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Dr. J. on Running

Knights of Columbus in Saskatoon

Indoor Games Amaze

Published January 31, 2000 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

As the summer drew to a close, I received an invitation to the Knights of Columbus Indoor Games in Saskatoon. January weather was least on my mind as I prepared to travel to Canada's only elite Grand Prix track meet.

"Saskatoon" is derived from 'Mis-sask-quah-toomina', the Cree Indian name for a local indigenous berry. With a population of 200,000, Saskatoon is the largest city in the province of Saskatchewan, half way between Montana and the Arctic Circle. At the tender age of 97, Saskatoon provides a support base for uranium and potash miners in northern Saskatchewan.

With fellow Central New Yorkers Pat Leone, Mark Driscoll and Ron Bennett, not to mention 14 cases of equipment and winter-gear, we ventured into Saskatoon to assist the Knights in broadcasting the meet on the Internet.

The three-day track meet featured 134 different events. In turn, each preliminary running event had several heats. In total, some 3,000 athletes competed, ranging in age from 8 to 83, including Olympic Gold Medal winners and world champions.

Internet problems notwithstanding, the meet ran like clockwork. A detailed program listed the start of each event and the names of the competitors. Scores of volunteers assisted experienced officials in preparing and marshalling athletes. Every heat started and ended on time, pleasing spectators and participants alike.

The first evening of competition highlighted the preliminary heats of the elementary school competition. Separate heats permitted boys and girls under 11 years old, 13 years old and 15 years old to compete against their peers. Innovative 8x100 meter relays permitted schools to field teams of 8 runners to race for school pride.

Public seating during the elementary races filled to capacity thanks to simple arithmetic. An 8x100-meter relay places 48 children on a 6-lane track, and 96 parents and 192 grandparents in the bleachers. Extrapolation to multiple heats in each of 3 age groups and 2 sexes quickly populated the arena.

The second day of competition featured a dual collegiate meet between the University of Toronto and the hometown Harriers of the University of Saskatchewan. Semifinal and final rounds of the scholastic competition brought in the crowds, while elite exhibition races spiced up the long 14-hour day.

A 25-member Australian team from the Wallsend Athletic Club also competed on the second day. This good will delegation traded the January summer heat of down-under for a taste of international competition. Featuring Australian Masters pole vault record holder Peter Herd, the Aussies included athletes of both sexes and all ages.

Competition on the final day started early in the morning and ended late afternoon. The morning completed the scholastic and collegiate events, while the afternoon climaxed with the elite invitational meet. To name two among many, invited athletes included Agne Visockaite, the Lithuanian record holder in the 60 meters and 200 meters, and Robert Esmie, the lead runner on Canada's 4x100-meter Gold medal relay team in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Combining elite and scholastic competition achieved the desired effect of mixing past glory with future hopes, as Olympians mingled with youths, displaying their medals and posing for pictures. In a world of their own, college athletes wandered in their own competition, possibly contemplating the imminent start of another academic semester.

A banquet with 600 guests provided the fitting end to a masterfully executed weekend. A handful of concise speeches touched on various highlights of the games. Olympic champion Robert Esmie delivered the keynote address, celebrating athletic competition as a burning fire in the cold and dark wilderness of society's winter.

Our flight home gave us time for reflection and wonder. Overwhelmed by the hospitality of our hosts, and amazed by the magnitude of their annual undertaking, we dreamed and schemed of a distant day, when the world will speak of Central New York's own athletic games in the same breath as the Knights of Columbus' Indoor Games in Saskatoon.

Kamal Jabbour's toes have finally thawed from his four-mile run through Saskatoon. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains TrackMeets.com, the world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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