know, I graduated and started working and running, and that's pretty much all I did. So, I don't know if it was just that extra time to concentrate."

Canada collected four medals in the opening two days of the world championships, and after three relatively quiet days, the battle for medals is about to heat up.

One of the team's top hopes is Christabel Nettey, ranked No. 2 in the world in long jump. The 24-year-old from Surrey, B.C., qualified for the final, jumping 6.79 metres on her third of three jumps in Thursday morning's preliminary round. It was the fourth-best jump in qualifying.

Ivana Spanovic was the top qualifier with 6.91.

Quebec City's Charles Philibert-Thiboutot advanced to the semifinals in the men's 1,500. The 24-year-old from Quebec City was seventh in his heat in 3:39.72.

"I felt like I had a great race strategically, stayed top-five, top-six the whole way," Philibert-Thiboutot said. "With 300 to go I kind of got boxed in and the French guy stumbled in front of me, kind of cut my stride when I was started to sprint.

"But I was able to overcome that . . . thankfully it was enough to go through."

Two Canadians advanced in the women's 100-metre hurdles. Nikkita Holder of Pickering, Ont., placed second in her heat to qualify for the semifinals with a time of 12.86. Phylicia George of Markham, Ont., was fifth in her heat with a 13.03 time, advancing to the semis on time.


Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press