Breaking Records At Track And Field

November 1, 2007 by Tom MacGregor

PHOTOS: TOM MacGREGOR

PHOTOS: TOM MacGREGOR

Clockwise from top: Athletes follow a Legion colour party around the track; students try their hands at sophisticated computer programs that challenge soldiers’ reaction times; Dominion Vice-President John Alger awards the gold medal; javelin-thrower Wiley Collins goes for gold.

A slow clap accelerated as thrower Wiley Collins picked up his javelin and proceeded to his mark. Soon it was a rapid clap as Collins made his short run and then let go a 74-metre toss clear into the New Brunswick air.

The clapping was coming not just from fellow Ontario Command teammates but his own competitors in the javelin event at the 2007 Royal Canadian Legion National Track and Field Championships held Aug. 8-14 in Oromocto, N.B. Collins’ skill put him so far ahead of his competitors they were cheering him on, not just to the gold–which there was little doubt he would attain–but to breaking a Legion track and field record.

He did it with ease. The old Legion record was 68.29 metres set in 2004 by Curtis Moss of British Columbia. Collins came in with 74.35 metres.

He did not break a national record–though there would be one of them broken in this year’s events–but it was gold. Collins would also go on to take silver medals in discus and hammer throwing before the meet was over.

“I keep my arm in shape. I’ve been playing baseball for years both as a pitcher and catcher,” said the 17-year-old from London. Collins is hoping athletics will earn him a scholarship from a university in the United States.

An outstanding 11 Legion records were broken at the event held at a brand new track built on Canadian Forces Base Gagetown. There were some nervous days for the track’s technical adviser Leroy Washburn and Local Arrangements Chairman Helen Ladouceur as they watched workers rushing feverishly to lay sod and have the area properly landscaped by the time the athletes arrived.

The professional painters from the United States who specialize in preparing tracks had been held up at the border for two days while Canadian authorities checked their authorization to work in Canada.

Although the Legion has been involved in athletics since the 1950s, the current national program dates back to 1977 when its first meet was held at the high school track in Oromocto, 25 kilometres east of Fredericton. Since then the event has grown and been held at different locations across Canada. The meet had not been held in New Brunswick since 1982.

Dominion Vice-President John Alger, the chairman of the Dominion Command Sports Committee, welcomed the athletes on the Thursday morning. “Since its inception here in Oromocto in 1977, the Legion National Track and Field Championships have been helping young Canadians go faster, stronger and higher,” he said.

Alger told athletes that this year’s track meet was celebrating the 90th anniversary of the victory at Vimy Ridge and went on to make an analogy to what the Canadian Forces are doing today. “In Afghanistan today they are hearing the same sound the enemy heard at Vimy Ridge. It’s the sound of the Canadians coming and they will do us just as proud,” he said.

Blair Dugray from Athletics Canada also welcomed the athletes, “Make no doubt about it. Some of you here will some day be competing for Canada,” he said. He wished them well and hoped the camp would be a major event in developing their athletic careers.

The athletes also heard from two-time Olympian Joel Bourgeois of Grand Digue, N.B., who had attended Legion track meets has a teenager. “Ask yourself, where do want to be 10 years from now. Where do you want to be in track and in life? Where do you want to be five years from now? Or next year? Or at this meet? Do you want to earn a gold medal? I remember my first track meet in Sudbury. I finished seventh or eighth–definitely middle of the pack. But I kept at it,” he said. “You have to set your goals and keep working to get there.”

Bourgeois also remembered another athlete a bit older than him who went through the Legion camps with him. That athlete, Shawn Graham, did not go on in sports but today is the premier of New Brunswick. “You learn things in sports that are not just important to sports and in getting along in life as well,” he said.

The games opened on the Friday night with a symbolic torch being carried by runners onto and around the track. About 1,000 people had gathered to watch as the athletes, dressed in their team uniforms marched around the track behind their command signs following a Legion colour party. New Brunswick Lieutenant-Governor Herménégilde Chiasson and Alger took the salute.

A remembrance service started off the opening with Alger and New Brunswick Command President Tom Eagles placing a wreath.

Greetings were heard from MP Andy Scott, MLA Jody Car and base commander Colonel Ken Chadder. Oromocto Mayor Fay Tid said how delighted she was that the military was persuaded to build the track when the town could not afford one. “We were worried about the amount of time it was taking. If it were one of the city work crews I could say something, but it’s pretty hard to tell a colonel to get on with building a track,” she said.

Then Chiasson raised a starter pistol in the air, fired, and declared the 2007 Legion National Track and Field Championships officially open.

It was sunny and hot with temperatures up to and slightly above 30 degrees Celsius throughout the meet. A crowd of more than 1,000 was always in the bleachers or elsewhere as spectators decided what they wanted to watch with as many as three events going on at once.

Sisters Sabrina, 17, and Christabel Nettey, 16, of Richmond, B.C., set three records between them. Sabrina took gold in the 17-and-under 200-metre race with a win of 24:13 beating a previous record of 24:19 set in 1991 by Ladonna Antoine of Saskatchewan. She would also win gold in the 100-metre race.

Christabel Nettey broke records in both the women’s 17-and-under 100-metre hurdles and the women’s long jump. Her race was at 14:00, beating a Legion record of 14:06 set in 2003 by Nikkita Holder of Ontario. Her long jump was 6.28 metres beating a record of 5.83 held since 2002 by Sarah Nelson of Ontario.

