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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Canadian Nationals

I've long believed that track meets cause rain. It now appears it's merely my presence at a track meet that causes rain; I broke two droughts this summer, once in Indianapolis and once in Windsor.

Just a few days ago I discovered the Canadian championships were going to be in Windsor, a city closer to Superfan HQ than Cleveland or Columbus. So I quickly located my birth certificate and took off for the Great White North. The border guards going both ways thought it a bit odd that I was going to a track meet just to watch.

The Facility

The University of Windsor's track is literally a hammer throw away from customs at the Ambassador Bridge. It's shoe-horned into a small piece of land right on a main thoroughfare, so there are no seats on the backstretch and the field event areas are all on one end. The javelin run-up is situated in a way I've never seen before; the athletes actually throw over the track.

The smallness of the place creates a feeling of togetherness. Mark Boswell played with his daughter right in the middle of the fans, and I darn near tripped over CBC's announcing duo.

But this facility is in one way far superior to almost any in the USA; the University's indoor track is directly adjacaent to the stadium, creating the type of warm-up facility common elsewhere but basically nonexistent in the States.

The Meet

I went for "Super Saturday", which featured a number of field event finals along with prelims of the 200m, 800m and 400H and finals of the 100m, 400m, 1500m, and high hurdles. For the most part I'm unfamiliar with the rank-and-file Canadian athletes, only knowing the real stars, and this made some of the races a little less interesting for myself than those around me. Still, there was some good competition. The race of the day would probably have to be the men's 1500m, where Ryan McKenzie upset Kevin Sullivan.

The Differences

Seeing different and new things is the best reason to travel. I've been in Canada plenty, but this was the first Canadian track meet I've ever been at. (I went to the 2001 Worlds in Edmonton, but that was an international track meet in Canada--not a meet of, by, and for Canadians.) There were a lot of little differences.

First off, this is also the national championships for athletes with disabilities, because Athletics Canada is the national governing body for all kinds of track & field. I learned not only a bit about the classification system for disabilities but the events themselves. Wheelchair races are fairly straightforward but the shot put is not.

Another difference was the emphasis on clubs. Independent athletes were as rare at this meet as club-affiliated athletes at the USATF Championships. The small number of athletes wearing shoe-sponsored kit were always announced by their club affiliation, unlike the USATF meet were athletes were said to be representing shoe companies. This makes sense when you realize that Canada overall is significantly less commercialized than the USA.

And there were very few sponsored athletes in this meet; only one (Tyler Christopher) could be considered an international star (and even he isn't living extravagantly according to a segment I saw last summer on CBC). That, the club orientation, and the strong presence of high school competitors made the whole thing feel like an elite amateur meeting, whereas the USATF Championship is clearly a gathering of pros and semi-pros (US athletes who are neither after leaving college face a very short future in the sport).

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