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Canada's Arop sets forth into Olympic year following historic 2023 season

Marco Arop Marco Arop - The Canadian Press

Marco Arop catapulted himself to new heights, and just in time heading into an Olympic year.

The towering six-foot-four 800-metre runner from Edmonton became the first Canadian to win world championship gold in the event in August. He followed it up with back-to-back personal-best performances, including setting a new national record last Sunday.

Arop ran one minute 42.85 seconds in a second-place effort at the Diamond League final to beat Windsor, Ont.'s Brandon McBride's mark of 1:43.20 from 2018. Arop's previous personal best was 1:43.24 on Sept. 2, which he ran while feeling under the weather.

"I think it went amazing in terms of doing things I've never done before or that just haven't been done," Arop said of his season. "Being the first Canadian 800-metre gold medallist, that's something that I'll remember for the rest of my life and, … national record holder.

"This season has been my greatest so far."

However, he isn't shocked by his success. It's something he expected.

"I'm not surprised by it," the 25-year-old Arop said. "I set these goals early in my career and I set the expectation so I feel like, these were milestones I was gonna hit along the way at some point or another and I'm just glad to see that they are happening.

"We dream big and we set our goals pretty far but once we accomplish them, I think it's just reassurance and reinforcing these thoughts that dreams can never be too big."

With all he accomplished in 2023, there is plenty of momentum looking ahead to the Paris 2024 Olympics. As long as he remains healthy, Arop is confident he'll have a great 2024 season.

"There's a lot of momentum going into next year," Arop said. "I think just coming out with a gold medal at the world championships, that would be huge on its own. But knowing that next year is gonna be a bigger year in terms of the Olympics.

"The level of competition will still be the same, so nothing will change in that sense. But the fact that I'm in the best shape of my life now and going into, possibly, the most important season in my career, I think the momentum has been great."

It wasn't always like this for Arop.

He only began training in the sport seven years ago. His first outdoor worlds in Doha, Qatar in 2019 saw him finish seventh.

Two years later at the Tokyo Olympics, he failed to even qualify for the final.

Those memories provide motivation for Arop, who says he researches when 800 runners of the past have peaked and how they progressed compared to himself.

"The goal for me is not necessarily to have one great season or just become a world champion once, I wanna be able to do this for an extended period of time," he said. "Getting to the top was one thing but now staying at the top will be another challenge in itself.

"That's where my mindset is … I'm getting into the best years of my career and I hope that I could just sustain it for multiple years, multiple Olympics and world championships. Just trying to gradually get better and better every year."

Arop turned it around in 2022, becoming the second Canadian to medal at worlds in the men's 800 with a bronze. Gary Reed grabbed silver in 2007.

With a list of things he looks to work on, and plans to begin his off-season training next week, Arop maintains that it's progression he chases more than accolades.

However, his eyes are still set on earning multiple championships, including gold in Paris.

"That's always the goal," he said. "I think a perfect season would be winning every race, breaking every record, so that's always gonna be the goal at the top of my list.

"I'll probably write that down in January, have Olympic champion, continental record, world record. That's something that I'll be chasing.

"I know winning the Olympics is not gonna be what defines me, I think just being better than I was the last time, that's really what I'm looking forward to. But yeah, the goal is always gonna be to win."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.