Clap, clap, clap. The crowd began to simmer. As UNB’s Lexie Shannon made her way down the triple jump runway, the clapping increased to a crescendo, culminating in an explosive hop, skip and jump.
At this point, Shannon was attempting her final jump, after what UNB REDS head coach called “Lexie’s best series.” Still, Shannon, who had been leading the whole competition, was now trailing after her opponent from the University of Toronto, Kristen Shultz by four centimetres.
As Shannon made impact with the sand, the building hushed, knowing this moment would determine the gold medalist. It was going to be close. And as the final measurement was announced, the crowd erupted with the UNB REDS winning their first ever U SPORT gold medal, all while hosting the U SPORTS Track and Field Championships.
This was just one of the many climactic moments witnessed by track and field fans who attended the U SPORTS Track and Field Championships in Saint John, New Brunswick.
After the cancellation of the 2021 event due to COVID-19, the energy at the new Irving Oil Fieldhouse was palpable. Thousands of student athletes, coaches and spectators descended on the city, looking to break records, win medals and bring pride to their universities. In addition to a great atmosphere the event was projected to bring over $2-million in economic impact for the region.
Aside from Lexie Shannon’s gold medal in the triple jump, the bulk of the drama came on the track. Perhaps the best of these events was the men’s 1500, where Laval’s Jean-Simon Deganges (JSD) won a dramatic sprint finish over Guelph’s Alec Purnell and Calgary’s Eric Lutz in a relatively tactical but explosive race. UNB’s Jared Howse, a rookie, pronounced himself as one to watch with a 6th place finish.
That wasn’t JSD’s only medal of the competition, as he and teammate Thomas Fafard won gold and silver in the men’s 3K, with Fafard narrowly taking the win.
Western’s Kate Current was dominant over the weekend, claiming double gold. In the 3K, she defeated the Laval duo of Jessy Lacourse and Catherine Beachemin on the last lap with an explosive kick. In the 1500, she kicked away again, this time beating Toronto’s Jazz Shukla and Windsor’s Sydney Pattison in a sprint finish.
In the men’s 1K, U SPORTS male rookie of the year, Eric Lutz won by seven tenths of a second in a four-man sprint, narrowly edging out fellow medalists Alec Purnell of Guelph and Rohan Nowbotsing of Toronto. JSD also featured in this race, running only about two seconds faster than his last K in the 3,000m.
A Great Day at the Track
The women’s 1K had an equally close result, this time with Guelph’s Sadie-Jane Hickson defeating Jazz Shukla by less than one-tenth of a second. Sydney Pattison took third.
Moving down in distance to the women’s 600m, Sadie-Jane Hickson won her second individual gold medal of the weekend. She defeated Grace Konrad of Trinity Western and Avery Pearson of Saskatchewan. The highest seed, uOttawa’s Sydney Smith, was denied a podium spot by four-one hundreths of a second.
The men’s race was equally dramatic with defending champion Vaughn Taylor of Windsor taking the race out supremely hard, but fading to fourth. Marcus Nandlal of UofT took the win, followed by Windsor’s Ben Tilson and Michael Anku.
In the 300m, Zoe Sherar took the win on the women’s side. Defeating Trinity Western’s Grace Konrad and Carelton’s Alexandra Telford. Whereas on the men’s side, Karson Lehner upset Austin Cole – a member of Canada’s mixed 4×400 relay squad – to take the win. UofT’s Emmett Bravakis took third.
Jacqueline Madogo of Guelph stormed away from the field in the women’s 60m, running 7.30 for the victory. She was followed by Gracie Anderson of Saskatchewan who ran 7.43 and Audrey Leduc from Laval who rounded out the podium running 7.44.
The men’s race was won by Nigerian Olympian, Usheoritse Itsekiri who ran 6.66. Itsekiri made the semi-final in the Tokyo Games for the 100m. He was followed by Immanuel Onyemah from Waterloo in 6.74 and Jordan Soufi from Manitoba who ran 6.77.
The women’s 60m hurdles was won by Catharina Kluyts of Alberta, followed by Tyra Boug of Guelph. Timi Adelugba of Saskatchewan was third.
Another big upset came in the form of the men’s 60m hurdles, where Guelph’s Craig Thorne was beaten by one-one hundredth of a second by Western’s Nathaniel Mechler. They were followed by David Adeleye of UofT.
Both the multi events also provided drama. The first indication of this was the men’s high jump—within the heptathlon—with Noah Dommasch (Guelph) and Max Speiser (Manitoba) dueling. After making jump after jump, it was Dommasch who prevailed over the 1.96 barrier and once again over 1.99, setting the U SPORT record for the event.
The jump also allowed Dommasch to close the gap on the Speiser who lead the event after Day 1 (and four of seven events). Teammates Masson Altrogge and Kieran Johnston of Saskatchewan were also within 25 points of the leader.
In the end it was Kieran Johnston taking the win thanks, in part, to his large scores in the 60m hurdles and the 1000m.