Both sisters were part of British Columbia/Yukon’s 4×100-metre relay team which also won a gold medal.

In men’s 17-and-under 110-hurdles, Simon Léveillé of Quebec won with a race of 13.74 seconds, beating a Legion record of 13.98 set in 2002 by Cameron Sahadath.

Jacob Smith of Ontario broke a new record in the men’s 17-and-under 2,000-metre steeplechase with a run of 5:59.42, narrowly breaking the record of 6:00.35 set in 2004 by Joseph Brunsting of Ontario.

British Columbia/Yukon’s Keynan Parker broke the men’s 17-and-under 200-metre run coming in at 21:44.

Jared Heldman, also of British Columbia/ Yukon, broke the Legion record in the men’s 15-and-under long jump. He jumped 6.82 metres breaking a record of 6.63 set in 2004 by Jeremy Yang of Ontario.

Aleksandr Kuternin of Toronto broke a record in the men’s 17-and-under 3,000-metre run with a race of 8:28.09, narrowly breaking the record of 8:29.08 set last year by Matt Leeder of Ontario. He also won gold in 1,500-metre race.

Although he also plays basketball and tennis, Kuternin said track and field is the favourite sport. “I like cross-country running. It’s far more interesting to get out there with mud, and the hills and trees,” he said. He hopes to be a professional athlete when he is out of high school.

On high jump Alyxandria Treasure, 15, of British Columbia, had the high jump to herself as her 15-and-under competitors dropped out and she still tried to go higher after coming near the Legion record of 1.74 metres. She went a bit higher to 1.76. A hush fell over the crowd as she ran up and easily slipped over it. The cheering section went wild. She would later attempt to go higher to break a national record but did not succeed. She would have to settle with the gold and the new Legion record.

Late in the meet on Sunday afternoon it was announced that Julie Labonté of Ste-Justine, Que., had broken records with women’s 17-and-under shot put throw of 13.95 metres. First it was announced that she had beaten the Legion record of 13.33 held by Ontario’s Sultana Frizell in 2001 and then it was announced she had also broken the Canadian youth record of 13.94 set in 2005 by Kaitlyn Andrews of Ontario.

The final day of the camp, the athletes had a tour of the base and a chance to get close to the equipment being used by the troops today in Afghanistan. Members of the Royal Canadian Regiment who had just returned from a tour of operations were on hand to show equipment such as the light armoured vehicle, LAV III. Athletes were allowed to climb over the equipment and get outfitted up in personal protection gear for mine-clearing work. Also on site were the Leopard II tanks such as the ones recently purchased that are just now arriving at the battle front.

Athletes had a chance to shoulder a Carl Gustav anti-tank rifle which requires a two-person team, one to load the weapon and the other to aim and fire. ‘When you fire one of these you are stunned for a minute. The guy who assisted you might even be worse,” said one experienced soldier showing parts of the deadly arsenal that are part of the soldiers’ routine while on deployment.

Perhaps most fascinating to the teenagers was the room where rows of desks are set up for computer games. Only these are not the home entertainment games the athletes are used to. These are interactive training programs designed to present a soldier with all the dangers, obstacles and discretion needed on a night patrol.

In another room, computer life-sized images are projected onto screens. Soldiers use rifles designed with lasers that interact with the images to test their marksmanship, reactions and caution in handling a roadside patrol or other situation.

The perils of combat were made personal for the athletes at the closing banquet on the base. The featured speaker for the evening was Master Corporal Paul Franklin, a double above-the-knee amputee following a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan. Franklin was in his second tour of operations in Afghanistan serving as medical technician attached to the Provincial Reconstruction Team in the province of Kandahar when the attack occurred.

“In combat you depend on a team. I trust my life with them. One member of our team put a tourniquet on my left leg. I had taught him how to do that two days before,” he said.

Franklin spoke of the importance of remaining physically fit. “I survived 26 surgeries and fought infections but I was injured in February and I took my first step in March. I went from 200 pounds to 130 pounds… But I was fit. That’s what saved my life,” he said.

Franklin explained that despite losing his legs, he is still in the Canadian Forces, helping amputees and other combat-injured soldiers with their recovery in Edmonton.

There was another tie to Afghanistan in that the top male and female awards this year were dedicated to Private Mark Graham, 33, of Hamilton. Graham had been on the Ontario team at the 1989 Legion track and field meet in Victoria. In 1992, he was a member of Canada’s 4×400-metre Olympic team that competed in Barcelona, Spain. He later served with the Royal Canadian Regiment in Petawawa, Ont., and was killed in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan when a United States airplane accidentally fired on Canadian troops on Sept. 4, 2006.

This year’s top athletes were Aleksandr Kuternin and Christabel Nettey. The top athletes are chosen by a committee headed by the Sports Committee chairman and is based on performance and personality.

Ladouceur, as chairman of the Local Arrangements Committee, had the duty of presenting a plaque to Gilles Lussier who will be taking on that task for the third time when the 2008 track meet is held in Sherbrooke, Que.

Alger summed things up at the end of the evening saying, “As far as I am concerned you are all winners. You will all take home memories to last a lifetime.”

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