Josh Cassidy pushes for the podium in the men's 5,000m T54 final on Sunday in Rio. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

Canada’s Cassidy makes push for it, falls short in 5,000 metres

Deep field shuffles racer to back of pack at Rio athletics

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Canada’s Josh Cassidy made a push in the 5,000 metres T54 final with three laps to go, but the other athletes pushed right back.

Cassidy, of Guelph, Ont., sprinted to the front of the pack with 1,200m to go, but shortly after began to fall off the pace in the remaining laps, finishing 10th.

Going for it was a tactic that he had planned from the start.

“I made the right choice there, by going to the front,” the 31-year-old said, after posting a 11:09.42. “I was further back and if the sprint happened I wanted to be up there and not pulling.

“As it went crazy, I just got pinched and went back, back, back to where I was before. My sprint even on a medium (soft) track like this isn’t the greatest so I tried to set myself up for the best position and that was it.”

Cassidy is striving for his first Paralympic medal the Rio Games and will have two more chances for it, racing in the 1,500m T54 heat on Monday and the 800m on Wednesday. The Guelph resident plans to stick to the same preparation.

“I think my prep was great today,” he said. “I had quite a bit of nerves in the semi which is unusual for me. As soon as it was done, completely relaxed, and I felt absolutely great with everything I’ve done so far.”

Rob Snoek, a former Canadian Paralympic athlete, describes the 5,000m racers as the best of the best among professional athletes. This sport is so competitive that even the world record holder, Marcel Hug, of Switzerland, is missing the Paralympic gold medal (finishing with a silver on Sunday).

“Our sport has become extremely elite,” Cassidy said. “It’s a different track, a different day, a different win. Everyday, you’ll never know the results. When it comes down to that final sprint, it’s just that close and just goes to show how tight it is out there.”

Canadian Paralympians suffer from the same financial struggles as Olympians and Cassidy is hoping more will be made available in the future.

“Funding is always an obstacle, this year funding was an obstacle personally,” he said. “The way everything is going, there’s a greater push towards medal counts. It’s squeezing people a little thin if you can’t guarantee a medal.

“There’s not very much funding for the athletes in my sport despite how elite it is because no one can guarantee a medal, so no one wants to invest. It makes things difficult and unless something is done about it, could be kind of sad.”

Twitter: @laurcascagnette