Canwest News Service
EDMONTON —There is no hope for a fairy-tale finish, since every race amounts to Usain Bolt and the seven dwarfed also-rans.
It doesn’t matter where, when or who provides the opposition.
That’s how the 100-metre field shapes up if the reigning Olympic champ, world-record holder and majestic freak of nature settles his six-foot-five frame into the blocks for a sub-10-second jaunt to the top of the podium.
Tiger Woods once held similar sway over the PGA field. Wayne Gretzky could dominate NHL ice and Michael Jordan the NBA court like that, once upon a time. And that’s surely how the 100 metres will go down at the Festival of Excellence track meet June 11 at the University of Toronto.
But almost any sprinter with a heartbeat wants to be in the field. Beaten by Bolt is practically a badge of honour. Beaten by Bolt is the rarest of opportunities because the challengers, for lack of a more apt description, know two things for certain. They will not win, but when the gun goes off, the big man from Jamaica will pull the field along with him quickly enough to provoke personal bests, even in lopsided defeat.
Jared Connaughton of New Haven, P.E.I., and Toronto’s Anson Henry are the lucky Canadian content in a field that will be beaten by Bolt on June 11. Also lining up as fleet-footed fodder are Americans Shawn Crawford, Bernard Williams and Ivory Williams, and Jamaicans Marvin Anderson and Mario Forsythe.
“He might be the best sprinter who ever lived,” Henry said of Bolt. “Anybody trying to get better wants to run with the best, to see how you compare. The hype is going to be so big that there will be good energy for the race. It’s going to be good for all of us.”
How good? Well, the two-year-old track surface is Polytan, on which Asafa Powell and Tim Montgomery set previous world records. As mentioned, Bolt will be leading the charge to the finish line. Right now, Henry’s PB is 10.12, but it might not last the night.
“If I could get into the 10.0s I’d be cool with that,” Henry said, while shrugging off the notion he’s lucky to be in the field.
“I’ve been in a lot of big races in my career. The good thing about this race is it’s in my hometown and it will bring a lot of attention to the sport.”
Edmonton-based sprinter Pierre Browne thought he would have a chance to share in the spectacle. Rightly so, since meet organizers were adamant about putting Canadians in each event and Browne is the reigning national champ at the distance, having beaten Connaughton and Henry last summer at the University of Windsor with a stadium-record time of 10.19 seconds. Henry was third and Connaughton fifth that day.
Browne and coach Derek Evely were confident enough of Browne’s inclusion that they planned the approach to this summer’s title defence at the Canadian championships around the Toronto race.
“For Pierre, it was the keystone of our entire preparation for nationals. That was key,” Evely said Friday. “You’re running against Usain Bolt. It’s a high-quality race and that’s what we look for.
“While I applaud the meet organizers in Toronto for putting it together, it’s too bad Pierre got hooped on it. They came to us and asked us if Pierre was interested, based on the fact Pierre is the Canadian champ, he ran the final leg of the relay against Bolt at the Olympics and he’s from Toronto. From a marketing perspective there is not a single guy in the country who should be in that race ahead of Pierre.
“He was on the list. Somehow he was removed and Jared and Anson were put in there. They came back to me (Thursday) and said, ‘We’re sorry.’ Jared should be in there, no doubt. The other Canadian should clearly be Pierre. They were very good about it and there are no hard feelings, but in the end he gets screwed.”
That is certainly how it feels.
“It’s a pretty big disappointment,” said Browne. “Competing in Toronto against the fastest guy in the world would have been a great opportunity. It’s out of my control. I did what I can do. I’m the Canadian champion. I won last year in a decent time.”
Meet organizers knew how controversial the picks could be, so they set up a selection committee and started with an initial list of 35 men; five times the number they needed to flesh out the field.
“There were about four or five Canadians on the list and we narrowed it down to two,” said meet director Carl Georgevski, who insisted Browne was never officially in the race and therefore could not have been removed.
“For whatever reason, we felt Anson Henry and Jared Connaughton would be the best candidates. We’re human in this environment. If it was a mistake, it was a mistake.”
The committee’s reasoning apparently was based on Browne’s relative inactivity this season.
“It’s a weak approach,” Browne said. “I don’t think it’s a fair situation.”
With only two lanes devoted to Canadians, this story wasn’t going to end happily ever after for a handful of hopefuls. That one of them is the national champ seems ludicrous.