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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Ottawa track and field meet will kick off Athletics Canada Tokyo Qualifier Series

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

Athletics Canada to the rescue.

Four months before the scheduled start of the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Canada’s elite track and field athletes finally have the key to unlock their game plans.

The national sports governing body revealed last week an all-embracing competition schedule to give the country’s best track and field athletes an opportunity to qualify for the Olympics/Paralympics in a safe, worry-free manner.

The Athletics Canada Tokyo Qualifier Series will offer nine meets in 10 cities over a 40-day period. Each meet will have a limited number of track, jumps and throws events for a restricted number of athletes during the pandemic.

The series begins May 21-22 with the Ottawa HP Weekend at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility and will feature the men’s 200 and 800 metres, 110-metre hurdles, high jump and shot put; and the women’s 200, 800 and 1,500 metres, 100-metre hurdles, triple jump, discus, javelin, and shot put.

Ottawa Lions shot putter Tim Nedow was often the only person inside the Terry Fox Athletic Facility stadium during his noon-hour training sessions in summer 2020. Photo: Dan Plouffe

Read more: Compounded by the loss of carding funds, shot putter’s Olympic hunt is self-driven to the max

The other meets are the Johnny Loaring Classic, May 29, Windsor; Ontario High Performance Series, June 2, Toronto; Royal City Inferno Track and Field Festival, June 5, Guelph; Kamloops Throws Festival, June 5, Kamloops, B.C.; Victoria Track Classic, June 9, Victoria/Kamloops; Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Track Classic, June 12, Burnaby/Kamloops/Vancouver; CALTAF Classic, June 13, Calgary; and La Classique d’athletisme de Montreal, June 29, Montreal.


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The Canadian championships are also scheduled for Montreal from June 24-27.

“I think it is great,” Ottawa HP Weekend meet director Richard Johnston said of the series in an interview Tuesday. The series reminded him of the (pre-pandemic) National Track League competitions and sparked a desire to see that circuit brought back.

High-performance athletes have been allowed to continue training during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has been frustrating that they haven’t been permitted to test their abilities in structured competitions.

“The athletes will not have to worry about international travel or worry about quarantine,” Johnston added. “It’s peace of mind and allows athletes to get after (hitting Olympic criteria) in Canada.”

Without domestic competitions and a reluctance to travel to international meets over the past year, athletes have had a reduced timeframe to meet the strict Athletics Canada selection criteria for each of the men’s, women’s and para events.

But the national series will allow athletes an at-home, Olympic solution. If athletes meet their Games’ criteria and win their event at the Canadian championships, they’ll be nominated to the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Athletes also can earn world ranking points based on their times, distances and heights as well as bonus points for their finish result in their competitions. Athletics Canada and the COC also will consider their rankings for team selection.

The domestic meets will help several Ottawa and area athletes on the cusp of Olympic qualifying – 800-metre runner Melissa Bishop-Nriagu, shot-putter Tim Nedow, who has had a couple meets this year; and sprint hurdler Farah Jacques.

Melissa Bishop-Nriagu competes and wins the women’s 800m during the 2017 Canadian Track and Field Championships at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility on July 7, 2017. It will be different with empty stands come Ottawa’s May 21-22 Tokyo Qualifier Series event, but the Ottawa Lions athlete may race nonetheless. Photo: Steve Kingsman

“Melissa said she is open to it (competing in Ottawa), but she has to look at her options,” said Johnston, adding American meets may offer a better opportunity for her to match or better the national Olympic standard of 1:59.50. She owns the Canadian outdoor women’s 800-metre record of 1:57.01, which was set in 2017.

“We are starting to get interest now. Previous national championship medal winners have contacted me and they’re planning to come to Ontario for the Ontario meets,” Johnston said.

It’s difficult to say what health and safety protocols the Ottawa track and field meet will face in late May, but Johnston is confident of staging a safe meet, after playing host to five Twilight outdoor meets for local athletes in 2020.

The Ottawa HP Weekend meet will have no fans in the stands, but streaming is possible. Masks must be worn at all times, except for warm-ups and competitions. There will be reduced fields and empty lanes in running events.

Athletes will be asked to fill out a pre-meet health questionnaire, arrive on site only 30 minutes before their events and leave the venue immediately after they are finished to allow the next wave of competitors.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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