By Jonathan Hamelin
When Kelly Wiebe crossed the finish line first on Nov. 10, it meant a number of firsts.
It was Wiebe's first national championship victory at the university level. It was the first time a University of Regina cross-country athlete earned that honour. Wiebe's time of 30 minutes 21 seconds was good for first all-time in the course record books.
"I felt overjoyed," said Wiebe, a fifth-year environmental systems engineering student.
"I really needed the gold medal in order to feel accomplished in the CIS and just to be completely satisfied with my CIS career."
The 2012 Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) cross-country championships, hosted by Western University, took place at the Thames Valley Golf Course in Ontario. Wiebe is no stranger to first-place finishes – he was undefeated in four previous races this season – but winning at the CIS level had proven difficult. Wiebe finished third at the event in 2009 and 2010.
"I felt like I should have accomplished winning the CIS maybe two years ago already, but things didn't work out the way I planned," said Wiebe, who earned first-team all-Canadian and Canada West all-star nods. "I felt like I had to redeem myself, like there was a huge monkey on my back."
Wiebe came close to winning in the past, but clearly didn't want to take any chances this time around, finishing ahead of the pack by 44 seconds in the race. Wiebe said it was like a "time trial" for him, as he built up a five- to 10-second lead after the first kilometre of the 10-kilometre track.
Bruce McCannel, Cougars cross-country head coach, called it "the most impressive cross-country performance I've ever seen."
"He blew away the field," McCannel said. "It was very exciting to watch."
Wiebe's performance helped the men's team finish second in Canada West and seventh in CIS. Matt Johnson (21st; 32:28), Iain Fyfe (32nd; 32:48), Michael Middlemiss (67th; 33:52), Adam Strueby (80th; 34:15), Marc Beaton (105th; 35:23) and Sean Hooper (117th; 36:15) were the other members of the team. Johnson was named a first-team Canada West all-star and Fyfe earned a second-team nod.
It wasn't the best finish for the men – in 2009, the group finished first in Canada West and fourth in CIS – but McCannel said it was the "strongest team we've ever sent to nationals."
Due to injuries, the U of R didn't send a women's team, but Karissa LePage (18th; 18:06) and Avery Westberg (30th; 18:40) competed individually. McCannel said the women ran "very well."
For LePage, it may have been her final race as a Cougar.
"If this is the end, this was a good race to go out on," said LePage, a fourth-year science student. "I think it's been an amazing, amazing time. We have a great group of people and it's just fun to spend time with them."
In Wiebe's case, due to eligibility, this was his final race.
According to Dick White, U of R director of athletics, Wiebe has left a legacy on the university's sports scene by going out on top.
"His performance tells us that we're doing the right things to create an opportunity for championship performances," White said. "If you're an up-and-coming runner, why would you not want to come here?"
Now that he has conquered Canada, Wiebe hopes to focus more on international races. His ultimate goal: the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
But first ...
"He still has a track season left," McCannel said with a smile. "We get to keep him for another six months."