Ali-Khan runs to world stage

Ali-Khan runs to world stage Mar 26, 03 

By MICHAEL PIASETZKI, The Chronicle

Baie d'Urfé resident Sarah Ali-Khan, who like a fine wine seems to be improving with age, continues her development as an elite track and field athlete this week.

For the first time in her burgeoning career, the 29-year-old Ali-Khan leaves the national scene and climbs on to the international stage. She will represent Canada at the world cross-country championships in Lausanne, Switzerland on Friday and Saturday.

She will run in the eight-kilometre long-course event.

The fact Ali-Khan was even named to the national team caps one of the most incredible track and field stories to hit local circles in quite some time. Born in Canada but raised in New Zealand, she only began running seriously for the McGill Martlets when she returned to Canada to begin a PhD in pharmacology in 1997. Before that, she considered herself nothing more than a recreational runner who would go out with her father and uncle.

At the age of 29, Sarah Ali-Khan, seen here at her Baie d'Urfé home posing with the many medals she has won as a McGill track star, seems to be defying the aging process. She is improving as she gets older. (Chronicle, Peter McCabe)

"It's all very exciting, I can't wait," said Ali-Khan. "I will be competing against many amazing runners, so I will have to step up to the plate and see what I can do. I don't really know how I will do because the standards will be really high. As such, it will be more of a learning experience for me. My goal is to be the first Canadian to cross the finish line in my race. That would be a realistic target to go for. But it will still be great for me to be in a training camp with all these other great Canadian runners."

Ali-Khan enters the world championships off a spectacular five-year track and field career with the Martlets. It was one that saw her bloom from a raw rookie to a three-time Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) track and field Athlete of the Year. She was also named a five-time track and field and a four-time cross-country all-Canadian.

Her most recent accomplishments came at the CIS track and field championships. Held from Mar. 13-16 in Windsor, Ont., she won gold in the 600- 1,000- and 1,500-metre races. Because of that, she was named CIS female Athlete of the Week - along with Jessica Zelinka of the University of Calgary Dinosaurs - for the fourth time in her illustrious university career.

"I have to believe that as far as this year was concerned, experience played a big part in my success," said Ali-Khan. "Being a fifth-year athlete was a big help. But now my focus will change. Racing internationally will also give me a lot of confidence. It will pave the way for me to only get better."

That improvement will take her on a different path next year, though. She will not be eligible to compete in track and field for the Martlets, despite the fact she plans to return to McGill to complete her degree.

Instead, she will run for the McGill Olympic Track and Field Club. But, she said, she has no intention of parting ways with either her head coach with the Martlets, Dennis Barrett, or her former teammates, whom she said must remain a constant in her life as a support group.

"I will continue working with Sarah at McGill Olympic," said Barrett.

"Her biggest adjustment now will be leaving the university ranks and entering the more elite open category. But, I feel if she sticks with it, she will do fine. She knows there are women in Canada who are now faster than her. To see where she falls against the rest of the world could spur her on to bigger and better things. Her future in track and field is still wide open. Let's leave it at that," he added.