Moncton’s First Test – Hosting the 2010 Canadian Junior Track and Field Championship.
Encouraged by the hometown support many young NB athletes shined
From Left to Right; Ryan Cassidy, Geneviève Lalonde, Adam Gaudes & Caleb Jones – all qualified to compete on Team Canada at World Juniors. Courtesy of the Times & Transcript
On July 2, 2010, the Moncton Medavie Croix Bleue Stadium opened its gates for the first time. Its blue and yellow paint was barely dried and finishing touches were still being made on its warmup track when Canada’s top junior athletes landed at Roméo Leblanc International airport.
Moncton was hosting the Canadian junior track and field championship. This event would determine the team of athletes that would get to represent the country at the IAAF World championship later that month, again in Moncton. For Team Canada hopefuls, nationals were their chance to prove they were world-class material. For Moncton’s Local Organizing Committee, supporting staff and volunteers, it was more of the same.
“We had been preparing for this championship for a long time,” said the IAAF championship’s chief operating officer (COO) Nancy McKay. “But we needed that hands-on experience that we got at juniors. There is nothing quite like doing it.”
McKay was part of a team of nearly 200 employees and volunteers, whose first members had been planning a world championship in Moncton for more than four years. They had won the bid, they had built the $23-million stadium, and all that was left to do was learn to run a large-scale championship.
“We needed to put our sport facilities and our new team to the test,” said McKay. “For a lot of our volunteers, it would be their first time working at that level of competition.”
The nationals, with its 800 athletes and little fanbase, were much smaller than the IAAF worlds would be. But McKay saw them as the perfect opportunity for her team to get comfortable with logistics, like managing athlete travel from the airport, making accreditation smooth, dealing with dignitaries and protocol, settling athletes into residences, testing out food strategies, and setting up and tearing down track equipment on a strict schedule.
Learning so much at once was a challenge for the organizing committee, said Moncton community development officer Marie-Claire Pierce, especially given the time frame. Two weeks between championships felt like not enough time to make necessary adjustments.
“Thankfully,” said Pierce, “our volunteers were willing to be trained in different areas. Many of them, we shaped for several roles and they were fantastic at both championships. I can’t remember that there were any major hiccups.”
And while staff and volunteers learned on the fly, hype was building around the track. Team Canada coach Carla Nicholls praised Moncton’s preparations and welcoming atmosphere, and deemed the Medavie Croix Bleue Stadium the best track and field venue in the country.
The meet itself carried inherent excitement, as the winner of each of the 35 events qualified for the world championship. Then, 24 additional athletes who did not win, but achieved a performance standard, were also named to the team. Seven of the 59 athletes who made Team Canada were from the Atlantic Provinces including four from New Brunswick.
Caleb Jones of St. John won the javelin throw, and his toss of 69.68 metres broke the Canadian Junior championship record by more than a metre, while Adam’s Gaudes third place 400-meter finish earned him a spot on the 4x400m relay team. Ryan Cassidy, then a 17-year-old distance runner from Grand-Digue, was so sure he would not qualify in his events that he had already registered for the IAAF championship as a media volunteer. He eventually had to tell his supervisors to replace him when he finished second in the 3,000m steeplechase, running the race of his young adult life, and earning a spot on the international start line. Geneviève Lalonde of Moncton easily qualified for the 3,000m steeplechase, by winning the 2,000m steeple final by more than 16 seconds. She would also qualify for the 1,500-meter with a second-place finish.
Ten years later, Lalonde still fondly remembers her first race at the Croix Bleue Medavie Stadium. The Canadian 3,000m steeplechase record holder was still learning to clear barriers and water pits back then under the tutelage of her coach and two time Olympian, Joël Bourgeois. Her main preoccupation was to get a clear view of the obstacles ahead, to not trip over them. And the best way to see the barriers, she thought, was to lead commandingly from start to finish.
“Also, being from Moncton,” she said, “I wanted to show the people in the stands a good time.”
As family, friends and community members cheered for Lalonde each time she leaped over the pristine Stadium’s striped steeples and widened her lead, it became evident that Moncton was ready to welcome the world – both on the track and off it.
“The atmosphere was already magical,” said Lalonde. “My whole street came and watched me at nationals. Where else does that happen?”
This is the fifth of a series of articles revisiting the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championship in Moncton, NB, by Alex Cyr for Athletics New Brunswick.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.