Sitting in fourth place through nine events, Nathaniel Mechler lined up for the final race of the decathlon at the Junior Pan Am Games.
A strong runner, the Alma native knew he had a shot at reaching the podium with a good performance in the 1500-metre race at the University of Alberta track in Edmonton on August 1.
“The first day went pretty well,” he said over the phone, en route to his next international track and field meet in Sweden on Tuesday. “I had two personal bests on day one, but then the next day was pretty rough, actually. But the thing about the decathlon is that it’s 10 events, so if you don’t do well in one event you can do better in others.”
The conditions were poor on the second day of the competition. On top of the fatigue that comes with participating in a combined event, the athletes were dealing with rainy weather that was keeping scores low across the board.
But Mechler kept pushing.
“It was really hard to get momentum going,” he said. “Day two wasn’t great, but I fought through, and in the 1500, I had to beat the Brazilian (Hellerson Costa) by about 20 seconds, and I managed to accomplish that, beating him by 24 seconds.”
It was a dramatic finish.
Watching the video stream online showed Mechler grind out an impressive race, leading the pack wire-to-wire.
After crossing the finish line with a personal best time of 4:27.75 Mechler turned to watch Costa rounding the bend towards the home stretch.
Hunched over with his hands on his knees, Mechler stared down the clock as Costa came across.
As he realized he had done enough to get the bronze, he dropped to the ground, pounding the track in jubilation.
He wasn’t a medal favourite heading into the meet, Mechler said, but he was able to rise to another level in his first competition representing Canada.
“It was really cool and a great honour to represent my country and I am glad I was able to do well,” he said.
The 18-year-old Elmira District Secondary School student qualified for the games by winning the Canadian National Junior Decathlon earlier this summer in Ottawa.
Still relatively new to the sport, Mechler continues to progress in each event, and one day hopes to compete for Canada at the Olympics.
The competition began with the 100-metre dash, where Mechler ran a personal best time of 11.16 seconds and finished third.
Next, he jumped a personal best 6.81-metres in the long jump, again finishing third.
In the shot put, he threw 12-metres, placing sixth; jumped 1.85-metres in the high jump, good for third; sprinted 48.85 seconds in the 400-dash, placing second; ran a time of 15.61 seconds in the 110-metre hurdles, finishing sixth; placed fourth in the pole vault with a jump of 4.10-metres; threw the javelin 47.93-metres to place third; and finally he won the 1500-metre race.
It was a major accomplishment to become just one of ten Canadian medal winners at the games, he said, and the feat marks another stepping stone in his burgeoning athletic career.
It was also a great atmosphere to be a part of, he said.
“I got there and the whole team came out and we got all of our Canada gear and then we all went for food. And at the residence we were staying at (the University of Alberta), all the other countries were staying there as well. So we got a space, and all of the Jamaican, American athletes were there as well, so it was a really cool experience to be there with all of the other countries as well.”
Winning the bronze medal caps off an impressive rookie year in the decathlon for Mechler, who will return to EDSS next year and look towards attaining an NCAA scholarship going forward.
It also brought a bit of notoriety, as the affable teen got to sign his first autographs for fans after the meet. If he keeps this up, they could be the first of many.