if you told Savannah Sutherland five years ago that she would be a future Canadian record holder, she likely wouldn’t believe you. Two weeks ago at the 2023 NCAA Indoor Championships, the 19-year-old from the small farming town of Borden, Sask., set a new Canadian indoor 400m record of 51.60 on her way to a seventh-place NCAA finish in her second year at the University of Michigan. “My goal for the NCAA indoor season was just to improve from last year,” says Sutherland. “I honestly wasn’t expecting this.”
Sutherland’s Canadian indoor 400m record was only one result of a season to remember. She broke three University of Michigan records–in the 200, 400 and 4x400m–helping the University of Michigan track and field team win the Big Ten Conference Championship.
Sutherland says the Canadian record wasn’t even on her radar until she ran 51.41 for 400m on an oversized track at the Big Ten in Geneva, Ohio.
She first announced herself on the national stage when she won bronze for Canada in the 400m hurdles at the U20 World Championships in Nairobi at age 18. She has since won Canadian U20 titles in the 400m hurdles and gold for Saskatchewan at the 2022 Canada Summer Games .
“Nairobi was a great experience, and it helped prepare me for what to expect in the NCAA,” Sutherland says. “But attending a big school like Michigan was still a huge jump for me, athletically and academically.”
Sutherland went to the same school from kindergarten to Grade 10, then attended Grades 11 and 12 in Saskatoon (35 minutes from Borden). “Growing up, my school only had 86 students, and there were only three others in my year,” she says. “The level of competition at Michigan spiked across the board.”
She is joined at Michigan by Canadian 600m record holder Aurora Rynda of Toronto. Sutherland says Rynda’s guidance and professionalism helped influence her decision to attend the University of Michigan. “She’s been a great resource,” says Sutherland.
When Sutherland returns to her hometown, which has a population of 300, she is a local celebrity. “I’ll often see my name or face in the local newspaper while at the grocery store,” she laughs.
Sutherland’s goal for the upcoming outdoor season is to reach the NCAA final in the 400m hurdles and break the University of Michigan record. “My goal is just to keep improving,” she says. “It’s easy to get hyper-fixated on big goals or hitting times. I am just taking things in stride.”