Melissa Bishop provided Canadians with one of the most emotional moments of the Rio Olympics this past summer: In the bronze medal position down the stretch in the 800-metre race, the Canadian was overtaken with just steps to go, before crumbling to the track.
In Rio, the 28-year-old from Eganville, Ont., ran the fastest she has ever run. She broke the Canadian 800-m. record, with a time of 1:57.02. And yet, the 2015 world championship silver medallist is still not over that fourth-place finish.
Sportsnet caught up with Bishop in September to talk about her experience in Rio, her love of cookies, and the aggressive nature of the 800-m race.
Sportsnet: Have you watched your final race in Rio?
I’m still not over the fourth place and it’s really hard for me to watch. It’s still upsetting. Yes, I’m really proud of what I did. I ran a Canadian record and I absolutely ran the fastest that I could have on that day. And replaying the race over in my head, I don’t know what I would have done differently. But the day of the final I woke up and I’m like, “I worked for 10 years for this day and here I am.” And then it happened so quickly. For it not to work out in what you want? It’s really hard. It’s still really hard for me to watch. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.
Who did you watch the race with?
The girls I was rooming with in Rio: Lanni Marchant and Angela Whyte, who was at her third Olympic games. These are the girls, high-end roommates. The next morning we all shared some tears. They know how tough it was.
What was the feeling as you crossed the line?
It’s disappointing. Coming down that home stretch, I didn’t know that Margaret [Nyairera Wambui, from Kenya] was so close to me. For a moment I was like, “I’m in a medal position, I can do this.” And then to be so close to that line and have her pass me was immediately like a “eugh” came out of my mouth. I knew I couldn’t respond to her. I was maxed out. I had no other gear to give. And to cross that line and know it wasn’t what I wanted, I don’t know if I can explain the emotion. It’s heartbreak. It’s complete and utter heartbreak. I can’t believe it just happened. Was I really that close to an Olympic medal and I just missed it? [Bishop tears up.]
I hear you had a month off after the Games and you did no exercise?
Actually no exercise. Except for Nike running club.
Did you eat whatever you wanted?
Yes. Burgers, full-fat cream cheese, bacon, mimosas.
What’s your diet like when it’s regimented?
I don’t know if clean is the right word, but I kind take out all the junk, all the crap. I have a sweet tooth and I love chips. Sweet and salty are my weaknesses, so it’s really hard, the transition is difficult. You make that transition around April. I know where I can cheat up until then, but after April it’s pretty strict. I still have carbs—I eat pasta, I eat bread.
What do you do when you get a craving but you’re days away from a big race?
I have a cookie.
That’s the only correct answer. Thank you.
Yes, we’re all human! My nutritionist basically said, “I don’t expect you to be super strict and count calories.” If I have a craving for a cookie, I’m just gonna have a cookie and get it over with. I keep dark chocolate in the house. That usually curbs the craving quite quickly. I’m not a fan but it helps. I’m a dessert person. I have dessert after lunch and dinner. It happens. But in the season that’s a no-no. I can’t do it every night, so sometimes a piece of dark chocolate does the trick. It’s sweetness but it’s so disgusting that one is enough.
You won’t slam the whole bar?
No. I promise.
At what point when you were a kid did you realize you were fast?
I used to play soccer, that’s how I knew I could run. I would outrun the boys, outrun the ball on the field. I had a lot of success at home in the small community, like in the county. I didn’t know if that was going to translate in bigger places, but I had Olympic dreams right from the get-go.
When did you focus solely on track?
I was multisport for a very long time. It wasn’t until the middle of grade 12. My goal was a scholarship in the States, so I was playing hockey competitively at the same time and running track and still playing high school sports as well. My parents just said, “You need to make a decision here.” I chose track.
Running is so painful. Why did you choose it?
I loved it and I did have success. I had some friends who’d previously gone to the States on scholarship and they’d done really well. That’s what I was aspiring to do is go on a full ride, and it didn’t end up working out. I got injured and everybody stopped calling. But it turned out to be the best thing for me. I went to a Canadian school. I met my coach there. I’m still with my coach. I developed that support system in Windsor. It’s my second home now.
Would you describe the 800-m. as an aggressive race?
It can be. All of us are in one lane, it gets tight. Sometimes you need to give a little shove. You need to be strong, especially at the cut-in. We all want to come into one lane, you have to hold your ground or you’re just gonna get pushed to the back of the pack. It took me forever to learn that. Like in 2012 I was just like, “Oh, go ahead.” And now it’s like, “No, dude, you cannot come in my space!” It’s learning to be aggressive. I wasn’t super aggressive as a hockey player but I was always one to get in and get to the puck first. I think it’s kind of translating over to my running career, having that little bit of toughness.
The last 100 metres of your race, what’s that feeling like? What’s going through your mind?
The mind is focusing on form, because the last 100 metres, everybody’s sprinting so fast. If you break form just a touch, everything falls apart. So when Margaret passed me in that last bit, my focus was still on keeping my form strong because the second I try and move forward or something and my core breaks, I lose momentum and I would fall apart. We’re just so full of lactic acid. In my mind, this is how it feels: like you have bricks everywhere. You feel like you can’t even move your arms, you’re moving them slo-mo.
It’s like you have bands behind you and people are pulling back on you. That’s what it feels like in the last 100. I think I’m just telling myself, “Relax and pump your arms.” Keep myself moving forward. As fast as I can go with all these people pulling on you. That’s what it feels like.
You chose this. Remember?
I did. I could have stuck with hockey…
What Harrison Browne gives up to be the only man in women's hockey
Growing up, hockey was the one place where Harrison Browne, who was born female, truly felt like himself. But if he wants to keep playing, he has to wait to become who he really is.