Five months from the Paris Olympics, reigning world champion Marco Arop is “feeling as healthy as ever” while continuing to set Canadian records.
He ran to a pair of national marks in the span of a week to open his indoor season in the 800 metres and 1,000, finishing 54-100ths of a season shy of the world record in the latter event.
“The one thing that stood out in both [races] was how comfortable I felt from the start to finish,” the Edmonton native said last week from Starkville, Miss., where he lives and trains.
On Jan. 27, Arop lowered his Canadian record in the 800 to one minute 45.50 seconds to win at the Razorback Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark. He also prevailed in the 1,000 at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, clocking 2:14.74 to top Nate Brannen’s 2:16.87 run from 2014 and narrowly missed the 2:14.20 world record of Ayanleh Souleiman that has stood since Feb. 17, 2016.
“I wasn’t necessarily chasing a time goal in the 800, and I felt I had a lot more left in the tank [at the end],” Arop said. “Running the 1K I was able to walk off [the track] not in so much pain. I did make a few errors in pace judgment … but overall, I was happy.”
Unfortunately, track fans won’t get to see Arop take another shot at the world mark this year as he and coach Chris Woods agreed to shut down the indoor season after the New Balance race in Boston.
“I want a couple of months of solid training before opening outdoors. I wasn’t planning on chasing any times or records indoors,” said Arop, adding he will transition to hill work and increasing his mileage in training. “The main goal remains the Olympic Games and winning a medal there.”
WATCH | Arop captures world championship gold in men’s 800m:
In an interview with CBC Sports, the 25-year-old discussed what he wanted to achieve in the indoor season, why he isn’t competing at the March 1-3 World Athletics Indoor Championships and how working on speed training this year could pave the way to an Olympic medal.
CBC Sports: What did you want to accomplish in your abbreviated indoor campaign?
Marco Arop: [I’ve] trained [since October] and it’s hard to get a gauge where I’m at physically and my potential in a race. These indoor short track races help as a time trial and are a good measurement of my fitness.
In the 800, I wanted to close a bit faster the last 200. It’s maybe a little sharpness that wasn’t there. In the 1K, I might have fallen asleep in the middle of the race and lost a half-second between [the] 400 and 600m mark. The last 100 metres was about 14 seconds and I want to be able to close faster. That’s training and making sure we’re covering every aspect.
CBC Sports: What factored in your decision to skip indoor worlds next month in Glasgow?
MA: It wasn’t in the plans from the beginning of the year. [In 2022 in Serbia] it was a great experience and I thought it was something I wanted, but in hindsight I think that experience would have been better if I traded it for quality training going into the outdoor season.
It wasn’t necessarily the competition but more the travel and missing that many days of training. Getting back from world indoors I got sick and missed a few weeks of training. In an Olympic year, I have bigger goals for the outdoor season and that means we have to be mindful what we’re doing early [in the year].
WATCH | Arop chasing greatness:
CBC Sports: In what event and where might you open the outdoor season?
MA: Last year we opened [in the 1,500] at the Florida Relays. I might end up doing the same [on March 30]. Or maybe do a 1,500 here [in Starkville, Miss.] and do a 400 at the Florida Relays. One or the other.
CBC Sports: Last year you had hamstring problems while making the transition to the outdoor season. Is adding speed work to your training in 2024 the final piece to reach the Olympic podium?
MA: That’s the hope and plan. If we cover the different aspects of training, we’ll be where we need to come the peak of the season. As long as I’m healthy we can accomplish all of these [goals].
I’m excited to get to Paris, put on a show and do it the right way this time [after placing 14th at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics].
WATCH | Arop, and the gift of running:
CBC Sports: Besides closing better in races, what are your top priorities in the coming months?
MA: Race sharpness, in terms of tactics. Making sure I’m able to stay efficient in my energy distribution, especially when it comes to rounds. I think I did a great job last year going through the [heats, semifinals and final] at worlds conserving as much energy as possible.
CBC Sports: How do you want to attack racing, tactically, this year?
MA: The faster you are, the more you’re able to get away with and the more options you have in a race. If you go out too slow [from the start line] you might have the strength or speed to close faster. If you go out too fast, you’re probably going to be able to hold on better than most of the field. So, being stronger and faster in the 800 will help a lot.
I want to be able to approach any race any way I want, whether it’s going in the front, middle or back [of the pack]. I think I’ve got to the point where I’m comfortable racing in these ways. Now I have to fine-tune and make sure I’m ready for any scenario.
WATCH | Arop’s Canadian-record 800m run at 2023 Diamond League Final: