IAAF World Juniors in Moncton - It's been ten years
A look into our past, as we prepare for our future
This is the first of a series of articles revisiting the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championship in Moncton, NB, by Alex Cyr for Athletics New Brunswick.
The first race I watched at the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championship was the men’s 10,000m final. My parents had driven me, 14, and my sister, 12, across the Confederation Bridge to Moncton on a hot Tuesday, so that we could watch a new sport that wasn’t hockey.
There were two Canadians in the race. One of them, Mohammed Ahmed of St. Catharines Ont., was touted by local newspapers as one of Canada’s greatest ever junior level runners. He since became a senior world championship medalist – but on that night in Moncton, even while finishing 4th and leading the chase group to the finish, he got lapped.
Mohammed Ahmed as a junior. Photo: Times and Transcript
We sat 16 rows up from the track’s backstretch. Though it was 10:00 p.m. by race start,the last event of the day, my back was covered in sweat, and made a Velcro-like sound each of the 25 times I peeled myself off the stadium chair to watch Dennis Chepkongin Masai of Kenya lope by, en route to a clocking of 27:53 and a decisive gold medal finish.
The stadium was packed, I listened to fans around me speak in English, Dutch, Portuguese and Franglais, all trying to make sense of how Masai was head and shoulders above their respective countrymen.
“You know Kenyans live at altitude,” said one, “so their red blood cell count is much higher, and they can run for longer.”
“It’s all lifestyle,” said another. “They don’t eat fast food, and they don’t drive everywhere. A lot of them run enjoy running to school.”
“Why aren’t the Canadians starting to train at ten years old?” asked an impatient man to his wife. “This guy’s putting on a clinic.”
Masai’s brilliant display of fitness was my first exposure to elite track and field. I left Moncton’s brand-new Croix-Bleue Medavie Stadium (then known as the Moncton 2010 Stadium) feeling hooked, mesmerized, and a bit silly for thinking that Canada could keep up with the best in the world.
And what were all these Vitruvian humans doing in Moncton, anyway? Moncton! Where my mom goes when she needs bacon bits at Costco and where just a few years ago I’d go to hang out at The Crystal Palace? I started thinking that the newly erected $23 million Stadium, with technology rivalling that of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, had been planted just south of Morton Avenue by mistake.
We drove to our hotel. I had a full day to make sense of what I had just seen, because we also had tickets for Thursday’s races. In the lobby of the Rodd on Main Street, copies of the Times and Transcript were scattered on a coffee table. I picked one up and read that a young woman from Moncton was slated to compete in the 3,000m steeplechase final on Thursday night. She was an Acadian distance runner, just like me. I already felt bad for this 18-year-old Geneviève Lalonde - as far as I could tell, she was barely removed from Les Jeux de l’Acadie.
The stadium was less crowded on Thursday - many fans stayed home to take cover from a consistent rainfall. But between drops, I watched, incredulous, as Lalonde kept pace with Purity Kirui of Kenya, and Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia - the eventual 10,000m champion at the Rio Olympics. To me, the young Monctonian had clearly forgotten she was from the Maritimes.
As the rain battered the track, Lalonde charged on, finishing sixth in a time of 9:57.74. It made her the fastest junior athlete in the history of the Western hemisphere.
Geneviève Lalonde in action at the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championship
It’s easy to lose confidence in ourselves and our people in front of world-class adversity. But the 2010 World Juniors were an exercise in thinking big – for the athletes, the local organizing committee (LOC), and even for young fans like me. And perhaps it took Lalonde’s performance, or Canadian long jumper Taylor Stewart’s medal-winning leap, or the IAAF’s then-president Lamine Diack’s praising of Moncton’s installations to make us realize that we had every right to host that championship. And more, the Hub City, from its Parlee Beach to its Mosaiq Multicultural Festival, was charming athletes from every part of the world.
As a 14-year-old, I didn’t really understand what work had gone into organizing an event of that size. Ten years later, I am still amazed at how brilliantly Moncton, a city of 85,000, played host, before passing the torch to Barcelona, a metropolis of 5.5 million.
And now I’m curious. How did Moncton win that bid? Raise the money? Summon enough volunteers to house and feed 2,000 athletes, coaches and trainers? I also wonder how much the championship and stadium helped develop track and field in New Brunswick in the following years. It surely turned me, a young visitor from PEI, into a fan and, eventually, an athlete.
I’ve never made Team Canada, but my love for track and field, born on that hot day in July, led me to win varsity titles, visit faraway places, meet new friends, write stories that landed me jobs, and find a lifelong hobby and passion. Really, we owe to ourselves to revisit the story of what made Moncton 2010 possible.
And there may not be a better time to revisit the organization and glory of these championships than on its ten-year anniversary, right as we face trials greater and graver than the building of a stadium or a fit Kenyan athlete. Maybe a glimpse back to a time when mass gatherings were encouraged and the world packed our stands will remind us that great challenges can bring us to our best.
Alex Cyr is a journalist from Prince Edward Island who has written for The Globe and Mail, The XC, and Canadian Running Magazine. His first book Runners of the Nish, was published in 2018.This is the first of a series of articles revisiting the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championship in Moncton, NB, by Alex Cyr for Athletics New Brunswick.