LONDON — Seven world championships after she first made her debut on the global stage, nerves can still get the better of Angela Whyte.
But these days they’re different.
The 37-year-old from Edmonton didn’t advance to the 100-metre hurdles semifinals after finishing sixth in her heat at the world track and field championships Friday morning. And in the moments after her disappointing run, the veteran hurdler admitted she’s concerned about a career she’s not ready to close the book on yet.
“It’s mental,” Whyte said. ”Ever heard of the yips? Well, I’ve got a pretty serious case of the yips.”
Whyte was only 21 at her first worlds in 2001 in her hometown, and has made all but two world teams since. She’s also a three-time Olympian, finishing sixth in 2004 in Athens, a result overshadowed by Perdita Felicien’s fall in the final.
“Back then it was really welcome nerves, like ‘Oh my god I’m so excited,’” Whyte said. “Whereas now I’m trying to force myself to be excited because I’m scared about all the things that could go wrong, or what’s going to happen with me as far as support to continue to keep training. So I carry a lot of weight on me when I shouldn’t.”
Whyte has a masters degree in sports psychology, but is her own worst client.
“When you’re competing, you can’t focus on (the negative). I know that,” she said. ”I know all these things, but when it comes to yourself, it’s really hard to psych yourself. And I’m not done. My body feels amazing. My mind needs a lot of work, and we’ll get back to where I want to be.”
And that’s part of the problem. Whyte might be nearing the finish line of her career, but there are people who’d prefer she call it quits before her race is done.
“Sometimes athletes know when they need to bow out, their body just doesn’t quite feel right, or they don’t have the passion for it anymore,” Whyte said. ”But I think other times, athletes leave because the sport pushes them out.
“There have been plenty of times where I feel like I’m being pushed out, with the little comments, ‘Well how much longer are you going to keep doing this?’ ‘Oh, you’re how old?’ Those are little subtle things that push people out because it makes you feel like the sport doesn’t love you anymore.”
Whyte grew up playing basketball before switching to track. She was raised by her dad Evert in Edmonton, and has a tattoo of their family name — in her dad’s large scrawled printing — on the inside of her left biceps.
She’s been a world finalist twice — sixth in 2013 and eighth in 2007 — and a fixture among Canada’s group of world-class hurdlers that included Felicien, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, Phylicia George and Nikkita Holder.
The 29-year-old George was fifth in her semifinal Friday night and so didn’t advance to the final.
Whyte changed coaches this season, leaving Moscow, Idaho, to work in Toronto with Jeff Huntoon, whose athletes include Olympic high jump champion Derek Drouin.
“Hopefully I’m still welcome (in Toronto), and I can make that my home, because I need stability. I don’t have that,” Whyte said. ”I’ve been a hobo, with the stick and handkerchief, walking my stuff all across the country. It’s not going to work that way.”
Part of what propels Whyte is her pride in being a role model. She points to Kim Collins, sprint queen Merlene Ottey and Canada’s Diane Cummins as others who have succeeded despite their age. Collins, from Saint Kitts and Nevis, ran 9.93 in the 100 metres when he was 40, becoming the world’s oldest person to dip under the 10-second barrier. Ottey, a 14-time world medallist for Jamaica, moved to Slovenia where she anchored its 4×100 relay team at the age of 52. Cummins was Canada’s top 800 runner for a decade before retiring at age 40.
“I still have some good stuff in the tank, and I do want to be an example,” Whyte said. “I want to continue. Just got to figure out how to make it work when it counts the most.”