HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Tuesday, February 1, 2022 cannot come soon enough for Ottawa’s talented, but facility-famished track and field community.
While the city’s Chinese population will celebrate its New Year on that day and welcome the Year of the Tiger, the region’s runners, jumpers, throwers and coaches hope to rejoice in their own version of a new beginning – being able to train and compete again in the exclusive Louis-Riel Dome.
Canada’s only 400-metre indoor track and field venue, the east-end dome has been closed to the public and Ottawa’s track and field clubs, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Uniquely managed by the French public school board, the multi-purpose dome is only being used for phys-ed classes at neighbouring Louis-Riel high school, which was one of its original intentions.
A message on the Louis-Riel Dome website informed its potential users the building is “scheduled to reopen for community bookings” on Feb. 1, provided the “health and safety recommendations remain positive and we have sufficient personnel.”
Groups interested in renting the dome on weekday nights and weekends can get details about the gradual reopening beginning Jan. 16.
“Our hope is the only (indoor) track in Ottawa (Louis-Riel Dome) becomes accessible to the track and field community at least for competitions, which is key to athlete development,” Lyndon George, the director of C.A.N.I. (Constant and Never-ending Improvement) Athletics, wrote in an email.
“The bigger concern is that track and field in Ottawa is losing a generation of athletes as the current situation can affect participation rates.”
For the second straight winter-training season, George and Richard Johnston, the head coach of the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club and the University of Ottawa/Carleton University teams, have been forced to scramble to find open spaces for training. And it’s worse this season.
As Ontario has recently relaxed its health and safety protocols, some team sports have returned to action and booked times in the city’s other domed sports venues. Many teams have been regular dome customers over the years, making it difficult for Ottawa track and field clubs to lease sufficient training times.
“We are effectively conditioning the athletes, but cannot get into specific details of each event as we do not have the track available so close to indoor competition,” added George, who has his athletes training in a gym and on artificial turf fields.
The Ontario indoor season opened Dec. 4 in Toronto with the 20th annual York University Xmas Open. Indoor meets will continue through March.
Johnston is frustrated his Lions athletes cannot train inside the Louis-Riel Dome, while other domed venues are open to some community teams. He said he’s in regular contact with the Louis-Riel Dome management, and has been upset by “the silence,” when he asks about returning to their indoor home.
“We just want a simple place to train,” Johnston said in a phone interview. “Our team is completely vaccinated.
“We’re ready to play ball and get going. But it’s out of our control. I am proud of what we accomplished in the (2021) outdoor season. But for success outside (in 2022), we need an indoor season to carry the momentum.”
Johnston is upset when he looks at the Louis-Riel Dome being used only for high school phys-ed classes, but not made available to track and field clubs and other sports groups.
“We must be creative, yet we have this premier venue not being used,” continued Johnston, who added last year’s fractured indoor training schedule at a variety of uncommon venues was a beneficial experience for the athletes, including some who had best-ever results and fewer injuries in their outdoor season.
Johnston was thankful for how last year played out for his club and university athletes as he scrambled to find training times at the Aberdeen Pavilion, Paul-Desmarais Megadome and Oz Dome.
In 2020-21, most Ontario universities didn’t have access to their training venues, but that has changed for the 2021-22 indoor season.
“Now, it has gone the other way. Toronto and the GTA have tracks,” he said, adding the city is again without its major athletics training venue.
For the 2021-22 indoor season, the Lions are training Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at the University of Ottawa Lees’ Dome; Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings at the Aberdeen Pavilion; and Saturday mornings in the Jack Doyle Athletics and Recreation Centre at Algonquin College.
“We’ve put pressure on every angle,” Johnston said about returning to the Louis-Riel Dome. “It’s not a Lions thing. It shows how important the Louis-Riel Dome is to Ottawa.”
Despite a second year of disjointed training, athletes representing the Lions and the University of Ottawa fared well at the recent open indoor meet at York University, scoring two first-place finishes, three seconds and three thirds.
The Lions’ Stephen Evans won the men’s 1,000 metres in two minutes, 26.09 seconds, while University of Ottawa’s Yasser Riad was second in 2:31.26.
In a one-two finish by Lions clubmates, Kyle Porter captured the men’s 1,500 metres in 4:25.80 and was closely followed by Zachary Sikka in 4:25.91.
Andre Alie-Lamarche of the University of Ottawa was second in the men’s 3,000 metres in 8:52.11, while Nicholas Pedersen of the Lions took third in 8:56.70.
Bronze medals also were won by Thomas Becker of the University of Ottawa in the men’s high jump at 1.95 metres, and the Lions’ Bertwin Ben-Smith in the men’s 300 metres in 35.49.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 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.
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