By RON FANFAIR
Circling high above Varsity stadium last Thursday evening was a small aircraft with a banner reminding the nearly 6,000 spectators that turned up for the Festival of Excellence track and field meet that Toronto is bidding for the 2015 Pan Am Games.
Seated in the stands were Ontario’s Minister of Health Promotion, Margarett Best, whose portfolio also includes Sport, and Joe Halstead who are both working quietly behind the scene to bring a major multi-sport international meeting to the Greater Toronto Area for the first time in 79 years since Hamilton hosted the inaugural Commonwealth Games.
They and the rest of the audience braved a steady downpour to watch world and Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt brush aside two false starts to cruise to victory in the feature 100-sprint in 10 seconds. While watching the young Jamaican blow away the rest of the competition, they hoped that the excitement generated from the first major track and field meet in this city since the fourth World Indoor Championships at SkyDome in 1993 will stimulate interest in the sport and also in the Pan Am bid endeavour.
Lima, Peru and Bogota, Colombia are also bidding for the Games. The winning candidate will be announced in November.
“We are in a real intensive mode now trying to nail this event,” said Halstead who was part of the Toronto groups that unsuccessfully bid for the 1996 and 2008 Olympics and the 1999 Pan American Games that went to Winnipeg. “My take at this time is that we have to work our butts off and we have to focus on friends of Canada, in particularly the Caribbean, and try to persuade them of our worthiness.
“We have a solid plan. Sure it has some perceived challenges like the distance between some venues and the village. But, at the end of the day, there is no plan with the focus and with the investment as we have in Canada.”
Last week’s meet provided the opportunity for several Toronto-born Canadian Olympians to perform at home in an international competition for the first time.
Olympic bronze medalist, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, defeated two-time world champion and fellow Durham athlete, Perdita Felicien, in the 110-metre hurdles. Lopes-Schliep clocked 12.86 secs. while Felicien, who missed most of the 2008 season with a leg injury, was 0.02 secs. behind.
Felicien admitted that she has some work to do to regain the championship form when she won gold medals in the 110-metre hurdles at the world outdoor championships and the 60-metre event indoors in 2003 and 2004 respectively.
“Priscilla is a wonderful girl and she deserves all the attention because she’s the only one running fast,” said Felicien. “For me, coming back from last year, it’s probably the best thing because I just can’t come back and expect after winning seven national titles that I am all of a sudden going to win an eighth.”
The two will meet again on the same track at the national championships June 25-28.
Lopes-Schliep holds the event’s fastest time this season, 12.52 secs.
Toronto-born Anson Henry, who was competing for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury three days after the Penn Relays last April, finished seventh in the 100-metre dash in 10.57 secs. on the rain-slick track.
A unique feature of the Festival of Excellence event, which organizers promise will be held annually, was that it provided an opportunity for Greater Toronto Area high school stars to showcase their talent in the same arena with nearly 50 Olympians.
Reigning Ontario Federation of Schools Athletic Associations (OFSAA) senior boys 100-metre champion Dushane Farrier beat arch-rival Aaron Brown for the third time in four meetings this season. Farrier breasted the tape in 10.67 secs. ahead of Brown (10.73) and Oluwasegun Makinde (10.76) who set new OFSAA meet records in the 110-metre senior boys hurdles and 200-metre events two weeks ago.
St. Thomas Aquinas student Simone Martin captured the girls 100-metre race in 12.11 secs. ahead of Jonelle Bell-Spence (12.20), Sade Lewis (12.36), OFSAA champion T’Keyah Dumoy (12.37) and Noelle Leon-Palmer (12.38).
Birchmount Collegiate Institute beat Pickering High School in the boys 4 x 400-metre relay, but the Durham school girls – led by Adriana Allen, Maya Daly, Katherine Lawrence and Noelle Leon-Palmer – made amends in the girls event, winning comfortably in 3:56.32.