Toronto on track for big meets

ALISON KORN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

In the span of one month, the University of Toronto's gleaming, dark blue track will be the place to race -- for athletes from playground to podium.

OFSAA competitors, Olympic medallists, and top Canadians will compete at three key events at Varsity Centre's new, state-of-the-art stadium this June. Around U of T, the saying is that track is back in Toronto. It has been a long time coming: The nationals were last held in Toronto in 1968, when Harry Jerome won gold in the 100 metres.

"I think it's the dawning of a new age for track and field, not only at the University of Toronto, but for the city of Toronto and the entire metro Toronto area," said Carl Georgevski, head coach of the University of Toronto track and field team. "We have the only (synthetic) track in downtown Toronto for people to train and compete on."

The three events slated for June are the OFSAA high school finals (June 4-6); followed by the Festival of Excellence, featuring three-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt (June 11); and then the Canadian track and field championships (June 25-28). There's also the metro high school championship the week before OFSAA and a bunch of twilight meets.

The schedule is so busy for Georgeveski that he joked, "I think I've got a cot in my office, and I've got a fridge and a stove because the entire track and field team and management team, we're going to be living up here.

"Seriously, we are so excited, not only the coaching staff, but the entire athletic facility and the Faculty of Physical Education and Health."

U of T is promoting the "playground to podium" philosophy, hoping to inspire students and athletes at all levels and abilities to participate in sport for fun, competition and health.

The goal is long-term development from the elementary school student to the international competitor.

Said Georgevski: "The most important part is that the entire track and field community in the 416 and 905 is going to benefit tremendously from this new facility, as well as Canadian track and field."

The original stadium, demolished in the summer of 2002, was the site of some of Canadian track's best moments, including Bill Crothers' defeat of world champion Peter Snell in a memorable 880-yard race in 1965, and David Bailey's first Canadian four-minute mile on Canadian soil in 1967. The new stadium opened in July 2007.

The 2009 Canadian track and field championships will serve as the selection trials for the 12th world championships in athletics in Berlin, Germany, from Aug. 15 to 23.

On the comeback trail after an injury wiped out her 2008 outdoor season, Pickering's 100-metre hurdler Perdita Felicien will try to reclaim the hurdling national title.

Her stiffest competition will come from current hurdling queen and Olympic bronze medalist Prisicilla Lopes-Schliep of Whitby.

Other locals include Toronto's Pierre Browne and Pickering's Anson Henry, who will vie for the title of fastest Canadian in the 100-metres.

Tottenham's Massimo Bertocchi will be looking to defend his national decathlon title.

Josh Cassidy from Oakville is defending Canadian champion in the 800 and 5000-metre wheelchair events.

Tabia Charles from Pickering finished 10th at the Olympic Games in the long jump and also holds the Canadian records in both the long and the triple jump.

Cash from Cheerios

General Mills Canada is sponsoring 16 winter Olympic and Paralympic 2010 hopefuls to the tune of $5,000 each, and cereal-loving Canadians can help maximize this amount to $25,000 per athlete.

Eight types of cereal featuring athletes are now for sale. Canadians can submit PIN codes from each box at www.everydaycelebrations.ca/aspiringolympians and can select which athlete will benefit from their donation.

General Mills will donate one dollar for every PIN code submitted.

To date, the athletes have already received more than $3,000 in total donations.

Locals include Veronika Bauer (Toronto), freestyle skiing aerials; Jackie Brown (Cambridge) freestyle skiing moguls; and Warren Tanner (Grimsby), freestyle skiing moguls.


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