The plan was so audacious, so bold, there was no way they were going to be able to keep it a secret.
A few weeks before the B.C. High School Track and Field Championships, Grade 12 running rivals – also very good friends and future roommates – Charlie Dannatt of Handsworth and Tyler Dozzi of Oak Bay agreed that they were going to tackle a monster. The meet record for the senior boys 3,000-metre race was set way back in 1975 by Burnaby South’s John Martens, a blistering time of 8:21.27.
“We knew what it was and we knew how difficult it was going to be to get,” says Dannatt. Word quickly spread in the small track and field community that the two boys – both set to attend UBC next fall and share a dorm room – were gunning for the record. On Saturday there was a buzz in the crowd as the boys stepped up to the starting line for the 3,000 m at Langley’s MacLeod Athletic Park.
“The people who knew that we were attempting the record, most people didn’t think we were going to get it because it’s such a hard time to hit,” says Dannatt. “For me and Tyler, we knew we were fit enough to be close to it for sure. We thought maybe we could barely go under it, in the best possible situation.”
At the gun Dozzi quickly raced to the front of the pack with Dannatt close behind. They stayed that way for the next seven minutes or so, ripping off fast lap after fast lap.
“It was a hard pace right from the beginning,” says Dannatt. “I wasn’t dying at the beginning, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Obviously it got harder and harder to keep the same pace up as the race went on.”
The two had raced many times before, with Dozzi having the edge in longer distances – he won the Canadian junior cross-country running championships last year while Dannatt finished 13th – but with both boys claiming their share of wins at the shorter distances.
“On the track is where our talents sort of collide,” says Dannatt. “It’s almost always a really close battle between us two. … We’ve definitely both had our share of wins.”
As they entered the final lap it was clear that they both had a shot at breaking the record. Like all great duels, it came down to one final question: who was going to win?
With 200 metres left Dannatt finally made his move, pulling in front of Dozzi on the final curve.
“I was just thinking to myself ‘just push it all out, give it everything you’ve got,’” says Dannatt. His kick was strong, but not strong enough to leave Dozzi behind. The Oak Bay runner began to reel the Handsworth racer back in down the final stretch, and Dannatt could hear footsteps.
Then came the look over the shoulder at his opponent, the lean, the line, and then a look at the clock: 8:15.93.
Dannatt had beaten the 42-year-old record by more than six seconds. He’d beaten his good friend by 0.3 seconds.
“We were just blown away,” says Dannatt, who lowered his own personal best by 16 seconds. “We couldn’t believe it ourselves that we’d broken it, that we’d gone so far under. It was amazing.”
And they couldn’t have done it without each other, says Dannatt.
“I don’t think I would have been able to do it without Tyler. It was definitely the co-operation between us two, and the competitiveness between us two, that drove us to go underneath that record.”
The win and record topped off a dream weekend for Dannatt, who also claimed gold in the 1,500-m race and was named the Male Athlete of the Meet. The 17-year-old has posted other fast times and strong results in his career, but nothing close to what he did in Langley over the weekend. Dannatt, who was born in London, England and moved to Canada with his family when he was in Grade 5, credited Darcie Montgomery and Cindy O’Krane, his coaches with the North Shore-based Hershey Harriers Athletic Club, with getting him ready for his breakout performance.
“They’ve just been amazing coaches,” he says. “They’ve been patient and understanding and they know so much. … Honestly they’ve believed in my talent since the get-go, they let me know. From the very first track meet they’ve said we believe you can be a very talented runner, you just need to stay patient and work hard at it. The results will come.”
This summer Dannatt will be gunning for a spot on the national team for the Junior Pan Am championships, focusing on the 1,500 m. Then he’ll run with the Thunderbirds starting in the fall, all with the long-term goal in front of him that every elite track athlete is chasing: the Olympic Games.
“It still is a long ways from now, but since I’ve started running it’s been a goal for me,” he says. “But I’ve got to keep it simple for now, focus on things that are achievable right now.”
No matter where his fast feet take him from now on, he’ll always have a spot in North Shore lore as the boy who raced into the record books.
“It’s a weekend I’ll never forget,” he says. “It’s the best way I could have ended my high school running experience, for sure.”