By Jonathan Yue for Athletics Canada
A 17-year-old Aaron Brown remembers watching in awe as Usain Bolt won the 100-metre dash, captivating a packed Varsity Stadium in 2009. Nine years later, Brown will return to Varsity Stadium in Toronto, Ont., hoping to give the audience a similar experience, this time as a part of Team Canada at the North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) Championships that will be held from August 10-12.
“Being able to see the greatest sprinter of all time, how much energy he brought to the stadium, that was a really special moment for me,” says Brown, who will be running in the 200-metres and 4x100m relay. “For the younger generation to see these athletes compete [at NACAC] and get a chance to meet the people they can only see on television or read about, hopefully that will lead to more participation for the next generation.”
A Toronto-native, Brown won’t be the only big-name athlete competing at the NACAC Championships. The international event will play host to 28 countries, with numerous Olympic medalists as well as World Champions, making it one of the most star-studded international track and field competitions in Canadian history.
2008 and 2012 Olympic champion in the 100-metres, Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce highlights Team Jamaica, along with 400-metre specialist Stephanie Ann McPherson, both coming off Diamond League wins in London last month.
Joining Fraser-Pryce and McPherson in Toronto is world leader in the discus, Fedrick Dacres, who already has a victory in Toronto on his resume, winning the gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games.
Olympic medalists Sherika Jackson (400-metre and 4x400m), Christine Day (4x400m), Fitzroy Dunkley (4x400m) as well as World Championship medalists Shashalee Forbes (4x100m), Danielle Williams (100-metre hurdles), and O’Dayne Richards (shot put) will also be contenders for Jamaica. A full list of Team Jamaica’s athletes can be found here.
On Team USA, 2016 Olympic silver medalist in the pole vault Sandi Morris will lead the team on the field. On the track, the world record holder in the 100-metre hurdles, Kendra Harrison will be bringing the season’s fastest time, while 400m-hurdler Shamier Little is coming off a Diamond League victory in London as well.
Members of the U.S Olympic gold medal winning 4x400m team, Phyllis Francis and Courtney Okolo, along with World Championship medalists Jenna Prandini (4x100m), Ajee Wilson (800-metre), Michael Cherry (4x400), and Mason Finley (discus) round out those to keep an eye on. Full team can be found here.
19-year-old long jump phenom from Cuba, Juan Miguel Echevarria will be coming to Toronto as the world leader in the men’s long jump, having jumped 8.68 in Germany as well as a wind-aided 8.83-metres in Stockholm earlier this year.
Other notable athletes to keep an eye on from the international teams will be Alonzo Russell (2016 Olympic bronze medalist in the 4x400m relay), high jumpers Donald Thomas (2007 World Champion) and Jamal Wilson (2018 Commonwealth silver medalist) from the Bahamas, Yarisley Silva (2012 Olympic silver medalist, 2015 World Champion in the pole vault), and Olympic medalists Keston Bledman (silver at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics in the 4x100m), and Deon Lendore (2012 Olympic bronze medalist in the 4x400m) representing Trinidad and Tobago.
The NACAC Championships will also mark the return of some Canadian athletes who missed time due to injuries. Sage Watson made her return in London but missed the Canadian national championships with a sprained right foot injury while Commonwealth gold medalist and Canadian pole vault record holder, Alysha Newman will return after being sidelined since May, missing the Prefontaine Classic as well as the Canadian national championships with a knee injury.
“Going into NACAC, I want to compete healthy with my goal being to have fun,” Alysha Newman says. “This is the best of North America, Central America and Caribbean. They’re taking their top one and two in each event, gold medallists, record holders, there’s going to be so many athletes that you just don’t get to see unless you travel. We’re getting to the end of the season, women and men will be running, jumping and throwing their best. I’m expecting personal bests, national records and maybe even better than that will happen at this meet.”
With a talented line-up of athletes expected to compete at Varsity Stadium, Newman and Brown both believe how unique of an experience this will be for Canadians to experience a large size track and field meet in Toronto, especially with the Tokyo Olympics just around the corner.
“[Those in attendance] will get a sample size of what to expect for the Olympics in 2020,” Brown adds. “Now is the best opportunity to watch athletes from Canada and 27 other countries working towards 2020.”