Queen’s runners share national title

(L-R) Queen’s Gaels runners Jude Wheeler-Dee and Roman Mironov split the U20 8km national title at the 2022 Athletics Canada Cross Country National Championship in Ottawa. Photos by: York University/Brandon VandeCaveye.

During last weekend’s Athletics Canada Cross Country Championship, two Kingston-based runners made national headlines when they crossed the finish line together, jointly sharing a national title. Kingston’s Jude Wheeler-Dee and Toronto’s Roman Mironov, both members of the Queen’s Gaels Cross Country team, competed in the men’s U20 8km race at the national championships in Ottawa on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022.

Both athletes got off to a strong start in the early stages of the race and eventually broke away from the rest of the field around the 5km mark. The pair remained in control for the duration of the event, eventually crossing the finish line hand-in-hand and sharing the U20 men’s national title. 

“At the end of the day we decided that we’re both still teammates, and we’re going to race it that way,” Mironov said of the opportunity to share the title with Wheeler-Dee. “[We knew] if the opportunity came [for us to] finish together, it would be a pretty special moment. You can’t bank on that 100 per cent being the case, just because the competition is so good, but we knew that if the opportunity came up we wanted to take it.” 

A Tweet by Athletics Canada showing Wheeler-Dee and Mironov crossing the finish line together during Saturday’s U20 men’s 8km cross country race.

Mironov and Wheeler-Dee were easily the runners to beat during Saturday’s 8km competition. After leading the entire race, they would eventually finish six seconds ahead of third-place competitor Rudy Saal and would beat out a field of 94 other elite runners to take home the national championship. “There [were] obviously some big names going into that race,” Wheeler-Dee said of the strength of the field during Saturday’s event. “A personal guy for me [was] Matti Erickson: he won the U20 1500-metre national championship last year in BC, and I came in second in that race. So I definitely wanted to [beat him].”

As for whether or not the national title has sunk in yet for the pair, Wheeler-Dee noted it has been hard to find the time to properly celebrate the accomplishment. “It’s a tricky thing. I’m obviously trying to enjoy it, but… our season is go, go, go. We went from a full cross country mindset, we [were in] Halifax a couple of weeks ago for [U Sports Nationals], and then two weeks later we’re running in the club nationals. And we’re already starting to transition back to the track, because we have the indoor [season] coming up. You want to enjoy it, and you definitely want to appreciate the moment; but at the same time, you’ve got to somehow refocus and get ready, because… once one season ends, another one starts, and you want to do your best in that season as well.”

Mironov added, “It’s all about finding a balance between enjoying it and not letting it get to your head. Our coach put out a tweet yesterday saying ‘[our] egos will never be the same.’ I don’t know, that may or may not be true. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Both runners have been with the Gaels for two seasons and have seen the team grow into one of the best up-and-coming cross country teams in Canada. “The program that I [walked] into is not what it is right now,” noted Mironov. “We were bare bones. We had a whole bunch of guys that graduated, and we [were] basically starting from scratch. This was an opportunity for me to be part of building up this program. And I think [we]ve] seen [an] evolution where our top guys have all improved so much over the last year.” 

“Every single year we’re developing, and this team is getting better,” said Wheeler-Dee. “The mentality that we had last year was to get as many races in [as possible] and everybody could do whatever. As we’re progressing, [we’re] becoming more focused… and basically just ramping up the intensity.” 

Even in the past year, the two athletes have observed an increase in the team’s national prestige, as runners across Canada take notice of the Gaels’ progress. “Our coach told us that the amount of emails and people showing interest from last year to this year has been pretty drastic,” Wheeler-Dee remarked. “People look at us in the moment and [think] we’re a good team — but there’s [McMaster], who was on a tear this year, Laval is always great, and UBC,… and Guelph… These are all well-established programs. But I think people see the promise and the progression that we’re [making], and the idea that everyone’s buying into this program and what we’re doing. Maybe right now [we’re] rough around the edges, but come one to two years from now, there will be something [to show for it].” 

Wheeler-Dee, a second-year education student, grew up in Kingston and attended Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute on the edge of Queen’s campus. The young athlete credited Kingston’s vibrant running community for getting him started in the sport from a young age. “Kingston has a big running scene, so it was definitely something that seemed more natural for me. Everyone was doing it. I did a couple of community races… Just the energy in Kingston made the transition [to Queen’s Cross Country] a lot smoother.”

As for what’s next, the pair said they are getting ready for a busy exam season at Queen’s before focusing on indoor track events in the new year. 

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