LONDON — Down two of its biggest stars, and now battling a stomach bug.
Through three days of the world track and field championships, luck hasn't been on the beleaguered Canadian team's side.
But when it seemed as if Canada couldn't take anymore bad news, Brandon McBride and Shawn Barber offered some hope Sunday, laying down solid performances to clinch spots in their respective finals.
McBride, a 23-year-old from Windsor, Ont., led wire to wire to win his 800-metre semifinal before a loud crowd of some-60,000 at London Stadium, crossing in one minute 45.53 seconds, the third fastest time on the night.
"I just wanted to get out and control the pace. I wanted to run it like a final, just to get out and shake the field a bit," McBride said. "Anything is possible."
Barber is the defending world champion, but he's been anything but consistent since his 10th-place finish at the Rio Olympics. The 23-year-old from Toronto was one of eight jumpers who cleared 5.70 metres in the opening round.
"I feel good, the run feels fine, the jump feels fine, it's the first time we're really putting things together all at once," Barber said. "It's a little raw but I expect in two days things will come together better than today."
Canadian coach Glenroy Gilbert had talked about a team goal of topping the eight medals Canada captured over an extraordinary nine days in 2015 in Beijing. But if the withdrawal of sprint star Andre De Grasse with a torn hamstring wasn't bad enough, Derek Drouin, the world and Olympic champion in high jump, pulled out late Saturday night with an Achilles injury.
"You can't control injuries, and that's the big thing," Gilbert said. "We set medal targets based on our past results from Beijing, certainly we'll go back and reassess exactly where things went wrong, how we can do things differently.
"But ultimately, injuries are part of sport. We don't envision those things happening, especially to your key people coming into this, because they're coached real well, they're managed well, so you expect that they come to a major championship like this and deliver. But you can't foresee injuries."
News of a stomach bug emerged Sunday when Eric Gillis of Antigonish, N.S., dropped out of the men's marathon around the 30-kilometre mark. Seven Canadian athletes and staff have been hit with what's believed to be the Norwalk virus. Other teams staying in the same central London hotel as Canada have also been hit.
Led by De Grasse, Canadian track and field had been riding a magnificent wave of momentum that began in 2015 in Beijing and carried through last summer's Olympics, where the team collected six medals.
In Beijing, Canada had already won three medals by the end of Day 3. Ben Thorne kicked off Canada's parade to the podium with his bronze in the 20-kilometre race walk. De Grasse followed it up with bronze in the 100 metres before Barber captured the country's first-ever pole vault gold.
Gilbert said it was tough to watch Saturday's shocking men's 100-metre final and not wonder: what if?
"Absolutely," he said. "You're sitting there watching it, and you know Andre's run 9.91 (American Justin Gatlin won gold in 9.92), and he's just been getting better every year. So yeah, you think 'Man this is a race he could have won potentially.' What Canadian didn't think that? I certainly did."
Alysha Newman of London, Ont., finished seventh in the pole vault Sunday night for Canada's top result so far in London. The 23-year-old cleared 4.65 metres and thought she had a medal in her sights before missing on her three attempts at 4.75.
"I'm pretty pleased. It was my first time I've qualified for the finals at an international meet. Definitely if I'd cleared that .75, (a medal would have been possible)," said Newman, who ran through the pit on her first attempt that 4.75.
"Ugh, I wish I didn't run through on my first one. But there was a little bit of a headwind, I didn't have any control over that."
Despite the bad luck that's befallen the Canadians in London, Gilbert hasn't sensed any negative vibe creeping into the team.
"We haven't been looking back and saying 'Oh, if Andre was here,' 'If Derek was here.' They're not. . . It's not like they're sitting around going 'Oh well, woe is us.' They're trying to advance (to finals) themselves. In the absence of two of our key guys right now, they're trying to do the best job they can."
Two other Canadians made finals on Sunday. Matt Hughes of Oshawa, Ont., clinched a spot in the 3,000-metre steeplechase. The 28-year-old was racing just his second steeplechase of the season after a collision with a fire hydrant while out on a run derailed his training for several weeks. He finished in 8:24.79, 13th fastest on the day.
Liz Gleadle of Vancouver threw 62.97 metres to qualify for the women's javelin final, the 10th best throw on the night.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press