For just the third time in over 100 years, Canada won a medal in the men’s 4×100-metre relay event at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Akeem Haynes, Aaron Brown, Brendon Rodney, and Andre De Grasse earned their bronze medals by clocking a time of 37.64 seconds in the final.
But there was a fifth member of the team that played a major role in Canada’s feat: Mobolade Ajomale.
2016 Olympic trials
Coming into the 2016 Olympic trials in July, no one gave the London, England native much of a shot of making Canada’s relay team.
“What I remember most is being told that I wasn’t going to make the team,” said Ajomale at an Athletics Canada event at Toronto’s City Hall, in June.
“Coming into the trials I was probably ranked ninth so I wasn’t even supposed to make the finals.
However, the five-foot-eleven Canuck had made up his mind a long time ago.
“I decided in 2012 that I wanted to be on the 2016 Olympic team.”
In the semifinal heat, Ajomale ran the 100 metres in a personal best time of 10.15 seconds to advance to the finals.
After finishing fourth in the finals with a time of 10.23 seconds, Ajomale was anxious. He didn’t know whether or not he’d done enough to be selected to Canada’s Olympic relay squad.
He was receiving massage treatment when the team’s coach, Glenroy Gilbert, approached him.
“As I was getting treatment, Glenroy came up to me was said, ‘Hey, have you signed your relay forms?’”
Ajomale knew what this meant. He was going to Rio as part of Canada’s 4×100 relay team.
He had made it.
“I just started crying. I was in tears. I couldn’t believe it.”
The lead-up to the Games
Gilbert took the men’s relay team to London a few weeks before the Olympics were slated to begin. He’d witnessed Ajomale’s speed at the Olympic trials in Edmonton. But he still needed to see more from the Richmond Hill resident.
“I put him (Ajomale) to run the back stretch which is the second leg on the relay,” said Gilbert. “This is one of the most technical legs because you have to take and pass the stick with your left hand.”
Ajomale did not disappoint.
“He performed magnificently,” said Gilbert. “His skill, his poise, speed, everything was on point.”
“From that moment forward I knew this kid was going to be a very integral part of any relay team that we have.”
The Olympic Games
Ajomale was selected to run anchor at the Games, meaning that he’d be the final sprinter on the relay team. He’d grown accustomed to running the second leg of the relay, which had given him plenty of practice with respect to receiving the baton.
“The only difference (with running anchor) was I wasn’t passing it (the baton) off to anybody else,” said Ajomale. “This made my job easier. I love running anchor.”
Gilbert was confident that Ajomale would be able to handle the pressure of being the team’s final runner.
“Because of what he did in London, I was very confident that if I put him on the end of the relay, he would do an amazing job.”
In the semifinal heat, Ajomale anchored team Canada to a time of 37.89. It was the second fastest relay time in Canadian history, and more than enough to help the team qualify for the finals.
Andre De Grasse took Ajomale’s place as Canada’s anchor in the finals. Being relegated to the sidelines did not ease the tension that Ajomale felt.
“Watching that race in the final from the training area, I was just as nervous.
“It was as if I was in the stadium myself, because we had worked together the entire time. We had put our sweat and tears into getting to that one moment.”
In the finals, De Grasse received the baton from Brendon Rodney well behind the front of the pack. He was able make up a lot of ground, coming very close to a third place finish. Unfortunately, De Grasse was unable to catch USA’s Trayvon Bromell. Canada finished fourth, just two one hundredths of a second behind the American squad.
“I was upset,” said Ajomale. “I started to gather my bags to go and meet up with the guys, and just congratulate them anyways.”
But news would soon circulate that team USA had conducted an illegal baton exchange and were disqualified. As a result, Canada had won Bronze.
Ajomale reacted just as he had six weeks earlier when he’d been told he made the team.
“I just started crying. I was like, ‘Oh my god, we won an Olympic medal.’ I started to tear.”