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The road to Tokyo 2021: Five years in the making

- Canadian Olympic track team hopeful, Melissa Bishop-Nriagu,

is running with the spirit of her long-time coach, Dennis Fairall -


by Garrett Fodor

Photo taken by Kevin Light, submitted courtesy of Melissa Bishop-Nriagau


When Melissa Bishop-Nriagu runs, she will not be running alone.

  As Bishop-Nriagu takes to the track, hoping to earn a spot on the Canadian Olympic track team, she will run with the spirit of her long-time coach and mentor, Dennis Fairall. 

  In November of 2020, Fairall, who served as Bishop-Nriagu’s long-time coach and mentor, passed away at the age of 67. The Canadian 800-metre record-holder credits Fairall as being instrumental in her development as an athlete and person, and helped her decide to come to the University of Windsor in 2007.

  Fairall, she said, was a crucial component in helping her reaching the Olympics in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016.

  “Everything I do in this career, until I am done, will be because of Dennis,” Bishop-Nriagu said. “He coached me for the better part of 10-years, he knew me and I knew him and his program, so we knew what to expect from each other. I run for Dennis every day and all my goals are for Dennis. Everyday when I train and workout, I think and hear his little sayings.” 

The now 32-year-old Eganville, Ontario native came to Windsor in 2007 to attend the University of Windsor and work with Fairall and his track team, including Don Garrod, whom she still works with today. While competing with the Lancers, the sprinter won gold in the 600-metre and 1000-metre at the CIS championships, amongst other accolades. She graduated with a Bachelors in Kinesiology in 2010 and then a Bachelor of Education in 2011. 

  Upon finishing at the University of Windsor, it was at this time Bishop-Nriagu and Fairall decided to try to earn a spot on the Canadian Olympic team in London 2012. And they did just that, as Bishop-Nriagu appeared in her first Olympics in 2012. Her best performance was in 2016 in Rio, where she placed 4th in the 800-metre final.

  Looking back on her Olympic experiences, Bishop-Nriagu noted this year and the last five years have been challenging for everyone, including athletes. When Canada originally pulled out of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, due to health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bishop-Nriagu admitted she had tears and the news was crushing. She had been working tirelessly for the competition. But, she knew that at the time, it was what the country needed to do to protect the citizens.

  The last 14-months have been a whirlwind, with usually scheduled training and competitive races having to shift to home workouts. Now, with 2021 in-sight and almost guaranteed, she said her training is beginning to ramp up once again as she is in the final stretch.

  “What remained the same was the training, but what changed is when and how we did it,” Bishop-Nriagu explains. “This pandemic has been a mental fatigue as it’s been for so many people. We’ve had to become more flexible. At the beginning of the pandemic, we did not have daycare and my husband [Osi] had to work everyday through the pandemic. So, it was a lot of getting my work in when I can and just trying to move to stay healthy, because we have no idea what the future might bring.”

  New restrictions are attached to the upcoming Olympic Games and celebrations, meaning the events will be closed to the public. For Bishop-Nriagu and other Olympic hopefuls, that means friends and family, including Bishop-Nriagu’s two -year-old daughter, Corinne, will have to watch and cheer on from home. Having to compete in an empty and quiet stadium, she commented, will be very different from all her previous experiences and she is not sure what to think or how to prepare.

  “I wish they could come over, but it’s the best and safest thing to do at this point in the world,” Bishop-Nriagu said, as her training ramps up and she begins to prepare to leave her home for more training and her first races in over a year. “I will have to go to the states for a period to try and get in some races. Once we get back and get through the quarantine and depending on lockdown measures, we are hoping to race in the Harry Jerome Track Classic in Vancouver before the trials in June.”

  While she may not have been from Windsor, Bishop-Nriagu now calls Windsor home and has for the last several years. While she still works out and trains at the University of Windsor’s Dennis Fairall fieldhouse, Bishop-Nriagu also is now helping the next generation of athletes.

  Since 2019, she joined the Lancers’ track team as a middle-distance coach. Bishop-Nriagu adds that they have the top-notch facilities in Windsor and is honored to be one of several potential Olympians to come from the region.

  “We have an incredible amount of talent here in Windsor. I’m not from Windsor, but Windsor is my home now, and I feel I have been adopted by this community and I’m honoured to be among these athletes,” Bishop-Nriagu said. “The University and community have always been really supportive of their athletes and they are really integral to this.”