Hot on the heels of the 2010 Ontario Summer Games, it was time for the newly installed Laurentian University track to be tested at an even more elite level as some 200 athletes converged in Sudbury for the Athletics Ontario Junior/Senior Championships.
The field included both a sprinkling of local talent as well as some of the top-ranked athletes in the country, with Canadian senior 100-m champion Toyin Olupona and 800-m silver medallist Kyle Smith on hand.
Back in May, École secondaire Hanmer senior runner Ashley Huard created quite a buzz around the track, finishing second only to Serena San Cartier in the 100-m final, despite running without spikes or the benefit of starting blocks.
Looking much more polished on Saturday, the Track North sprinter set a new personal best time of 12.78, finishing fifth in both the qualifying and final rounds of the Junior Women's race. Blessed with natural speed, Huard has begun the process of overhauling the technical aspect of her running, a journey that is already starting to show signs of improvement.
"My starts are a little bit better now," the soft-spoken sprinter said. "And I'm lifting my knees more through the middle of the race."
Noting the impact of receiving coaching for the first time in her career, Huard looks to continue her progress through the 2010-2011 season and see what kind of results that will bring.
In the meantime, she is forthright about what motivates her to invest the time and effort to see just how fast she can go. "I just love running — I love what I do when I'm on the track."
Another relative newcomer to the world of "more serious track," Chapleau native Eric Leishman was a busy young man over the past few days. Coming off his first season of OCAA (Ontario Colleges Athletic Association) cross-country competition last fall, Leishman decided to remain in Sudbury over the summer, dedicating himself to a more intensive track training program in the past few months.
The results are showing as Leishman looked solid in running his first ever 800-m race at the Ontario Summer Games on Friday (1:55.96), improved that time slightly (1:55.27) running the same distance Saturday in the Athletics Ontario championships, and started the process of inching closer to the coveted sub-four minute 1,500-m threshold, finishing sixth on Sunday in a time of 4:05.72.
While the payoff for the training is coming late in the track season, Leishman remained philosophical with regards to his progress to date.
"I really wanted to bring my times down and qualify for Senior Nationals in the 800-m, but I never got into an 800-m race until Friday," he said. "But I would have qualified for Nationals if I would have run that time earlier in the summer."
Training alongside Ross Proudfoot has challenged Leishman, who said he is looking forward to his second year at Cambrian College and the possibility of cracking the podium at the OCAA level.
As for Proudfoot, who competed Sunday in the 1,500-m, coming off a couple of weeks of post World Juniors' rest, he has developed an ability to keep the goals for each race in perspective as he works his way through a lengthy summer of competition.
"I wasn't looking for a big time, but I was looking for an effort there, getting another good speed workout in," he said, not long after easily taking first place in the Junior Men's 1,500-m, winning by six seconds in a time of 3:58.77.
Entered in the competition as much to ensure that he maintains the requirements of his government funding based on his track excellence, Proudfoot knows that sometimes a more strategic approach to racing is required over all-out speed.
"Looking at the field, I figured I would hang out with the pack and spring for the last 400 metres to try and win it, and it worked out perfect."
Rounding out the local contingent, jumper Caroline Ehrhardt walked away with a gold and silver, nabbing first place in the long jump (5.67 m) while settling for second in the triple jump (12.18 m).
Confederation Secondary senior Alicia Violin took part in three events, finishing sixth in the triple jump (10.76m), seventh in the long jump (4.98m) and eighth in the 400-m (1:03.98), while Lasalle's Matt Taylor placed fifth in the triple jump with a leap of 12.36 metres.
At home for the summer after a season of football and indoor track at the University of Waterloo, Collège Notre-Dame graduate Eric Roque participated in the senior men's 100-m dash, posting times of 11.67 (heats) and 11.80 (final), rounding out his weekend with an appearance in the 200-m event (15th – 23.75).
Finally, Track North's Zvia Mazal enjoyed the experience of competing against a field two to three years her elder, taking part in the triple jump (ninth - 9.72m).
"It's been a long time since we've seen times like this posted at this track,” Track North coach Dick Moss stated. “The feedback I've received is that the new surface is fast."