Dispatching from Rio: Melissa Bishop, Canadian 800-Meter Runner
by Grace Masback
Melissa Bishop, a Canadian 800-meter runner, has her fair share of grit and determination. Her first athletic competition was as a 6th grader, running for her school team. That day, she ran six different events on an all-dirt track. As a young kid, she played soccer competitively, but quickly realized the only reason she stood out was her speed, so she switched to track. The current Canadian record holder and only the third Canadian woman in history to run an 800-meters in under 2:00 minutes (her best time is 1:57.43 seconds), Bishop, a University of Windsor graduate, represented Canada in the 2012 Olympics. Although she didn’t make the medal stand in London, she went on to take silver in the 800 meters at the 2015 World Track & Field Championships in Beijing. She worked bravely and diligently to recover from multiple injuries over the years, and she’s now poised to take on the world’s best in Rio. School of Doodle had the opportunity to catch up with Bishop on the eve of start of the track and field events to get her take on the progression of her running career, the upcoming Olympics, and her goals for the future.
School of Doodle: What do you think of the concept of having high quality meets based in North America in the lead-up to the Olympics?
Melissa Bishop: I love the concept of preparatory meets close to home. It lessens the travel. The fatigue is less. True, I came from the East Coast, but it is a lot closer than going over to Europe. It was a really high quality race and just a testament to the fact that we have a lot of really high quality athletes here on American soil. It’s nice for the fans to see what kind of talent we have. We don’t show up once every four years. This is our job day in and day out and it is great for the fans to be able to get on board and see what we have to offer.
SOD: What do you credit with helping you get to the level where you are today?
MB: The secret of my emergence the last couple of years has been my coach, Dennis Fairall. He is such a brilliant man and we have been working together for a really long time now, and I think it has just been the mesh between both of our talents, his coaching skills and my drive, that has allowed us to be successful. I have been with him over a decade now, so we have a lot of great years of training under our belts. That pair up between athlete and coach is critical to my success.
SOD: Do you have a role model? Who?
MB: Diane Cummins. She is a former 800-meter Canadian record holder. She retired on my way into the sport, and I have looked up to her for a lot of things. She has always been there for me to answer questions and really support me as I move forward with my own career and pursue my ambitions. She has been through all of this before, World Championships, Olympics, so she is there for me for whatever I need. I can lean on her when needed.
SOD: Do you have any pre-race rituals?
MB: Nothing quirky. Nothing like lucky socks or anything like that. Just a very low-key warm up. My coach is very superstitious though. He is known to wear the same clothes or always stand in the same spot in a stadium. He did that last year at the World Championships in Beijing. It worked out pretty well I guess. (She won the silver medal)
SOD: Looking back, what advice would you have for your younger self?
MB: I have learned from everything that has happened in my life. Although I can’t say there has been a particular mistake that shaped me, when I was injured last year, I got really down. Looking back, I would tell myself to just trust the process. At the time I didn’t realize that it was meant to be, that my body really needed the break. I just needed to put trust in the work and training that I had done for the past nine years with my coach, because that is what got me through. My advice is to take all the highs and lows as they come. The lows may seem awful in the moment, but when you look back on them you will see that there is a huge learning experience in them and nine times out of 10 they are for the better. ,
SOD: With the recent Court of Arbitration for Sport decision to not disqualify athletes from competition based on their testosterone levels, which has allowed numerous intersex athletes, including superstar Castor Semenya, to compete with you in the 800 meters, you have dropped from being the fastest in the world to #4 in the world. What is your take on intersex athletes being allowed to compete in the Games and how do you feel it impacts your shot at a medal?
MB: You know what, when I am on the track, I’m not worried about who else is on the track with me. I am in my lane focusing on what I can do and what I can control. I’m not focusing on anyone outside of myself. With all the different scenarios and controversy going on right now, you just have to ignore it. I don’t have the brain space to take it on right now. I am just so focused on what I want to do. I know there are now three people who going into the competition have faster times than me, but I think I can run whatever time I need to get on the podium in Rio, no matter who I am competing against. We train to be the best that we can be, and I don’t want to set limits on myself — that isn’t fair to my coach, who has put in so much work to get me where I am today. The sky is the limit at this point. Why not?
SOD: What has it been like to be the face of many of Nike’s recent marketing campaigns?
MB: I think it is really cool. I am really grateful to be with a company that supports me wholeheartedly, and I know that Nike believes in me. I feel really lucky that I can be on a billboard for them along with so many other talented athletes. It was certainly an opportunity that I didn’t know existed when I signed with them, so it has definitely been above and beyond what I knew would happen. But I love it. It is so much fun to work with Nike.
SOD: Are you worried about the heat and humidity Rio’s heat and humidity?
MB: Actually, the weather seems very changeable in Rio — some days you have to be all bundled up in long sleeves and pants, so I think that the heat might actually be less of a problem than everyone has been talking about.
SOD: How do you feel going in to the Games? What are your goals?
MB: I feel pretty good about my fitness going into the Olympics. I just have to keep things simple, and keep my focus. I think I am on the right path right now. I think if I can make that final and be my best possible athlete on that day — have my mind and body come together as one — I think it will be really good.
SOD: When you aren’t competing, do you plan to do any sightseeing while in Rio?
MB: I would like to sightsee, see the beaches, see the Christ The Redeemer statue, do the regular touristy stuff. We don’t get a lot of time to get touristy stuff on the track circuit in Europe. It is mainly just travel, rest, and race, and then go back home.
SOD: Do you plan to watch any other events besides track?
MB: I am always one for swimming. I would like to see the beach volleyball. I think I will just try to get out and see as much as I can.
SOD: Are you undefeated this year?
MB: Hmm…. I think I am undefeated this year…. I can’t remember the earlier races right now, but the last few races yes (said with a humble smile.)