By Jonathan Yue
The NACAC Championships officially got under way Friday morning and it did not disappoint. Canada’s very own Evan Dunfee got things started on Toronto Island, winning gold in the men’s 20km race walk with a Canadian flag draped over his shoulders.
Continuing his success in Canada, Dunfee had also won the first gold medal for Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games, and he hopes to inspire his teammates for the rest of the weekend.
“It’s great to kick things off,” says Dunfee, the Canadian Team co-captain. “Coming back for Pan Ams, picking up a medal on the first day and setting the scene for what followed, which was a great Canadian haul, I’m hoping to set the tone today.”
Finishing the race in a time of 1:25:39, Dunfee edged out Nick Christie of the United States who finished with the silver. On the women’s side, Maria Michta-Coffey of the United States captured the gold medal with a time of 1:36:34.
At Varsity Stadium, 400-metre qualifications saw Courtney Okolo of the United States finish atop the qualifying times (51.81), with Stephanie Ann McPherson of Jamaica not far behind (52.22). Canadians Aiyanna-Brigit Stiverne (53.27) and Madeline Price (53.54), who’s making her international team debut, also qualified for the 400-metre final to be run on Saturday.
“This is really an honour, just really excited to be out here wearing the Canadian uniform and making it to the final,” Price said after the race. “I was definitely a little bit nervous but know that this is a home crowd with my family and our country behind us kind of blocks out the nerves, to just race, and have a good time.”
In the throwing circle, Jillian Weir got the evening session started, throwing a seasonal best of 71.96-metres to take the silver medal, behind Deanna Price of the United States. Price set a new Championship and Canadian soil record of 74.60-metres. Olds, Alberta-native Rachel Andres finished fourth in the women’s discus (55.65m), while Tim Nedow added a silver medal to Canada’s medal count with a performance in the shot put of 21.02-metres. Training with the newly inducted Hall of Famer, Canadian record-holder Dylan Armstrong, Nedow believes he still has more to give to Canadian shot put after putting up a personal best for the silver.
“[Dylan Armstrong’s] record is up there at over 22-metres, which is top 20 all-time,” Nedow says. “My lifetime goal is to throw 22-metres, I’m still in this sport because I think I can do more. Everything is on track.”
On the track five Varsity Stadium records fell. In the 400-metre hurdle semi-finals. 21-year old Kyron McMaster from the British Virgin Island qualified for the final with a time of 49.16, breaking the previous record of 50.94 set in 2010.
The trend continued throughout the night, with the new women’s 3000-metre steeplechase set by Mel Lawrence of the United States (9:45.36), the women’s 100-metre hurdles record fell to world-record holder American Kendra Harrison (12.66), while Canadian Aaron Brown broke the men’s 200-metres Stadium record to qualify for the final (20.58), and lastly, the women’s 5000-metre record was broken as Rachel Schneider of the United States crossed the finish line in 15:26.19. 100-metre hurdle world-record holder Kendra Harrison continues to stay focused on running a faster time in the final.
“The goal here is to take these rounds and treat it like the World Champs or the Olympics,” Kendra says after the race. “I felt myself float at the end so I’m definitely going to come out here and really put my best to the final.”
Rounding off the medal performances on day 1, co-captain Kate Van Buskirk capped off the day with her own medal, a bronze in the women’s 5000-metres. With those in attendance cheering her on, she hopes that the crowd continues to support that talent for the rest of the weekend.
“The thing with the 5k is that it can get lonely, so having the home crowd here really helped me through the race,” Van Buskirk says. “Looking towards the next few days I expect the crowd will keep getting better and I will be along with them supporting my teammates.”
Along with Price’s new Championship record in the women’s hammer throw (74.60m), new Championship records were set in the shot put (Darrell Hill, United States, 21.68m), women’s discus (Yaime Pérez, Cuba, 61.97m), women’s 3000-metre steeplechase (Mel Lawrence, United States, 9:45.36), 100-metre hurdles (Kendra Harrison, United States, 12.66), and women’s 5000-metres (Rachel Schneider, United States, 15:26.19).
Day 2 of the NACAC Championships will begin at 2:30pm Saturday with the Masters 100-metre finals. Tickets and more championship information can be found here.