RAMS’ athlete Dallyssa Huggins won the women’s pentathlon who ran a 2:20 800 to overtake the leaders. Hannah Blair from Waterloo was second with Lorena Heubach from Dalhousie rounding out the podium.
The competition in the field was kicked off by the women’s weight throw, which produced its own drama. Noemie Jeffrey threw 18.89m to take the gold, followed by Lethbridge’s Jinaye Shomachuk who threw 18.00m who in turn was followed VERY closely by Calgary’s Osereme Omosun who threw 17.99m.
In the men’s event, Guelph athlete Mark Bujnowski won the event on his third round throw, eclipsing 20m. He was followed by a pair of Lethbridge athletes Andreas Troschke and Brayden Klippenstein.
York athlete Leah Jones won the women’s long jump by six centimeters with a mark of 6.18. She was followed by Regina athlete Joely Welburn and Manitoba jumper Kirsten Hurdal. On the men’s side, the event was won by Eric Che of UofT. Montreal took both second and third with Clement Mougeolle and Guilhem Hermet.
The men’s triple jump was won by UofT’s Femi Akinduro in a mark of 15.47m. He was followed by Western’s Kenneth West and Manitoba’s Daxx Turner.
Moving from horizontal to vertical jumps, the men’s high jump was won by UofT’s Aiden Grout with a mark of 2.13m. Windsor and Manitoba jumpers Caleb Keeling and Daxx Turner were second and third.
The women’s high jump had four medalists, with UofT’s Emily Branderhorst taking the win over the height of 1.78m. Madison Mayr from Calgary was second. There was a tie for third between Joely Welburn and Hannah Blair (who also medaled in the pentathlon).
Like the high jump, there was also a UofT winner in the women’s pole vault, where Alexzandra Throndson just bested Meghan Lim on countback after they both jumped 4.05m. Mia Rodney from Guelph was third.
The men’s pole vault was won by Jamie Eduardo Martin from Trinity Western, in a jump of 4.93m. Maxime Leveille from Sherbrooke took second and Nojah Parker took third.
Finally, but certainly not least, the women’s shot put featured a U SPORT first: a para category. This was won by Charlotte Bolton in a distance of 7.91m.
The women’s shot put was won by Anna McConnel of Mantoba in a distance of 14.39m. Kaitlin Brooks from York was second and Osereme Omosun from Calgary was third.
The men’s shot put was won by Mark Bujnowsku in an 18.30 put, followed by Mathieu Massé-Pelletier of Laval and Brennan Degenhardt of Saskatchewan.
Perhaps the best events of the weekend were the relays. This is where the spirit from each school truly shows and the volume around the track is completely turned up.
The first relay final of the event came in the form of the men’s 4×800 (personally my favourite event). The women’s event proved to be a duel between Western and Saskatchewan with the former winning in a sprint finish. Guelph finished third, just getting the best of a tired Laval squad (as they had raced the 3K earlier in the day).
The men’s 4×800 had no less intrigue, but this time the University of Guelph took over, winning the event by over two seconds. Toronto finished second with Manitoba sneaking in for a medal, beating Western in what looked like a dead heat.
The 4×200 was the next relay final of the weekend with the Guelph women taking the victory. Team starter and senior, Morgan Byng told me this after the race: “Setting the record is the coolest thing. With all the lockdowns we have been working so hard …In my final year I just wanted to have some fun, run fast and things just lined up.” Guelph was followed by Saskatchewan and Laval.
The men’s 4×200 was dominated by Alberta who beat Saskatchewan by about 2 seconds on a team that featured Austin Cole. Guelph was third.
The men’s 4×400 had a similar trend to it with the same Guelph and Alberta teams taking the win in both the women’s and men’s events respectively.
So ended the first U SPORTS Track and Field Championships ever held in the Maritimes.
Here are four quick takeaways:
- New coaching staff, same result: Guelph dominates
Despite the turmoil surrounding the Guelph track and field program and cover-ups from the administration, Guelph still is the force to be reckoned with on the U SPORT stage. They won both the men’s and women’s teams titles for the weekend.
- Laval definitely has the deepest distance program
Despite Guelph’s dominance, Laval still has the deepest distance program. Budding star JSD flanked by Thomas Fafard were virtually unbeatable over distance events (both cross country and track) this year. Fafard’s win was punctuated by the fact that he had just returned with a silver medal from the Pan Am XC Cup in Brazil. Meanwhile, JSD raced three events on the weekend, meddling in two.
- Relays are fun but USPORT needs a DMR (distance medley relay)
Relays are a blast. Every year they get the competitors, the spectators and the coaches fired up. In turn, there is always drama.
However nothing touches the excitement of a distance medley relay where instead of four legs of the same distance, each leg is a different distance, leading to even more strategy on part of the coaching staff and a mix of distance and middle distance talent.
- UNB is a budding distance program.
Watch out, Canada. UNB is on the national stage and here to stay. 16 athletes participated at the Championships, a record high for the program. This most certainly lead to increased success under the tutelage of coach Chris Belof.
Photos were generously donated by Kevin Barrett. Find him on Twitter @KevinBarrettNB