Athletics Universities

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Olympic triathlete Joanna Brown strikes gold, silver at Canada West XC running championships

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

By Martin Cleary

Every high-performance athlete has good days and bad days in the competition arena. It’s the nature of sport.

Some days you just want everything to go right and then the floor drops from beneath your feet. Other days, when you’re not feeling the best, the competition seems so fluid and satisfying.

Joanna Brown of Carp, ON., can certainly relate to those two scenarios, especially over the past five months.

At her first Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo in July, Brown exited the swimming portion of the women’s individual triathlon race in an encouraging 12th place. But she had mechanical troubles during the cycling leg, was lapped and forced to withdraw from the race. In the mixed relay, Canada was 15th and second last.

But when Brown returned to Canada, enrolled in sciences at the University of British Columbia Okanagan and started training with the women’s cross-country running team, life became good again.

For the first time in eight years, when she raced with the powerful Gryphons cross-country team at the University of Guelph, Brown was back in a familiar and comfortable element of sport.

In her three seasons (2011-13) running for the Gryphons, Brown shared in three OUA women’s team titles, bringing it to 10 consecutive at the time, and three CIS (now U Sports) national women’s team championships, pushing it to nine in a row.


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Her best season was 2012, when she placed eighth in both the OUA and CIS individual races. She also was the fifth and final counting team runner in both races for the Gryphons.

Well, Brown, who turns 29 on Friday, is enjoying her best-ever individual university cross-country running season and there’s a U Sports national championship still on the horizon. If she wants to add another overland challenge to her season, the Athletics Canada cross-country championships are in her backyard Nov. 27 at Wesley Clover Parks.

On Oct. 30, Brown sparked the UBC Okanagan Heat to an historic day of women’s cross-country running. Brown won the Canada West women’s individual race by a mere two-tenths of a second over teammate and exchange student Lauren McNeil of Buxton, England.

That unprecedented one-two punch by Brown and McNeil combined with fifth-year Camille Galloway of Whitehorse placing 13th, freshman Kristen Smith of Georgetown, ON., finishing 19th and second-year student-athlete Eliyah Brawdy of Smithers, B.C., stopping in 30th allowed the Heat to place a best-ever second in the conference women’s team standings behind the UBC Thunderbirds.

Brown was the individual race gold medallist over 8,000 metres in 28 minutes, 43.4 seconds in Saskatoon, which earned her the Canada West female cross-country athlete of the year award and first-team all-star status. She capped that conference championship by being named Canada West runner of the week a few days later.

“It is very special to win because it is a reflection of the work we have put in as a team and the dedication that the whole team shows to being competitive in our conference,” Brown said in UBC Okanagan press release.

“I am grateful to the coaches at UBCO and all the athletes on the team that have welcomed me back to U Sports this year.”

Heat head coach Malindi Elmore, who placed ninth for Canada in the women’s marathon at the Tokyo Olympics, was thrilled by the performances of all five runners.

“We knew we had a great opportunity to podium today, and it was very exciting to see Joanna and Lauren battle for the gold in the final stretch,” Elmore said.

McNeil earned her share of honours as well for finishing second in 28:43.6. She was the Canada West female cross-country rookie of the year and a first-team all-star.

Brown and McNeil took charge of the race from the beginning and never relinquished the lead, finishing 38 seconds ahead of Glynis Sim of the UBC Thunderbirds, who was third.

The Heat’s good fortune in women’s cross-country running started Oct. 5, when the U Sports national rankings placed UBC Okanagan ninth, the first time the school broke into the Top 10. UBC Okanagan entered U Sports competitions in 2016.

After its three cross-country meets this season, including the Canada West conference championships, the Heat has climbed into sixth place as it prepares for the U Sports championships Nov. 20 on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.

One-two finishes for Brown and McNeil have been commonplace this season. But in two earlier invitational races McNeil held the upper hand over Brown.

On Sept. 26, McNeil won the Vikes Invitational in Victoria in 21:17 for 6,000 metres, while Brown was runner-up in 21:42. Their efforts helped the Heat place second to the Thunderbirds in the women’s team standings.

At the Trinity Western Invitational in Langley, B.C., McNeil was the fastest over the 8,000-metre course in 28:02.78 and Brown took second in 28:31.35. The Heat repeated their second-place result in the women’s team standing behind the Thunderbirds.

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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