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Dr. J. on Running

Canadian Championships

Rules Differ Up North

Published August 28, 2000 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

My pursuit of sports broadcast excellence took me to Victoria, British Columbia. At the invitation of Athletics Canada, the governing body for track and field, we traveled west to broadcast live on the Internet the Canadian National Championship and Olympic Trials. We stayed at the same university housing as many of Canada's elite athletes, and learned about their athletic system.

Our broadcast crew of interns were not the only Syracusans in Victoria that weekend. Four Syracuse University athletes competed for their Ontario clubs in Syracuse University singlets. Adrian Woodley competed in the 110-meter hurdles, Veronica Dyer in the 100-meter hurdles, Deniece Bell in the 400 meters and 400-meter hurdles, and Steve Bedard in the shot put.

Our fellow tenants in the Sir Arthur Currie dorm included the Canadian record holders in the pole vault and high jump, and several of Canada's rising stars in the hurdles and the throws. The common lounge on the third floor became an after-hours meeting place to analyze the day's events and predict the outcome of upcoming competition.

Despite its proximity to the USA, Canada's athletic system resembles closely the European model of club-based competition. At these and other Canadian championships, few athletes compete as unattached or list a shoe company affiliation. Rather, the overwhelming majority competes for a hometown club. Besides coaching and travel support, club membership provides a community to train and compete with, and stability through high school and college years.

The Canadian Olympic Trials combined with the national championship in one meet in Victoria. Therefore, athletes qualified for competition in two ways. Those who achieved a qualifying mark in their event competed for berths on the Olympic team. In addition, each province was entitled to send its top three athletes in each event to compete in the national championship.

To assist with the training of its rising stars, the Canadian Olympic Association established a "carding system". In track and field, 55 athletes with cards receive monthly stipends of $1,100, and travel assistance to certain meets. The selection seeks to maintain a balanced representation among the speed and power events, the jumps, the middle distances, and the distance events.

To avoid running afoul with NCAA regulations, carded athletes attending US colleges routinely forfeit their stipend and other card privileges. Such was the case with Wanita Dijkstra May, the Canadian National Champion in the high jump, who studied and competed in Kansas.

The selection of Canada's Olympic team in track and field differs substantially from that at the US. While the three winners at the US Olympic trials who have achieved the Olympic A standard make the team in a given event, Canada has adopted a process of selection by committee.

To make the Canadian Olympic team, a Canadian athlete must achieve a so-called A+ standard, which exceeds the Olympic A standard. The higher standard improves an athlete's chances of advancing in Olympic competition to at least the semi-finals. Thus, Canada sends athletes to the Olympics only if they are ranked in the top ten in the world in their event. Arguably, tighter standards save travel money, but risk depriving young athletes from valuable international experience.

The competition on the track and the field of the University of Victoria ran like clockwork, albeit at a leisurely pace. There was a lot of downtime that allowed athletes and officials to relax. It also allowed our crew to enjoy watching elite competition, and to cheer on Syracusan Adrian Woodley to a national title and a ticket to Sydney.

Kamal Jabbour has fine-tuned his yagi antenna to receive the Canadian television broadcasts of the Olympics. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created TrackMeets.com, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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