MONTREAL — The last time Bruny Surin raced his daughter, he wound up on crutches.
It had become a family tradition for Surin bragging rights. During every Christmas vacation in Florida, the Olympic gold medallist would line up against his daughter Kat for a 50-metre race.
“I think the bet was, my daughter was calling me old, and I said ‘You cannot call me old until you can beat me,’” Surin said with a laugh.
Their last race was in 2015 on the blue track near the Boca Raton condo Surin used to own. Surin’s older daughter Kimberley, who played tennis at Penn State, was both the starter and videographer. Bruny was first off the line, but five strides in he hobbled to a stop with an Achilles injury. Kat sprinted down the track laughing, her arms spread wide.
“I said ‘This is it. No more running for me,’” Bruny said.
“I think the first year he definitely beat me by a lot. It wasn’t even close,” Kat recalled. “But we started (in 2015) and he ran like 10 metres, and then I think he pulled everything honestly.”
Friendly family rivalry aside, Kat first took up track because of a desire to be like her dad. Bruny still shares the Canadian record in the 100 metres with Donovan Bailey (9.84), and ran on the gold-medal relay team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
It could be Kat’s turn to wear Canada’s colours soon. The 23-year-old won bronze in the 400 metres at the Canadian championships on Saturday, putting her in the mix for a spot on the 4×400 relay for the world championships that begin Sept. 28 in Doha, Qatar.
“Her ultimate goal is to run at the Olympics,” Bruny said. “For now, until she has been named to the team, I don’t want to jump the gun, there’s always some grey zone. But I think she deserves to be on the team. That would be something very special.”
Kat’s time of 52.43 seconds was a personal best, and came after several seasons of frustrating injuries for the five-foot-10 sprinter. The St. Jerome, Que., native just graduated from the University of Connecticut and, healthy through her senior season, she won the 400 metres at both the indoor and outdoor American Athletic Conference championships.
Saturday night, Bruny and Kat’s mom Bianelle were in the VIP section at Claude Robillard Stadium for the race. Bruny was nervous, but that was nothing new.
“When he gets in that state he doesn’t want people to bother him because he’s so stressed, so he puts on headphones, goes in a little corner, and he just watches us,” Kat said.
The nerves, Bruny said, came after watching his daughter battle injuries the previous three seasons.
“I was hoping to just go outside (to watch) and just stay by myself, I don’t like to talk while my daughter is going to run, I just want to be there, and be in the moment,” he said. “But of course it’s impossible, people want to talk to me, asking ‘What do I think?’ and everything.
“I was like ‘Guys, can I have a moment?’ My ideal scenario would just to be alone and to be in the moment.”
The elder Surin said he doesn’t yell during races. But the 52-year-old does talk to himself.
“I was saying ‘It’s time to make a move, it’s time to make a move,’” he said. “But to tell you the truth, I didn’t know the strategy, I don’t interfere with her training or the race plans.”
Kat won the bronze with a strong kick down the homestretch.
Bruny and Bianelle, whose handball career was ended by three knee surgeries, never interfered in their daughters’ sports careers. Both played soccer, took swimming lessons and played tennis. Kat, who was six months old when Bruny won gold in Atlanta, began pestering her dad about running track at age four, but her dad held off until she was 14.
“I wanted them to have a good base, and then they could choose their path,” he said.
Bruny never ran a 400-metre race. He specialized in the short sprints, winning gold in the 60 metres at the world indoor championships in 1993 and ‘95.
“One year in my training I had to do a couple of 400s, I hated it. I was even scared of the 200, can you imagine the 400?” he laughed. “No way.”
While family races are off the table, the four regularly head to the gym together on weekends.
Athletics Canada will choose its final team for the world championships at the end of August.
Since retiring, Bruny Surin has built a career as both a public speaker and entrepreneur. He has a clothing line that sells in 55 stores in Quebec, a foundation that promotes health and wellness to at-risk kids in the province, and supports a beginners track program with Quebec schools that translated from French is “Bruny Surin’s First Steps.”