De Grasse-Brown 100m showdown adds intrigue to track and field nationals
Record 1,395 athletes eye NACAC championships berth at Terry Fox Stadium
Expect three-time defending champion Andre De Grasse to feel the heat in Friday's 100-metre final at the Canadian track and field championships.
While the recent soaring temperatures in Ottawa will have subsided when De Grasse settles in the starting block about 9:30 p.m. ET, some of the more notable sprinters in the eight-man field are confident they can challenge the Markham, Ont., runner after he won last year's race in 10.11 seconds.
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"I'm trying to be the No. 1 [sprinter] in Canada. I'm trying to go out there to win," says Gavin Smellie, who finished third in last year's 100 at Terry Fox Stadium in 10.23 seconds, 12-100ths of a second behind De Grasse. "I wouldn't count him out. He's always a championship competitor. I'm going to treat him as the guy who ran [a personal-best] 9.91 at the Olympic Games [in 2016]."
For Smellie and others, there is the added incentive of the top finisher in Friday's race (and all events this weekend) being guaranteed a spot on the Canadian team for the North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) track and field championships in August at Toronto's Varsity Stadium.
I feel like I'm on a mission to earn the respect of my contemporaries, the media and pundits alike.— Commonwealth Games silver medallist Aaron Brown on Friday night's 100-metre race vs. Andre De Grasse
Smellie, 32, ran a wind-legal 10.01 PB in the rain at Windsor, Ont., and has had multiple performances under 10.19 this season, thanks to a more consistent start after making an adjustment with his starting block.
"I'm pushing more out of the blocks and feel my power is there to navigate through my transition phase," says Smellie, who also hopes to meet De Grasse in Saturday evening's 200 final after winning the event at last week's Harry Jerome International Track Classic. "I also have a better hip angle and I'm able to keep my knees up and execute properly down the track."
De Grasse, who will also try to repeat as national 200 champion, has had a disappointing return in 2018 from a right hamstring strain. The 23-year-old ran 10.15 in the 100 at the Drake Relays in late April and 10.25 at a Diamond League meet in Shanghai on May 12, a far cry from De Grasse's stated goal this season to set the Canadian record of 9.84, shared by Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin.
"I want him [De Grasse] to think about me and understand he needs to be in top form to beat me," says Aaron Brown, who ran 10.21 to defeat De Grasse (10.36) in the 100 at Harry Jerome. "I feel like I'm on a mission to earn the respect of my contemporaries, the media and pundits alike."
Brown would also like to erase the memory of last year's 100 at nationals when he was disqualified for jumping the gun in his semifinal heat. He described it as a "low point" in a trying 2017 campaign that also included a lane violation in the 200 semifinals at the world championships and vowed to come back stronger this season.
"He was the guy, the next guy and then Andre came along," Athletics Canada COO Mat Gentes said of Brown in a story published on its website. "Then it was like, 'Who's Aaron Brown? What happened to Aaron Brown?'"
Brown, who is now a more active participant at practice under coach Dennis Mitchell, is having a resurgent 2018 campaign. The Toronto native won a silver medal in the 200 at the Commonwealth Games in April and has hovered around 20.05 for much of the season, including a 19.98 PB on June 7 in Oslo, Norway.
Brown's victory over De Grasse at the Harry Jerome meet in just his fourth 100 of the season was a reminder he is headed in the right direction.
"It gave me confidence and I'm looking to build off that," Brown says. "I've heard him say he wants to be the fastest man in the world, and I want to make sure I'm included in the mix as a contender."
A record 1,303 able-bodied and Paralympic athletes, including Brent Lakatos and Marissa Papaconstantinou, are competing in Ottawa.
Here are the other senior athletes to watch:
Lindsey Butterworth, women's 800 (Sunday, 11:45 a.m. ET): The North Vancouver, B.C., native will qualify for the NACAC championships if she runs two minutes one second or under. Butterworth, 25, has threatened the two-minute mark this season, running 2:01.13 in St. Louis and 2:02.47 at the Harry Jerome Classic last week.
Brittany Crew, women's shot put (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET): Crew will try to add to her remarkable season that includes a new Canadian record (18.60 metres) and bronze-medal performance (18.32) at the Commonwealth Games. Last summer, the 24-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., was the first Canadian woman to finish among the top eight at the world championships.
Crystal Emmanuel, women's 100/200 (Friday, 9:20 p.m. ET/Saturday, 6:05 p.m.): Emmanuel will try to make it back-to-back-to-back gold-medal sweeps. One of the 26-year-old's goals is to break her 22.50-second Canadian record in the 200. Emmanuel has season bests of 11.43 and 22.70 (Commonwealth Games), respectively. Her PB in the 100 is 11.14.
Genevieve Lalonde, women's 1,500 (Sunday, 12:25 p.m.): Lalonde, 26, won the women's 3,000-metre steeplechase on Thursday night in 9:49:07, following up last weekend's 9:40.34 clocking at the Meeting de Paris Diamond League. The Moncton native finished third in the 1,500 at the Speed River Inferno in Guelph, Ont., on June 13.
Damian Warner, men's long jump/110m hurdles (Friday, 7:10 p.m. ET/Saturday, 8:30 p.m.): The 2016 Olympic decathlon bronze medallist was victorious in the hurdles in 13.79 seconds at last week's Harry Jerome Classic. Five weeks ago, the London, Ont., native set a Canadian record and world-leading 8.795 points for his fourth Hypo Meeting title in Austria.