(After this writing, T11 runner Dustin Walsh and his guide, Langley's Dylan Williamson, were disqualified in their first round, 400m heat Thursday, Sept. 6, at London's Olympic Stadium. Prior to that, the B.C. pair was part of Canada's T11/ T13 4 x 100m relay team that placed third in their opening round heat Wednesday, Sept. 5.)
It wasn't just 400-metres of prime time for Dustin Walsh at the Paralympic Games in London.
This time, it was 500 - as in the 400m and the 4x100m relay - as the veteran competitor adds another event to his portfolio.
The 29-year-old sprinter signed up for the relay race understanding that the difference between his usual 400m event and the relay is as basic as the handing of a baton.
Timing is everything.
Being in sync for a split second was the only difference for Walsh, Langley's Braedon Dolfo, Jon Dunkerley, and Brandon King.
But when you consider that all four are blind athletes who run side-by-side with guide runners, and that they've spent much of the past year split across Canada, you can imagine the challenge.
"It's a new event for us. It's different but I feel strongly about medaling," said Walsh, who grew up in Coquitlam but who recently moved to New Westminster. "There are no guarantees going in that you land on the podium."
The foursome has had a few opportunities to rehearse their dash, but those rare opportunities have been positive.
Walsh, with three Paralympics under his belt, brought the most experience. But he was new to the relay, unlike the other three. The foursome have had to work in two tandems - with Jon Dunkerley and Brandon King based in Ontario, and Walsh and Dolfo here in B.C.
He also broke in a new running guide, as Langley's Dylan Williamson takes over from his Beijing partner Steve Walters, who was sidelined after a spring injury.
"We sort of recruited Dylan a year ago to follow us, and he's proven to be a terrific teammate- He carries quite a bit of pressure in the relay, and it's his job to take the baton, to keep up."
Williamson, a 2008 Walnut Grove Secondary grad, thought his track career was over after high school.
Teaming with Walsh has been a blessing, and a lot of fun.
"Dusty and I both joke about everything," Williamson said. "It's been great getting to know Dusty this year."
At heart a sprinter, Walsh has embraced his new event with the same dedication that has taken him to multiple international competitions.
He wasn't looking at the relay - which took place Sept. 5, a day before his 400m race - as a tune up for the other. As a runner he has taken this new challenge with one goal, said national team coach Laurier Primeau.
"For Dusty, he's not new to these [Paralympics], this is not his first time around the track," said Primeau, prior to the Parlaympics. "They all came in with a mindset that this event was something they wanted to win."
Walsh, who lost his eyesight at birth due to glaucoma, posted his best result at the 2004 Athens Games, where he finished fifth in T11 400m race. In Beijing, an 11th-place result left him disappointed.
"I had a fairly disappointing competition in Beijing, losing out in the heats and battling an injury. It was definitely disappointing not to have more experience on the track."
In the relay, Dolfo handed the baton to Williamson who put it in Walsh's hands for the final leg. Being the anchor suits the veteran runner fine.
"I'm pretty fortunate to be running anchor, really. I only have one pass (of the baton). The key is to just stay focused on what my guide is telling me.
"If we're one step early or one step late, it's a huge difference."
Primeau had the team practice under race-like conditions, with runners on the surrounding lanes. It was impossible to emulate the Paralympic experience - where a crowd exceeding 30,000 is expected to create a loud buzz during the event.
"Nothing can prepare you for that crowd, the magnitude of the Paralympics is so much more than other races they've run," noted Primeau.
"Dusty is ready to go and Dylan's ready to go. For the relay, the only difference is you have to get the stick around the track faster than anyone else."
For Walsh, having a third opportunity to represent his country at the biggest competition possible was a huge honour.
He planned to convert that opportunity with his best effort.
"It is very exciting," Walsh said, prior to the Paralympics. "I've been training for 16 years and this is just the third time I get to do it. This is why I'm out there every day, running and training."
@ Copyright 2013