MacKinnon: Donovan Bailey Invitational meet lineup keeps getting better and better
Edmonton contest will be a who’s who of athletes trying to make their respective country’s Olympic standards
Photograph by: Walter Tychnowicz, file, edmontonjournal.com
EDMONTON - For more than a few track and field athletes and, happily, fans of the sport in northern Alberta, the road to the London 2012 Summer Olympics runs right through Foote Field.
A perfect storm of factors has conspired to help the Donovan Bailey Invitational (DBI) event on the National Track League circuit assemble an eye-popping lineup for the June 16 meet at the University of Alberta South Campus facility.
Meet organizer Peter Ogilvie, the executive-director of Athletics Alberta, knew he would raise eyebrows when Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake, the reigning 100-metre world champion, committed to the Edmonton meet back in March.
But the lineup he continues to unveil is a long, long way from an all-comers, twilight meet with a few big names on hand. This is going to be a big-time track meet the likes of which has rarely been seen in Canada.
“When we announced that we had Yohan Blake, people went, ‘Uh-oh, they just spent all their (appearance) money,’ ” Ogilvie said Thursday. “What else are they going to do? They’re going to be a one-trick pony.”
Hardly. Ogilvie has also landed U.S. sprinter Walter Dix to headline a strong men’s 200-metre field that also includes Jared Connaughton, who helped Canada’s 4x100-metre men’s relay team win at the Diamond League meet in Rome on Thursday in a time of 38.63 seconds, their best performance this season.
Ogilvie has recruited top U.S. 110-metre hurdlers Terrence Trammell, Jason Richardson, Dexter Faulk, Jeff Porter and Joel Brown.
The women’s 100-metre hurdles race will feature Canada’s five-pack of Olympic hopefuls: Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, who ran a 12.81 in Rome on Thursday, former world champion Perdita Felicien, Edmonton’s Angela Whyte, and emerging stars Nikkita Holder and Phylicia George. All of them have run sub-13 second times this season.
The men’s shot put field is led by Dylan Armstrong of Kamloops, B.C., who won a silver medal at the World Championships in Athletics in Daegu, South Korea, last year.
On Monday, Ogilvie plans to announce a world-class field for the men’s 1,500 metres, which is expected to include Canadians Taylor Milne and Nate Brannen and some top metric milers from Africa and the U.S.
“A lot of athletes, in an Olympic year, are under a lot of pressure,” Ogilvie said. “They’re going to look at every opportunity (to compete), even if it’s a last-minute one.”
The Edmonton meet comes a week before the Canadian (June 27-30 at Calgary), U.S. and Jamaican Olympic trials, so the timing is fortuitous for the DBI.
“If you don’t have your Olympic standard, you need to come to our meet,” Ogilvie said. “We are the last meet in North America that can be used as a qualifying window to make their respective Olympic standards.”
For Canadian athletes, qualifying for London means hitting the appropriate qualifying standard and finishing top three in their event at the trials.
Nailing the standard ahead of the trials takes that bit of pressure off. It also means the athlete is sharp heading into the business end of the schedule in this Olympic year.
This weekend, the high-profile Prefontaine Classic meet goes in Eugene, Ore., for example. Some athletes will hit qualifying standards there, others will fall short.
“After Prefontaine, there are going to be a lot of athletes knocking on our door, looking for a race,” said Mathieu Gentes, Athletics Canada’s director of public relations and corporate services. “I expect there will be a couple of big names that we didn’t even court that will be coming to us.”
The result is not merely a cluster of stars, but a program that will feature as many as 10 events of top-calibre competition.
By adding about 1,500 bleacher seats and selling general admission tickets so people can sit on the berm that borders one side of the Foote Field track, Ogilvie said the facility can hold 7,000 for the track meet.
“Looking at my start lists, in terms of world-class events with world-class performances, we’ve got the men’s 100 metres; 200 metres, 110-metre hurdles, shot put and 500 metres.
“Then we have the women’s 100-metre hurdles, hammer throw, long jump and the 100 metres, another four events at the same level.
“We’ve clearly pushed our product to another level.”
In just the second year of the National Track League, the buy-in from athletes is demonstrating the Canadian circuit can carve out an important niche in the track world.
“We knew that if we built it, they would come, sort of thing,” said Gentes. “But not that they would come so quickly.”
Is this a one-off? A function of fortuitous timing in an Olympic year? That remains to be seens. In the meantime, neither Gentes nor Ogilvie is fighting the feeling.
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