Put yourself in the racing spikes of Chantelle Groenewoud and Jessica Furlan.
You’re 23 or 24 years old, representing your country on the world stage at the Kazan 2013 FISU Summer Universiade. Your event – the 3,000 metre steeplechase – is a grueling test of even the fittest athletes. You’ve put in all the mental and physical training to put you in this spot.
In front of the crowd in Russia, you put in your absolute best possible performance. You finish just off the podium, 4th and 5th place, with one of your best friends and you feel proud. Satisfied.
Usually, that’s where the story ends. You go back to school, your training, World Championship and Olympic aspirations, and you carry a happy memory of putting it all on the line and coming through with a good result.
Then the story has a second chapter.
In July 2018, you’re told that a doping infraction by one of the athletes on the podium means that Groenewoud is awarded the bronze medal and Furlan is moved up to 4th place.
A victory for clean sport. A precious medal for a deserving competitor.
But you’re still not ready for Chapter Three.
This week, U SPORTS announced Groenewoud and Furlan had been upgraded to gold and silver after the original medallists in the event had also been disqualified, now more than seven years after that great race in Russia.
“It’s a bittersweet emotion for me. There’s no one else I’d rather share a podium with than Jessica,” said Groenewoud, the newly-minted gold medallist. “Part of it is never getting that experience when you’re on the podium and your national anthem is playing, or you’re in the race and you’re realizing that ‘Wow! I’m going to win gold or silver!’”
“We were happy with our result that day, and finishing fourth and fifth was exciting,” said Furlan, the proud new owner of a silver medal. “It’s weird because you see and hear about people getting upgraded. We assumed that, at some point in our careers we weren’t competing on an even playing field.”
Not only a dramatic turn of events, but the result also represents Canadian athletics history. Groenewoud and Furlan are now the first Canadian teammates to share the top two steps of the podium at a FISU athletics event.
No one competes alone. Every athlete who steps up to a starting line does so with the support of countless people. On this unexpected occasion where they will soon receive medals from an event seven years ago, the podium pair expressed gratitude for those who helped them along the way.
“My teammates were hugely impactful in getting me there – Jessica being one of them, naturally. Andrea Seccafien, Gen Lalonde – I had a great group of girls to be running with and they all helped me step up,” Groenewoud said. “And no matter what, my family has always been my biggest fans and I’m very thankful for the huge support, allowing me to travel to these races all over the world.”
“I have to give a lot of credit to my university coach: Dave Harris at the University of Nebraska. He really worked with me and helped me train toward my goals,” she said. “My high school and club coach would coach me in the summer, Larry Longmore. He is like family to me. My family is also hugely supportive. I don’t think that all athletes are as lucky to have family members who fully understand their kid’s sport.”
With so much time passed since that fateful day on the track in Kazan, so much has changed for Groenewoud and Furlan.
Furlan suffered a foot injury in 2015 that hampered her bid to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016. With an even longer runway to the Games in Tokyo next summer, she has her sights set squarely on earning that Olympic spot.
“There’s been a lot of ups and downs and making the Olympic Team this year would be amazing,” she said. “I continue to pursue this sport because I know I haven’t achieved the greatest performances that I have in me. That’s what I’m continually chasing. If I can achieve that, I know I can make the Olympic Team.”
Groenewoud, meanwhile, has retired from competitive racing and is expecting the birth of her first child soon. Her running focus has shifted from the competitive track to recreational road running. With time comes perspective about the nature of competition and what drives her.
“I am now very aware that why I do this sport is because I love it. I am so passionate about running,” Groenewoud said. “For any younger generations coming behind Jess and I, I think you have to constantly check in with yourself. Why do I do this? I don’t do it for the gold medal opportunities. It’s just because it brings me so much joy. It’s brought me some of my best friends that I have, to this day. My why was how much joy and satisfaction this sport has brought me.”
While these two Canadian athletes missed out on their moment atop the podium in 2013, they have finally received their recognition as champions.