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Akinsulie returns from injury to lead Lions contingent at nationals

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By Dan Plouffe, originally published June 30, 2011 in Ottawa This Week

Berlin 2009 World Championships – August 22 – Day 8 – Evening Session *** Local Caption *** Esther Akinsulie – Canada 4x400m Relay

After missing the vast majority of last year’s outdoor season, Ottawa Lions sprinter Esther Akinsulie showed she’s rounding back into form quite nicely with silver and bronze medal victories on the final day of the Canadian track-and-field championships June 22-25 in Calgary.
Akinsulie claimed second place in the women’s 400 metres with a time of 52.33 seconds and then added a third-place performance thanks to a 23.46 clocking in the 200 m less than an hour later.

“I’m very pleased with how my races went,” Akinsulie said by phone from Calgary. “Trying to rehab my Achilles and to come back from that, and to run a season-best and just over half-a-second off my (personal-best), I think I’m in a good spot for the 400.

“I was also pleased with the 200, especially considering I ran a 400 about 45 minutes before that.”

Akinsulie’s 400 m time was just a shade off the 52.30 ‘B’ standard time required to qualify for this year’s world championships at the end of August in South Korea as well as next summer’s Olympic Games in London.

The Carleton University psychology grad ran her personal-best 400 m time (51.70) in 2009 to win a FISU world university games silver medal, but was sidelined last season by an Achilles tendon tear that struck rather swiftly at a national team relay camp last April.

“From that point when I knew exactly what was wrong with my Achilles, at times it was difficult coming back, but I knew what I had to do, and I knew that if I did the right things, I could get back into training for the next season,” recalled Akinsulie, who is coached by 1996 4×100 m relay Olympic gold medallist Glenroy Gilbert.

The relay may present Akinsulie’s best shot at competing in the 2011 worlds and 2012 Olympics. The Canadian women’s 4×400 team ran the sixth-fastest time in heats at the 2009 worlds but didn’t make the final since three teams from the other slower heat auto-qualified.

With the top five women’s 400 m competitors running under 53.02 seconds at nationals – plus another relay regular missing the event – it showed the Canadian ladies are ready to make some noise internationally this season and next.

“It’s definitely a great sign,” Akinsulie noted. “Jenna Martin, who won, she’s had a couple off-years, so to have her back in form is going to be awesome to us because she’ll be another addition to our team. We have a lot of strong girls in the 400.”

Akinsulie will remain on the west coast to compete in Calgary, Victoria and Edmonton events that make up part of the newly-formed National Track League – which features over $300,000 in prize money – before returning home in advance of the July 10 and 13 races in Halifax and Toronto that complete the five-meet series.

Rather unconventionally in the track-and-field world, Akinsulie’s always kept Ottawa as her home base, training with the Lions out of the Terry Fox Athletic Facility next to Mooney’s Bay and the Louis-Riel Dome in Blackburn Hamlet.

“The atmosphere in Ottawa is really good,” the A.Y. Jackson Secondary School grad explained. “We have really great training facilities – we have the 400 m indoor track, and they just resurfaced our outdoor track last year, so we have two great facilities, we have great coaching and the athletes also really help out. We have a great core group of athletes, so it’s just a really good environment.”

Akinsulie is now focused on running a new personal-best in either of her individual events this season, while competing in the relay at worlds is another goal she’s set to launch herself towards the 2012 Olympics.

“London is always in the back of my mind, most definitely,” the 27-year-old added. “It’s a long way away in some respects, but it’s also not a long way away. I do know that I need to take it one season at a time and focus on this year and the world championships first, and then think about the Olympics.”

Lion’s share of medals for Ottawa competitors

Akinsulie was far from the only local athlete to record strong performances at the national championships.

Ottawa’s Josh Cassidy took the men’s 800 m and 1,500 m wheelchair racing titles by just tenths of a second ahead of Sherbrooke’s Jean-Paul Compaore, and then completed his triple gold medal haul by winning his preferred 5,000 m event by over 16 seconds.

Jon Dunkerley (800 m), Stuart McGregor (400 m and 800 m) Noella Klawitter (400 m and 800 m) and Jacqueline Rennebohm (100 m and 200 m) were uncontested winners in their race classes for athletes with a visual impairment, while Brandon King won 200 m and 400 m titles in the same category, with Jonathan Brown placing third in men’s wheelchair discus.

Two of the youngest Lions turned in some of the most impressive results at nationals. Second-year University of Ottawa student Segun Makinde blazed to a 21.05 time en route to a bronze medal in the men’s 200 m, while Lisgar Collegiate Institute student Julia Stille – the youngest competitor in the women’s triple jump – placed fourth behind Ottawa native Mila Simulik, a first-year University of Western Ontario student, who took bronze. The Lions also won the men’s 4×100 m relay crown.

Perth native Sultana Frizell of the Lions found some company in the elite Canadian women’s hammer throwing club as Heather Steacy bested her 70.17 m distance to dethrone the three-time national champ.

Other Ottawa athletes reaching event finals included Rachel Aubry (800 m), Melissa Bishop (800 m), Seyi Smith (100 m), Michael Robertson (400 m), Gordon Frenke (400 m), and Mark Chenery, Reid Gustavson and Patrick Arbour, who finished 3-4-5 in the decathlon.
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After missing the vast majority of last year’s outdoor season, Ottawa Lions sprinter Esther Akinsulie showed she’s rounding back into form quite nicely with silver and bronze medal victories on the final day of the Canadian track-and-field championships June 22-25 in Calgary.

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