By Brendan Shykora
The climb to the world stage of track and field continues for four local athletes following the 2018 Canadian Track and Field Championships.
Ottawa Lions Tim Nedow, Saj Alhaddad, Divya Biswal and University of Toronto’s Alicia Brown all qualified for the North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) 2018 Track and Field Championships. If they’re successful enough at the NACAC championships – which take place in Toronto from August 10-12 – the four athletes will punch a ticket to the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Qatar.
For Biswal, getting to NACAC has been a hard-fought battle. After a breakout season last year in which she set an Ottawa Lions club record in triple jump, she moved to New York City working as an analyst on Wall Street. But due to circumstances beyond her control, her training schedule in New York didn’t go the way she hoped.
“I didn’t actually get to do any running in the indoor season besides on a treadmill, which is not how a jumper wants to train,” she said.
It’s been a struggle with confidence for Biswal this season, but things got better when she started seeing a sports psychologist. “The stigma around mental health is so big right now, so I’m happy I’ve finally gotten the courage to work on myself.”
“It was tough coming into this meet because I struggle with confidence in my personal life,” Biswal went on. “But I finally feel like I’m getting there, so I feel actually very encouraged.”
Biswal earned her spot at the NACAC events with a 12.51 m measure in triple jump – good for a silver medal. She nearly had an even better result; her final three jumps were deep, but each saw a red flag raised, indicating a foul.
“Overall I’m pleased with it because the jumps where I fouled were still pretty good,” she said.
Nedow is no newcomer to the highest levels of shot put. The 27-year-old won gold at the 2015 Diamond League in Stockholm, Sweden, and went to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio.
Success in Toronto isn’t new for Nedow either; he won a silver medal there at the Pan Am Games in 2015.
At nationals, Nedow pumped up the crowd before making his final toss in the senior men’s shot put, where he repeated as the gold medalist with a season’s best 20.94 metres.
Though he cleared 2nd place by nearly two metres, Nedow looked frustrated. He came just 4 cm short of his personal best, which sits just before the magic 21-metre mark.
“I was really happy, that was probably my best series ever,” he said on his walk to the podium. “But I’ve been stuck at 20.98 for four years.”
Nedow is now a 10-time national champion, his title streak dating back to a 2012 gold medal in discus throw. In August he’ll look to carry his momentum over to his second championships in as many months.
Alhaddad had no problem navigating the course in the men’s 400 m hurdles at this year’s nationals. But the silver medal he earned in a time of 51.50 seconds came with bonus feelings of redemption: Alhaddad tumbled out of this same event at last year’s nationals.
“This time last year I crashed hard on the hurdles,” said Alhaddad, who added that he’s trained hard to prepare himself for a better result this time around.
“I’m thankful to have been part of the final and to (win) a hard medal with hard work.”
Alhaddad, 26, went off to a blazing start to the season at the Duke University Invitational, where he won the 400 m hurdles with a personal best time of 51.34.
Brown will compete in Toronto as part of a 4×400 m relay team following a solid outing at nationals. Brown finished 4th in the women’s 400 m finals with a time of 53.10.
“For me the goal was to be as aggressive as I could, and just go out there and compete,” said the 28-year-old. Brown ran the second leg of the 4×400 m team that went to the 2016 Summer Olympics. Since Rio she’s been plagued by a hamstring injury, but she’s confident her recovery is on the right track.
“It’s a process, (but) if I’m heading in the right direction that’s all I can ask for.”
More top spots
While they weren’t able to secure a birth at the NACAC championships, Farah Jacques and Sultana Frizell were still among the top local seniors at the track nationals.
Jacques made her mark on the women’s 100 m hurdles as a newcomer.
“I’ve got a bronze medal, and I’m really happy because it’s my first year doing hurdles,” said the athlete who trains in Ottawa under national team coach Glenroy Gilbert and hurdles coach Hugh Conlin. “I’m really excited for the future.”
While Jacques is just getting started in hurdles, Sultana Frizell is a veteran to the hammer throw. The 33-year-old placed 3rd in the women’s senior event this year.
Frizell is the Canadian record holder for hammer throw and winner of the event at last year’s championships. This year she threw 61.84 metres –well behind her season’s best 68.01.
“I absolutely love competing, especially in Ottawa,” she said.
But training has been a secondary priority to education for Frizell this year: she came to nationals in the middle of a 16-month intensive massage therapy program.
Full-time school has forced Frizell to be a “weekend warrior” when it comes to training, making her 3rd place showing all the more impressive.
Though Frizell knew her diminished training schedule meant she couldn’t be at peak form at these nationals, her bronze medal presented the chance to pull off her signature cartwheel onto the podium.
“I’ve still got it,” she said with a laugh. With any luck, she’ll be cartwheeling again in August.