Jessica Smith on the way to her first sub-2:00 performance (Noah Photography) © Copyright
General News Burnaby, Canada

Smith’s 800m breakout among the highlights as Canadian series begins in Burnaby

Just two weeks before both the Canadian and U.S. Olympic trials, Sunday’s (10) Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Track Classic featured several breakout performances from young athletes striving to reach the top of the world. Veteran competitors also proved their staying power with commanding wins.

One of the standouts was hometown favourite Jessica Smith of North Vancouver, who collected an A standard and a victory in the women’s 800m. The lithe 22-year-old moved up from third with 150 metres to go and ran down US Olympian Alice Schmidt to finish in 1:59.86. She became the fourth Canadian woman ever to break the two-minute mark, and the achievement left her a bit stunned.

"I’m kind of like, beyond belief right now," she said. "On the start line I was nervous, anxious, happy, relieved that it was finally here. For days I’ve been like, 'oh it’s coming on Sunday, that’s where I’ll do it.’ And to finally break that barrier, it’s incredible."

Smith has limited international experience, aside from winning two meets in Belgium and England last summer. But on Sunday she showed she belongs in the big leagues, not giving too much thought to beating runners like Schmidt (second in 1:59.93) and Canadian record holder Diane Cummins (fifth in 2:01.11).

"You can’t focus on who’s in the race as much as what you can control," she said, admitting that she didn’t notice when she passed Schmidt, "and I knew coming in here that I was strong and capable. So that last 100 metres I’ve been trying to work on feeling comfortable even in that level of pain and just focusing on my form and running right through the line."

Zelinka scores hurdles upset

Just as confident was Jessica Zelinka, who became a spoiler in one of the meet’s marquee events, the women’s 100m Hurdles. It was billed as a showdown among three of Canada’s five A-standard-carrying hurdlers: Perdita Felicien, Angela Whyte, and Nikkita Holder. But the 31-year-old heptathlete snuck up in lane two, edging out American Ginnie Crawford to take the win in a significant personal best of 12.76. The time was a new meet record and even better than she expected.

"Usually when I’m with hurdlers, I’m like, 'ah, just follow the leader kind of thing,’" she said. "But this was like, 'just take it, it’s yours.’"

Zelinka also marked 6.13m in the Long Jump for third place, her best jump since she came back from pregnancy in 2009. She was also fifth in the javelin with a throw of 43.09m. She said she will consider competing in the individual hurdles at the national trials in Calgary on 27-30 June. With a top-three finish there, she will head to London looking to improve on her fifth-place performance at the 2008 Olympics. With a personal best earlier this season in the 200m and Sunday’s surprise win, she’s in good form.

"My biggest strength is just being a competitor," she said. "I find that that’s been put on hold while I’m trying to work through things technically with all my events. So it’s two months before the Olympics, it’s time to just get that excitement back, let it go and race and compete."

Armstrong dominates

Another veteran, Dylan Armstrong, also turned in a crowd-pleasing performance in the men’s Shot Put with a measure of 21.24m. At the end of a month-long global campaign, with stops in Daegu KOR, Shanghai CHN, Ostrava CZE, Hengelo NED, Eugene Oregon, Oslo NOR, and now Burnaby, Armstrong admitted to not always knowing his whereabouts when he wakes up.

"I’m extremely happy with over 21 metres. I mean, Asia, Europe, here, back to Europe, back here again. I’m very, very tired so I’ve got to relax now and start a new training phase."

Staged at one end of the track surrounded by bleachers and standing-room, the Shot Put attracted the kind of attention usually given to the sprints. Second place went to Ming-Huang Chang of Taiwan, who threw 19.82m.

"Obviously I was tired," said Armstrong, "but it helps when you got all the supporters out here, family and friends, kids chanting your name."

High Jump PB for Eaton

Decathlete Ashton Eaton didn’t win his events, but was satisfied with performances in the 400m (second to Manteo Mitchell in 45.87) and the high jump (sixth with 2.11m). The 2011 World championship silver medallist finished his last attempt at the bar and then quickly changed spikes just in time for the start of the quarter mile. The adrenalin carried him to his second all-time best.

"I ran a good 45 earlier this year and I really surprised myself and I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t a fluke," he said. "I knew Manteo was fast, and I’m thinking I’ll go down the backstretch and they’re just going to pass me, but it didn’t end up being that way. I ran my own race, so that helps the confidence a lot."

He was also happy with an outdoor personal best in the High Jump, which he admits is a bit of an Achilles heel.

"It’s an event that technically my body doesn’t get very well for some reason which is frustrating because athletically I usually pick up things quickly. I made some changes technically, and I feel like I can jump higher than I did today. Whereas before I would jump those heights and not feel like I could go any higher. So that went well too."

US Olympian Andrew Wheating took charge of the men’s 1500m, sitting back in fourth position for most of the race and then moving up with 150 metres to go. He narrowly missed the meet record, clocking 3:35.89 ahead of second-place Jordan McNamara (3:36.03). The time was not significant for Wheating, who has an A standard in the event from last summer.

"For me it was more about the ability to come back after a bad race," he said, "as last week I ran at the Pre Classic Bowerman Mile against probably the most stacked field in the world. So I just got lit up and fell apart and was dead last. The transition, how I respond after a bad race, builds a lot of confidence for me which is what I was looking for."

Canadian Javelin Throw record for Gleadle

Javelin thrower Liz Gleadle added to the pedigree of Canadian throwers with a new national record of 61.15m, an A standard that virtually assures her trip to London. That would make her the first Canadian woman to compete at the Olympics in the event since 1988, the year she was born. She threw the mark on her first attempt, then fouled three times.

"You got to try and get in the zone after, and man it’s hard. You’re here trying to focus but you’re so excited you don’t even know what to do with yourself."

Gleadle was eigth at the 2009 FISU Games, and has struggled with several injuries since then. She made tremendous improvements this year since deciding to put off her studies in kinesiology at the University of British Columbia and move to Lethbridge Alberta.

"I ate, I slept, I trained twice a day and I put on 10 pounds of muscle. It’s all I did. You put all your eggs in one basket, you truly focus, you make it your passion, your life, and there are rewards to it."

Marcie Good (organisers) for the IAAF