Canadian track stars prepare for World Relays with Paris Olympics on the line

Athletics Canada head coach Glenroy Gilbert, right, confers with Andre De Grasse, centre and other runners Friday at the World Athletics relay championships in the Bahamas. (Devin Heroux/CBC - image credit)
Athletics Canada head coach Glenroy Gilbert, right, confers with Andre De Grasse, centre and other runners Friday at the World Athletics relay championships in the Bahamas. (Devin Heroux/CBC - image credit)

With the sun beating down on the infield on a sweltering Friday morning in Nassau, The Bahamas, Canadian head coach Glenroy Gilbert provided an impassioned speech to the Canadian sprinters ahead of the World Athletics Relays.

"Don't sleep on this opportunity because this is one you're not going to get back," said Gilbert, who helped win gold for Canada in the men's 4x100-metre relay at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Twenty-seven Canadians have made their way to the island city to compete in the two-day international competition that serves as the Olympic qualifying event for relays. The event will be streamed live on and CBC Gem starting at 6:55 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday night.

"This is special. I love relays and so being able to be here to make sure we can guide these athletes to the Olympics is a really good feeling," Gilbert said.

On Saturday night, Canadians will take to the track inside Thomas A. Robinson Stadium to compete in the women's and men's 4x100m, the women's and men's 4x400m  and the mixed 4x400m.

There are two chances to qualify for Paris 2024. On opening night, the teams that finish top-two in each heat will qualify for the Olympics. Those teams will also advance to Sunday night's final to compete for medals, prize money and Olympic lane seeding. Should teams fail to qualify on Saturday, they get one last chance on Sunday in the repechage round.

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The Canadians took to the track for a final training session on Friday morning, trying to find timing and chemistry ahead of the event.

Six-time Olympic medallist Canadian track star Andre De Grasse has reunited with Aaron Brown, Jerome Blake and Brendon Rodney to compete in the men's 4x100m team. The quartet won gold at the world championships two years ago in Eugene, Ore.

De Grasse, Brown and Rodney have been part of the same relay team since 2015 when they won bronze at the world championships. De Grasse says experience and trust will play a key role this weekend.

"We know what it takes to get on the podium. We know each other. We're friends off the track. And we can be honest with each other. Communication is obviously key," De Grasse said. "It would be great to make a statement here. Anytime I get a chance to team up with the guys is always a great feeling.

"If we're going to contend for gold at the Olympics it starts here."

WATCH: Canada's teams focused on Olympic qualification:

Intrigue abounds around the Canadian men's 4x400m team. Ahead of the event Gilbert wasn't too sure what the team was going to look like, considering a large part of the team consists of NCAA runners.

But Gilbert has his dream team in Nassau, led by 19-year-old U of Georgia sophomore Christopher Morales Williams.

Morales Williams posted the fastest 400m indoor time ever in March and is brimming with confidence coming into the event. He'll be making his senior team debut at the World Relays.

"It's been exciting and I get to run for Team Canada now. The odds are really good this year and the best they've ever been," Morales Williams said. "We have guys running really fast, like four guys running really fast."

Not since 1992 has Canada qualified a men's 4x400m at the Olympics and the national record set in 1976 still stands. It's been a long time that Canada has had four talented runners all show up at the same event.

WATCH | Will stars align for Canada at relay championships?

How the lineup looks, however, remains to be determined. During training session Friday, Morales Williams was running third. Jalon White, who runs for McNeese State, was leading the relay, Marco Arop, world champion in the 800m was running second, and UCLA's Myles Misener-Daly ran the anchor.

"I know people were worried if I was going to be able to come to this meet from Georgia but luckily I'm here," Morales Williams said. "And we're all here. It's perfect that this is all happening right now during an Olympic year when it matters most. I feel like it's like fate that we all came together at the same time."

There's a good chance that'll be the same lineup on Saturday, but Gilbert would not confirm anything at this point.

"We're keeping our cards as close to our chest as possible," he said. "We're going to put our best athletes out there based on how they've tracked to this point and leave it to them to get it done. The messaging will be clear, this is our focus and the gravity of this should be clear to everyone."

Arop said despite keeping the 800m his focus and building toward the Olympics, he built this event into his schedule, wanting to be part of a team that qualifies for Paris.

"It's going to be one of those experiences, if everything goes right, it'll be like that one night at the world championships," Marco said, referring to last year's worlds in Budapest when Canada won four medals in an hour. "It's history in the making is what I'd call it."

On the women's side, Audrey Leduc is into the 4x100m relay team after breaking the 100m national record just a couple of weeks ago.

"We're just getting more confidence and we'll go on the track [Saturday] and deliver. I'm feeling pretty confident. We have a great team. And with my times I can deliver a good leg," Leduc said. "I don't feel the pressure. We just have to go do what we've done later. Be fast and maybe even faster than what we've been before."

Crystal Emmanuel will also make up part of that 4x100m women's team. She has the most experience out of any of the sprinters on the team. Canada missed out on qualifying in the event at the Tokyo Games, something Emmanuel wants to change this time around.

"Teamwork. Confidence. And patience," she said. "It would mean the world to me to qualify because I have been behind the women's 4x100m team from day one. To bring these ladies to the Olympics, would be amazing. And letting Canada know we have ladies in the 4x100."

Not since 1988 has Canada had a full slate of relay teams at the Olympics. The mixed 4x400m relay was added to the program at the last Olympics and will also be part of the program in Paris.

Gilbert says the goal is very clear – to make history and qualify in all five events.

"I'm a cautious guy by nature but we have all the talent here. We have an opportunity here," he said. "It's a strong team that will contest for the Olympics. We have a job to do and know what we need to do."