By: Eamon Hillis
As Conor Darlington toed the Plains of Abraham on Nov. 12 in what would be his last cross-country race as a Marauder, few could have predicted the events that were to transpire.
Darlington entered the University Sports Cross Country Championships in Quebec City as an outside contender. However, he rose to the occasion to conquer a challenging course and win bronze. It was a historic accomplishment, and one that places Darlington in elite company. He is now one of only three McMaster men to have won a Canadian Interuniversity Sports/U Sports championship medal, and the first since 1978.
“I was going into the race aiming high, looking for a medal,” Darlington said. “I don’t think a lot of people expected the results, but deep down that was my goal.”
This confident attitude was on full display in a spirited and tactical performance that took advantage of the difficult terrain. Darlington chose to stay conservative through the first half of the 10 kilometre race, expending the necessary energy to keep pace. Then, in the last two kilometres, as other runners began to fade, he made a strong move to separate him from the pack and swipe bronze.
Darlington lead the Marauder men to a commendable fourth place finish, with athletes Jeff Tweedle, Gabriel Ghiglione, Luke Charbonneau, Nick Kondrat, Christian MacGillivray and Paul Rochus performing well. Darlington was pleased, but expressed some understandable disappointment, for this marks the fourth consecutive year that the Mac men have missed the podium by only one spot.
“It seems bittersweet missing the podium as we have four years in a row, but I think we are all happy with how we ran regardless. We were up against some very good opposition, and I think we performed well.”
Darlington has now completed all five years of his cross-country eligibility, and will be completing his undergraduate program in Environmental Studies this spring. When asked to reflect upon his time at McMaster he expressed nothing but gratitude. As a high school senior, Darlington found himself heavily recruited by top NCAA programs, but instead chose McMaster as his post-secondary destination. Darlington attributes this decision to the meaningful connection he felt to the coaching staff, especially head coach Paula Schnurr.
“I chose Mac because of its great balance in athletics and academics. I got along well with the coaches and I knew that Paula understood my goals, and that she was interested in working with me on an individual level. I am very happy with my decision and I stand by it.”
Darlington was quick to acknowledge the role that Schnurr and the rest of the coaching staff has played in his success. He was also keen to mention the invaluable support from family and friends throughout the years.
Darlington is now shifting his focus from cross-country to the upcoming indoor track and field season where he hopes to carry his momentum. He will be looking to specialize in the 1500m; an event where he believes his best chances at success lay.
“I am going to focus on the 1500m this indoor season. I’ll be looking ahead to outdoor competitions where I’ll be running the 1500m, so I think it is helpful to specialize early.”
Darlington is currently unsure as to what the next academic year will hold for him, but has shown an interest in returning for further study at McMaster.
“I want to try and do a Master’s degree here at Mac,” Darlington says. “I have used up my eligibility, of course, but hopefully I’d be here training with Paula. I am still undecided, but that is one tentative plan.”
Wherever the smooth-striding Marauder ends up next year – wherever his running career takes him – he will look back on his time at Mac with appreciation, and continue on as a great ambassador for McMaster athletics.