Despite Millrose setback, Cam Levins looks ahead to a breakthrough 2015 outdoors
By Sabrina Yohannes
A fortnight after a brilliant double victory at the New York Armory Track Invitational, Canada’s Cam Levins was favored to win the NYRR Millrose Games 5000m on the same indoor track, but faded to sixth place. Some time after that race, the Commonwealth Games medalist Levins was leaning on a barrier near the Armory track, periodically turning to cough into his elbow.
“I got ill a week ago,” Levins said in an interview a few moments later. “I thought I was OK. Maybe I wasn’t, but I gave my best effort out there and those guys ran great.”
Levins had begun the February 14 Millrose 5000m conservatively, before moving up and then chasing Sam Chelanga’s sudden burst of speed with three laps to go, but it was the U.S. Olympian Lopez Lomong who took the victory in 13:27.60, ahead of Levins’ Oregon-based training partner Suguru Osako and Chelanga. The always humble Levins was quick to add, “There’s no guarantee I would have been able to win, anyway.”
Going into the race, Levins had wondered about the possible effect of having been ill. “I thought it might be an issue,” he said. “I’d hoped I’d gotten over the hill with it. Obviously not.” He ran 13:33.35, well off his 13:19.16 best.
Levins had planned to subsequently contest both the 800m and 1500m – seeking to challenge himself at the shorter and more competitive distances — at the Canadian national indoor championships February 20-22 in Montreal, but he said after Millrose that he may have to change those plans.
“We’ll see how I’m feeling over the next couple of days,” he said on February 14. “I may have to pull out.” As of February 19, posted lists of confirmed entries at the Canadian Indoor Open do not include Levins in either event.
Outdoor Medal Hopes
The Canadian double was to have been Levins’ second such attempt this indoor season, his first having gone spectacularly well; and he harbors hopes of possibly pulling off another major double performance in 2015, this time outdoors.
At the January 31 Armory Track Invitational, Levins took the indoor mile in a 3:54.74 personal record, clocking a 3:39.75 best for 1500m along the way. Half an hour later, Levins returned to win the two-mile race in 8:15.38, defeating his celebrated training partner and the U.S.’s Olympic 10,000m silver medalist Galen Rupp in the process.
“I feel the strongest and fittest I ever have,” Levins said after his second win.
Japan’s Osako was second in 8:16.47, while Rupp took fourth. The three men belong to the Nike Oregon Project and train under the former three-time New York marathon champion Alberto Salazar, as does the Somali-born Olympic and world champion Mo Farah of Great Britain.
“It’s taken a little bit of adjustment time, but I really think I’m starting to thrive under what Alberto’s doing,” said Levins, who joined the Portland-based training group in 2013. “We’ve done a lot of form work with me, and some of the cues he’s given me really helped me stay strong throughout the race and relax and never really tighten up.”
“He’s worked very hard,” Salazar said in a brief interview at the Armory Track and Field Center after Levins’ double. “I thought he’d run very well. I didn’t know necessarily that he’d win the second race, but I knew he could be competitive.”
Salazar took Rupp’s defeat in stride, saying, “He’s had some problems this winter.” Rupp’s management team released a statement some days later, in which Rupp spoke of having been hampered for a few weeks by what turned out to be a virus.
It was on the backstretch of the two-mile bell lap that Levins pulled past Rupp to complete the Armory double victory, an achievement with which he was elated. “I’ve doubled before,” he said. “In college, I’ve even quadrupled. I’ve done some pretty big ones, but this is definitely my biggest double. I would say probably my biggest win in my career, frankly.”
“He’s just taking off now,” said Salazar. “He’s going to be competitive at every level this year.”
Levins was the Canadian cross country champion from 2010 through 2012. While in college in the U.S. at Southern Utah University, he defeated the likes of Lawi Lalang, Stephen Sambu and Chris Derrick to win the 5000m and 10,000m at the 2012 NCAA championships, a feat previously accomplished in 2009 by Rupp.
“In college, at our conference championships,” Levins began, laughing at the recollection, “it’s about getting a lot of points, so I would quadruple in the 800m, the mile, the 3K and the 5K!”
He triumphed in all four events at the Summit League indoor track championships in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 2012, contesting the 800m heats and the final of the 3000m (which he won in 8:19.29) on one day. The following day, he won the finals of the 800m (1:50.81), mile (4:10.26) and 5000m (14:35.15).
Levins, who has outdoor long distance track bests of 13:15.19 and 27:27.96, finished outside the top ten at the 2012 London Olympic 5000 and 10,000 as well as the 2013 world championships 10,000.
But last summer, he kicked on the final lap and took the lead in the Commonwealth Games 10,000m in Glasgow and was only run down in the final meters by Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro and Kenya’s Josphat Kipkoech Bett, behind whom he took bronze.
Levins’ chief goal for 2015 is contesting the same distance at the outdoor world championships in Beijing.
“10,000 is his best event,” said Salazar.
Levins said he toys with the idea of doubling up there too. “The primary focus is always the 10K right now, but, I mean, if the race goes well and I have a good 10,000, maybe I’ll do the 5000m as well,” he said.
He’s had plenty of close-range sources of inspiration in doubling. “A lot of my teammates,” he said. “I’m teammates with Mo Farah. I’ve watched him double at the world championships and the Olympics, and I mean, his accomplishments speak for themselves.” Farah swept the long distance track titles at both the 2012 and 2013 global championships.
“His accomplishments are still well beyond mine, so if I could even get near something like that one day, that’d be great,” said Levins.
The same athletes also top the list of 10,000m contenders Levins anticipates challenging in China.
“Predominantly my teammates, actually,” he said. “I mean, Galen and Mo are the big guys and I have no doubt there’s going to be – there’s always – athletes popping up from East Africa and it’s going to be competitive up front. It’s hard to know exactly who I’m going to be up against because, I mean, now those teams aren’t selected yet, but my training partners – if I stay close to them and train well with them, I’ll be looking to hopefully compete as well as them.”
Aside from podium finishes by Farah and Rupp, the men’s 10,000m medals at the last six global championships have gone to athletes from Ethiopia, Kenya and Eritrea.
Levins will be hoping he can deliver outdoors on the promise of his impressive feat indoors.
“Ultimately, everything we’re doing is still building towards world championships in August,” said Levins, who estimates he’ll start his outdoor racing schedule in May following a break.
Farah and Rupp gave their training group a pair of medals at the London Olympic 10,000m, and Levins dreams of climbing the podium with them in 2015 — an outcome that would provide the U.K., the U.S. and Canada with a medal each.
Asked if his ideal scenario of a podium sweep for the three training partners features “O, Canada” being played at the conclusion of the 10,000m, Levins laughed.
“Yes, of course!” he said, before adding with characteristic humility, “Of course, I want to be at the top of the podium, but I’m just lucky to be as competitive as I can when I get to there. Whether that means I’m behind them, or whatever it is, I just want to get the best place I can.”