Nearly 30 years ago, Angela Bailey set the Canadian record for women in the 100m at 10.98 seconds. Khamica Bingham is taking aim at her record as she gets ready to race in Rio.
“That record has to go!” Khamica says emphatically. “It has to go!”
She’ll get her first opportunity at the Olympic Stadium as the women’s 100m event begins on Friday. While Khamica has run a wind-aided 11.0 seconds, she has never broken the 11-second barrier, a defining moment for elite female sprinters. Her personal best is 11.13 seconds, set during the Pan Am 100m final.
“Once you go under 11 seconds,” she says, “anything can happen at that point. So right now we’re looking through my race plan and figuring out my weaknesses and my strengths and how we can improve so that by the time Rio comes, I am at my fastest.”
In order to reach the podium or even just the finals in Rio, Khamica feels that she will have to run a sub-11 race. The slowest qualifying time for the finals in the 2012 Olympic Games in London was 11.01 seconds.
“That’s why I feel that record has to go,” she repeats. “It has to go! The sooner the better, especially in a year of the Olympics where it really matters, this is the year where everything has to come together.”
Earlier this year, however, Khamica experienced a significant setback when she suffered a knee injury in training. While she recovered in time to run at the Canadian trials in July, she finished with a time of 11.44 seconds, well off both the targeted Canadian record and behind even the Olympic qualifying standard.
Worse, she finished fourth, with Athletics Canada looking for a top-three finish to make the team. Initially, she was left off the 100m event and only named to the 4x100m relay, but she was subsequently added to the 100m and will race in Rio in the preliminaries on Friday.
“I had a cartilage tear in my knee and a fat pad impingement,” she says. “It took me out for about a month and a half of my training.” It also took away any possibility of competing in the 200m in Rio, as the turn on the curve would put even more stress on her knee.
If 2016 has been a rollercoaster for Khamica Bingham, it pales in comparison to 2015, when she experienced some of her greatest triumphs and also her greatest tragedy.
Through it all, her faith kept her focussed as she learned to trust more and more in God’s timing. It’s fitting, then, that 2015 started with a landmark event in her spiritual journey.
“In January, I was talking to Herbie and verbally gave my heart to Jesus,” she says.
That would be Herbie Kuhn, an Athletes in Action staff member and the chaplain for the Toronto Argonauts and Toronto Raptors, who has been providing the same service for the Olympic sprinting team. With the constant training and travel, it was tough for Khamica to keep connected to her church, so having Herbie available to the team to lead Bible studies and provide spiritual mentorship bridged the gap.
“I’ve always had a belief in God,” says Khamica, crediting her mother for teaching her about faith growing up. “And I’ve always wanted to know more about God, to work on that relationship and get closer. But my walk with Christ really happened when I met Herbie.”
In March, Khamica raced in the CIS Championships, winning gold in the 60m and setting a new Canadian university record in the process. But later in the month, tragedy struck.
While the Canadian sprinters were training in St. Kitts, Daundre Barnaby, who competed for Canada in the 400m at the 2012 Olympics, died while swimming in the ocean.
Khamica and Daundre had joined several other teammates at the beach to cool off after a workout. “We were in the water and he was just a little bit further out than us,” she recalls. “I didn’t even realize that he was asking for help. By the time one of our teammates tried to actually help him, he was getting too far out and he drowned.”
Herbie was there the next day to support the athletes as they grieved and returned to training with heavy hearts. Khamica was particularly impacted by the loss.
“He was like a brother,” she said at his funeral a few weeks later and talked about how he made her laugh and was always there for her. Looking back now, she recognizes that his death gave her a new perspective.
“It made me realize how short life is,” she says, “and it really brought me closer to God, learning to rely on him and depend on him. To not take things for granted.”
“I’ve learned to stop complaining so much,” she adds, “because one day when it’s all over I’m going to really miss it and regret it. I think about Daundre and I think about everything that he wanted to do, so he’s my motivator: I try and do it for him.”
That was the mindset for her and the rest of the team heading into the Pan Am Games in Toronto that July.
Khamica made the final for the 100m, finishing 6th behind some of the fastest sprinters in the world. But the true highlight came a few days later as she ran the anchor leg for the women’s 4x100m relay.
With Jamaica and the USA running neck and neck for the lead, Khamica received the baton with the runner from Brazil breathing down her neck. A determined Khamica ran a great final leg, dipped hard at the line, and held off Brazil for bronze.
“That was one of the best feelings that I’ve ever encountered in track,” she says. “We got a bronze, but I felt like we won gold. Because it was at home, knowing that my parents and my friends were in the crowd, it felt like we were at the Olympics.”
“To finally get that medal and for us to be in Toronto where everybody’s watching and wants to support us and cheer for us, it was perfect.”
2015 saw one more success for the 4x100m team, as they broke the Canadian record at the World Championships in August, even though they finished off the podium. Breaking that record gave Khamica a new determination to knock down the individual record.
“One of my goals is to leave my mark and my impact in my sport,” she says. “I think the greatest mark that you can leave is setting the bar high and creating history. I think that breaking that record would motivate the upcoming generations that will be coming through.”
“Yeah, that record has to go.”
But as she sets her sights on success at the Olympics, she recognizes that success doesn’t define her as a person, as her growing faith has helped her find a different path.
“Obviously as athletes we want to win,” she says, “But it’s about doing your best, glorifying God, and knowing that it’s him that gives me the talent and the blessing to do what I do.”
“Herbie’s the one that taught me about that,” she adds. “In everything I do, I glorify God. God created me and I just want to make sure that I’m doing what he has made me to do.”