You get knocked down, you get up again – it’s a familiar refrain.
But it’s not every day that you get knocked down in the middle of a long-distance championship race, get up again, and manage to not only regain your position but pull ahead to finish first.
And yet that’s exactly what happened to Grade 10 student Tyler Dozzi at provincial track and field championships in Langley earlier this month.
The national bronze-medalist became Caledonia’s first track and field athlete to bring home not one, but two gold medals from the provincial meet, placing first in the Jr. Boys 1500 and 3000 m races. Last year, he finished top 10 in the standings at provincials in those same races – second out of the Grade 9’s in the Jr. Boys category, with the majority of his competitors being in Grade 10 – so he knew this year he had a shot at the podium.
“I knew I would be going for gold this year,” said Dozzi.
Without a proper track in Terrace (“It’s asphalt, it’ll ruin your knees”), he trained with coach Neal Curry in Smithers and on his own. While he broke two northwest records at zones this year, he wasn’t sure how fast he’d run at provincials. “I do much better when I race against people faster than me,” he said.
But having raced in provincial and national meets, he knew who his competition was – and, as expected, in both races the final stretch was a battle between Dozzi and Jack Stanley from Oak Bay Secondary.
Dozzi’s approach to both races was strategic – stay near the front of the pack for the majority of the race, break away with the leaders, and then pull ahead in a sprint finish with a few hundred metres to go.
“I didn’t know how fast he was but I knew that when I raced him last year I had a faster sprint finish, so that’s what I was going to try to do to beat him,” he said. “And it worked.” He clocked a personal best of 4:04, beating Stanley by three seconds.
While that strategy worked for the 1500 m race, his attempt do to the same in the 3000 m was nearly thwarted. After spending the beginning of the crowded race boxed-in in the inside lane, he began making moves towards the front of the pack. But two-and-a-half laps in “there was a bit of a pileup.”
Dozzi was knocked to the ground and stepped on.
“I hit the ground hard enough to do a full roll over my shoulder,” he said, noting that the adrenaline stopped him from noticing his leg was bleeding.
He picked himself up, realizing he was now about fourth from last.
“So I tried to regain my spot,” he said. “Within one lap I was back into about third place … but it took a lot of energy, the getting back up, because you lose your momentum, just to catch up.”
The top three broke away from the group, and shortly thereafter the racer in second place began to slow down and Dozzi made a move past him – meaning it was he and Stanley, from the 1500 m, in first and second once again.
“He started to surge,” said Dozzi. “He picked up the speed with two laps to go because he knew that if he can’t beat me in the last lap sprinting he could probably tire me out too much to sprint with two laps to go.”
But Dozzi fought hard to keep up with that second last lap. “I almost slowed down from exhaustion with 600 m to go,” he said. “Just barely kept up with him.”
But as they entered the last lap, Dozzi dipped into the last of his untapped reserves and pulled ahead of Stanley.
“I often don’t hear when people yell to me during the races,” he said. But “I heard my coach from Smithers yelling at the side of the track to speed up with 250 m to go, so I did.
“I found out that I ended up beating him by seven seconds.”
He said he thinks his time of 8:59 was only impacted slightly by his fall.
“I think it might have only made a difference of a second – because I still would have caught up,” he said. “He didn’t change his pace when I fell, but it’s more a matter of how much energy I would have had at the end.”
He said he wasn’t feeling too great after the race – exhausted and overheated from racing on a hot, windy day – but that didn’t stop him from taking it all in.
“I got to go to the podium for a second time,” he said. “That was a really great experience.”
It’s fair to say this probably won’t be Dozzi’s last stand on a podium. A driven athlete and student, he has goals for the next several years of competition – attending provincial and national meets this summer to gear up for Grade 11 competition, the year that matters for making the high school national team – that cumulate in his earning a scholarship to a top track university like the University of Oregon.
“I’m thinking scholarships for sure,” he said. “It’s not so much will I, it’s where.”