HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
The past 15 months have been difficult times for Canada’s high-performance track and field athletes. The global COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected training, travel, competitions and the athletes’ psyche.
The world is slowly opening now, but the time clock marches on and that’s not good for national-level runners, jumpers and throwers who hope to match or better the strict Athletics Canada standards for next month’s Tokyo Summer Olympics.
A small group of marathon runners and race walkers have met the Athletics Canada criteria and received Canadian Olympic Committee approval. Another six endurance athletes were added Friday with a noticeable local marathoner missing.
It has been a rare qualifying period for the Canadian marathon community as four men met the men’s qualifying time standard, but only three would go to Tokyo. Tristan Woodfine of Foymount, ON., in Renfrew County missed the cut and will serve as the non-travelling alternate.
Trevor Hofbauer was the auto-qualifier, winning the Canadian Olympic trials. Athletics Canada debated the other three, selecting Ben Preisner and Cameron Levins. Woodfine beat Levins in two races, but had the slowest qualifying time of the four marathoners.
Athletics Canada’s Tokyo Qualifier Series in Ottawa Friday-Saturday
That thrill-of-victory, agony-of-defeat theme is playing out this weekend in Ottawa. The two-day Ottawa High Performance Weekend track and field meet, which started Friday and ends Saturday, is the opening event of Athletics Canada’s Tokyo Qualifier Series.
Following strict health and safety protocols and competing with no fans or media inside the Terry Fox Athletic Facility stadium, men and women are competing in seven track and six field competitions.
Rio 2016 Olympian Farah Jacques, who trains in Ottawa, is one of the big names to watch. The member of Canada’s 7th-place 4×100-metre relay team in Rio has switched her focus to the women’s 100 m hurdles and the competition will offer a peek into the work she’s been doing away from the spotlight.
A study of the event entry lists also show many athletes have had some form of competition this spring and have posted seed times/marks. But two Ottawa athletes haven’t competed since before the start of the pandemic.
The women’s high jump has two entries, including Barbara Bitchoka of C.A.N.I., who entered two Ottawa Twilight high jump meets last summer. She twice cleared 1.75 metres. The Olympic standard is 1.96 metres.
But during the 2020 indoor season (before the pandemic shut down competitions in March), she cleared 1.85 metres at meets in Ottawa and Montreal. In her three previous seasons, she jumped 1.80 metres.
Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club’s Sharelle Samuel will race the women’s 100 and 200 metres in her first meet since the winter of 2020 at Harvard University. The pandemic cancelled the Ivy League’s 2020 and 2021 outdoor and 2021 indoor seasons.
Samuel has represented Canada at the 2018 world junior championships, helping the women’s 4×400-metre relay team set a national record, and winning the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games 400-metre hurdles silver medal.
The other Ottawa athletes chasing the Olympic qualifying standards this weekend are: Madison Clarke, women’s 800 and 1,500 metres; Helena Jovic, women’s 400-metre hurdles; Olivia Merritt, women’s javelin; Bertwin Ben-Smith, men’s 100 and 200 metres; David Adeleye, men’s 110-metre hurdles; Leewinchell Jean and Saj Alhaddad, men’s 400-metre hurdles; all Ottawa Lions; Eliezer Adjibi, men’s 100 and 200 metres; Alexander Collins, men’s 110-metre hurdles; Hans Lafleur, men’s high jump; and Bryson Patterson, men’s long jump, all C.A.N.I.
The men’s 1,500 metres on Friday included Ottawa’s Sebastian Saville of Université Laval and Paralympic medallist Jason Dunkerley of the Lions. Saville, who only had two outdoor races in 2020, competed in his third 1,500 metres in six years.
A five-time Paralympic medal winner, Dunkerley will compete for the first time since 2018. He ran 4:13.67 for the silver medal at the 2017 world para championships. His personal best is 4:07.56 from the 2012 London Paralympics.
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.