NBers shine in national track spotlight

Caleb Jones led the way for New Brunswick at the Canadian Track and Field Championships during the weekend, winning a bronze medal in javelin during a meet he said will have a huge impact on growing the sport in this province.

“To have the national championships here in Moncton, it’s the biggest thing.

“This is what’s really going to improve the sport here in New Brunswick, having meets like this,” said the 22-year-old from Saint John.

“I wanted to come out with the other New Brunswick athletes and try to show that we can do track and field here, it can be a full-time sport. It doesn’t have to put on the back burner with hockey and other sports that have more glamour, this can be your sport. It takes things like this to show the community here that it’s fun, that it’s great. Some of the best athletes in Canada are track and field athletes. It shows you can excel in this and have a great time doing it.”

Jones, of the Saint John Track and Field Club, certainly had a great time on the field Saturday night, throwing a personal best of 73.92 metres in his first throw, which would end up being good enough for the bronze.

Kyle Nielsen of British Columbia won the event with a 76.23-metre toss.

Jones said he had been throwing well in practice and was pleased to come away with a personal best — his first in a couple years — and a medal.

“It’s great to medal, but it’s another thing to medal in Moncton. This is where I train and the goal of this meet was to come away with a medal, I’m just happy I did it. I’m happy it’s bronze, it would be good if it was higher, but to medal here was the main goal and especially to have it here,” he said.

“To medal somewhere else it feels great, but to medal here, my family is here with a sign, it takes it to another level.”

While Jones was the only New Brunswicker to earn a medal in a field of more than two or three competitors, Veronica Coombes of Shediac Cape took a silver in the women’s 100-metre wheelchair T54 class with a time of 20.85 and a bronze in the 200m, with a time of 40.06.

For the 15-year-old, who was up against older, more experienced competition, the event was a chance to gain experience.

“It’s really good because it’s home and it’s really close and it’s a great experience,” she said, noting she was able to learn from the other competitors in her races.

“My next goal is to go to Canada Games in Sherbrooke this summer and to break some more personal records.”

Christel Robichaud of Moncton was also competing close to home and in she earned a silver on Thursday in the wheelchair shot put F58 class, with a throw of 4.51m.

Other top New Brunswick athletes — Genevieve Lalonde of Grande-Digue in the steeplechase and Michael LeBlanc of Riverview in the 100m — were forced to pull out of the event due to injuries.

But New Brunswick still had a contingent of 31 athletes who participated in the games and although the province isn’t known as a track and field powerhouse in the country, several athletes achieved personal or seasons bests and took steps forward.

Jeremie Pellerin of Cocagne came 16th in the 22-man field for the 5,000-metre run, but was pleased to set a personal best at his first senior national championship, as he prepares for Canada Game trials in Saint John next week.

He said when the front pack of about 15 competitors took off after about 2.5 kilometres he had a difficult time keeping up, but ended up battling the rest of the way with fellow New Brunswicker Matthew MacNeil of Saint John, who ended up finishing 17th.

“Me and Matt we had a great battle from like half the way, race to 1K to go and then after that I’m a guy that is known to have a pretty good kick at the end, I just used that to my advantage and I just kept building up a lead with me and Matt and finished in a pretty useful time of 14:57 and first time under 15 minutes, which I’m pretty proud of.”

Barry Britt of Hampton was also in that race and he finished 11th with a time of 14:33.62. But he wasn’t pleased with his result, saying he might need to take some time off to rehab some nagging injuries.

“I just wasn’t feeling very ready to go. Late in the race when the pack started to move, they started kicking I couldn’t go with them, I started falling real far back,” he said.

“That’s pretty pathetic right there, I ran faster than that two or three years ago.”

Adam Gaudes of Fredericton was another New Brunswicker who wasn’t pleased with his race result, but was happy with the experience. Gaudes finished fifth in his heat, 10th overall, in 800m qualifying on Saturday night with a time of 1:52.09.

“Awful, that was awful. I was slow, I wasn’t strategic enough, I didn’t close fast, nothing went right. Nothing went right. I think I should have started moving up earlier … I ran like an idiot and I ran slow,” he said. “But every time you have a bad race you learn something you don’t want to do again — so don’t save it so late.”

Jean-Marc Doiron of Moncton ended up getting called for a false start in that same qualifying race. He said it caused him to tense up and as a result he was thinking of running the race under protest — an idea he decided not to pursue once he didn’t even finish in a qualifying position.

“I ran the best I could, I don’t think that’s excuse for not having got top two, but I’ll have to get better next year, a bit more training,” he said. “But overall it was a fun experience running in front of a home crowd. I live a 10-minute walk from here and I train here all the time so it’s fun to have this kind of a meet on my home turf. I’ll have to go back to the drawing board and do it from scratch, get ready for 2014, it’s a brand new ball game. I’m really hungry for that final, so next year for sure I’ll be more prepared.”

Sarah Myett of Fredericton failed to qualify for the final round during her 800m run of 2:17, but said the experience will be useful going forward.

“It’s a good place to see where I’m at right before Canada Games trials next weekend. It’s definitely good to see where all the New Brunswick athletes are,” she said. “It’s phenomenal, it’s absolutely phenomenal just being able to relate yourself to the rest of the Canada and see what you need to improve on and just learning from the other girls is amazing. Having this kind of competition locally is so great for New Brunswick athletes.”

Grace Annear of Hampton was in the same race and also didn’t qualify, with a time of 2:16.31. She said it wasn’t the performance she was looking for, but she “just didn’t have the legs today.”

“I wanted to just go out with the lead pack and just shut my brain off and then when it comes time to kick get out of the wind in the home stretch and try to make a run for a spot,” she said of her game plan. “But I guess a race is a race and sometimes you just don’t have it in you that day.”

James Brace of Petitcodiac competed in the 100m and 200m events in the T54 wheelchair category. He was up against some high-level Paralympians, but drew a lot of positives from the event.

“It was very exciting to compete in my own hometown,” he said, noting his time of 31.88 in the 200m was also his personal best.

“It’s tough competition racing up against Curtis Thom, being the top in Canada, my goal was just to PB and better my technique.”

Whether it was a medal, a personal best, or ultimately a disappointment, athletes like Jones believe New Brunswick took a big step forward in the sport over the weekend, as all the competitors look on to future goals.

“This year is the first year of four leading into the Olympics, we have Canada Games later on this year. That’s another meet that really puts track on the forefront and sends a lot of funding our way if athletes do well and again it shows New Brunswick can produce athletes,” he said.

“We don’t have to be a second-tier province losing to B.C. and Ontario. It shows a small province can produce athletes and young athletes in the Maritimes shouldn’t be deterred by living here. We have the coaches, we have the facilities. You don’t have to go away to do well, you can do it right here.”