By RON FANFAIR
The last time sprinter Anson Henry took part in a competitive race in his home city was nearly a decade ago in the annual Harriet Tubman track and field meet at York University.
That’s why he was so elated when he was invited to take part in tonight’s Festival of Excellence meeting at Varsity stadium. He will line up alongside fellow Canadian, Jared Connaught, Americans, Bernard Williams and Ivory Williams and Jamaicans, Marvin Anderson, Mario Forsythe and the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, in the feature 100-metre event.
“It’s been quite a while since I have run in Toronto in front of friends and family,” said Henry, who trains in Texas with former University of Texas at Arlington and Texas Christian University coach, Monte Stratton. “Even though I have spent most of my time in the United States in the past few years, Pickering is still home and I relish every opportunity I get to come back.
“This time it will be special because I will be performing in front of many people who are close to me. In fact, I have been inundated with ticket requests and I don’t know how I am going to please everyone who wants to come out and watch me. I am really looking forward to this homecoming.”
Henry, a Canadian junior 100-metre champion as a senior at Dunbarton High School in Pickering and a Washington State University graduate, said he’s not intimidated by Bolt who set three world records at last year’s Beijing Olympics and ran the fastest time ever in a 150-metre race (14.35 secs.) in Manchester last month.
“I have been running professionally for a few years and I consider this to be just another race,” said Henry, who was born in the Greater Toronto Area to Jamaican parents. “Usain is the fastest man that ever lived and to have him in Toronto is good for the sport.
“There are many people of Caribbean background – including Jamaicans – in the city who love track and field…My parents are big fans of the sport and they enjoyed Jamaica’s performance in Beijing. But, tonight, I know they will be pulling for me.”
This will be Henry’s second meet outdoors since representing Canada at the Penn Relays in April in Philadelphia. Three days after the event, he suffered a hamstring injury while training. He also injured his hamstring in the Beijing Olympics 100-metre quarter final in which he was eliminated.
“The injury is on the same foot but in a different area,” said Henry, who won a relay silver medal at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro and a bronze medal in the 100-metre event in Santo Domingo four years earlier. “These things are common. I am fit and ready to go in Toronto. It’s still early in the outdoor season and I will use this event as part of my preparation for the world championships.”
The 12th International Amateur Athletics Federation world outdoor championships take place in Berlin in August.
Henry, whose personal best time in the 100-metre sprint is 10.12 seconds achieved three years ago in Doha, will share the spotlight with fellow Canadians, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and Perdita Felicien, who will face each other in the 100-metre hurdles.
Lopes-Schliep won a bronze medal for Canada at last year’s Beijing Olympics which was this country’s first medal at the summer Olympics since the 1996 Atlanta Games and the first medal for a Canadian woman in Olympic track and field competition since the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Felicien, a two-time world champion and Canada’s first ever female gold medalist when she clinched the 100-metre event at the 2003 World Championships, missed the Beijing Games because of a foot injury.
The world’s fastest 400-metre runner, LaShawn Merritt, leads an impressive field of six sub-45-second athletes, including Canada’s Tyler Christopher, Trinidadian three-time Olympian, Ato Stephens, Jamaicans, Ricardo Chambers and Jermaine Gonzales and Bahamian, Andrae Williams.
Olympic decathlete champion, Bryan Clay, 3000-metre world record holder in the steeplechase, Saif Shaheen of Qatar and American jumpers, Andra Mason and Chaunte Howard, will also take part in the meet which starts at 6 p.m.