By Mark Colley
Ottawa Lions athletes Kathryn Manor and Maria Okwechime took home gold medals at the first Canadian Track and Field League championship on Wednesday night at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility in Ottawa.
Manor came first in the women’s 100 metre with a time of 12.08 seconds. Okwechime earned the top spot in women’s long jump with a distance of 5.56 metres.
The meet was the final competition for the CTFL, which launched this year with four teams and 128 athletes. The league’s goal is to professionalize track and field and generate fan interest by providing cash prizes to athletes and putting on made-for-TV meets.
“Track needs this,” league founder Quinn Lyness said before Wednesday’s meet. “It’s literally the longest-standing sport in the world’s history and yet no one really cares.”
Lyness graduated from the University of Ottawa last year. He competed with the Gee-Gees as a 400m hurdler. When he couldn’t train during the COVID-19 lockdown because he lacked designation as a pro athlete, Lyness decided to launch the league.
The league features four teams — the Artics, Bears, Huskies and Spitfires — with 32 athletes each. Athletes earned points for their performances at three regular season meets and Wednesday’s championship.
The Bears were crowned the CTFL’s first champions, as their athletes collected the most points of the four teams. A host of Bears are also Ottawa Lions, including Bertwin Ben-Smith, Doyin Ogunremi, David Moulongou, Louise Stonham, Brandyn Martineau, and Brianna Asiamah. The team was awarded a $1,000 prize.
Lions athletes Manor, Ogunremi (200m) and Helena Jovic (400-metre hurdles) were also each crowned their event’s individual champion for the season.
“The buy-in [this season] was amazing,” Lyness said. “I think that kind of speaks to how much we really need it.”
Of the other Ottawa Lions athletes who competed Wednesday, Ben-Smith was another standout, placing second in the men’s 200m in 21.67 seconds.
Jovic also came second in the 400m hurdles at the championship.
Ogunremi also won silver in the women’s 200 metre for the Bears. She finished with a time of 25.07 seconds, which she said was a personal best.
“[It] feels pretty good,” Ogunremi said. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to be this fast, so I’m happy that it was.”
Ogunremi will compete at her first Canada Summer Games this August in Niagara. She said she had a really tough workout on Tuesday and wasn’t peaking for the CTFL championship, which makes the personal best even sweeter.
“In the past four weeks, my PB has dropped two seconds, which usually never happens,” she said. “I’m just really excited to see how fast I can go, cause now I really don’t know. Every race has been faster, so I’m hoping I can continue that at the Games.”
Her goal for the Games is to run the 400m in under 55 seconds. If she makes it on the podium, “that would just be the icing on the cake.”
She said the first CTFL season was “incredible.”
“Track and field, for the five years I’ve been doing it, has always been the same and we’ve never had a league where athletes can keep going and keep progressing,” Ogunremi said. “It’s a really neat concept and because we race all the time, it’s fun to get points for it.”
Elizabeth Vroom, who won bronze for the Artics in the women’s 1500 metre — one of six bronze medals Ottawa Lions athletes took home on Wednesday — echoed that sentiment.
“It was really cool. I think it’s a really great idea,” Vroom said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Vroom is nationally ranked in steeplechase after winning the four major high school championships and breaking records in all of them this year. She said she ran the 1500 through the school season but scrapped it at OFSAA because it was too close to the steeplechase.
At the CTFL championship, Vroom said it “wasn’t a great race” because she started too fast and it caught her in the end.
In the fall, Vroom is headed to Queen’s University and is most looking forward to competing with its cross country club, she said, because she’s only ever run cross country with her high school team.
With the first CTFL season in the books, Lyness is already planning ahead for next year. He said that moving forward, the league’s focus will be to increase its media footprint to tell the story of its athletes, including with a forthcoming video series called “Metre by Metre.”
“We put on good events for athletes, but not really good events to attract fans, and that’s what we’re kind of missing as a sport,” Lyness said.
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