Story by Gary Kingston
Canada’s biggest name and shiniest star in athletics is coming to one of the country’s most intimate track and field venues this summer, so the message is clear: get your tickets early and be prepared to be part of a standing room only crowd.
Sprint sensation Andre de Grasse, a triple medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, headlines a top field of runners, jumpers and throwers who will compete at the Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Track Classic on June 28.
De Grasse made his Jerome debut last summer when he helped attract a crowd of 6,000 to Swangard Stadium in Burnaby. But with that long-standing venue in line to undergo track re-surfacing, this year’s Jerome has been moved to cozy Percy Perry Stadium in Coquitlam, a facility that, unfortunately, seats just 1,482.
There will, however, be room for fans to take spots behind the fencing in the north and south ends and on the backstretch where they can still get good looks at the track as well as the high jump and long jump competitions.
Organizers are waiting to hear from the city of Coquitlam as to just what the standing room capacity will be. But it is expected that accommodations can be made for a crowd of more than 3,000, a number that was reached last year for the final game of the International Lacrosse Federation U-19 men’s field lacrosse championship. In 2007, before some bleacher seating was removed in a renovation, a crowd of 4,265 watched a Canada-Scotland warm-up game prior to the 2007 FIFA U-20 men’s World Cup.
“We want to emphasize that we are expecting a sellout and people had better get their tickets now,” said Doug Clement, president of the Achilles Track Society, which runs the Jerome.
More than 600 tickets have already been sold for the meet, which will start at 6 p.m. Tickets -- $10 for youth, $20 for adults, $47.50 for a family of four and $75 for VIP -- can be purchased online at www.harryjerome.com.
Clement and others say standing room only crowds are common at track and field events in Europe, particularly at venues with smaller grandstands.
“We want people to know that being at a smaller stadium, don’t be unsettled if you don’t necessarily have a seat,” said Clement. “On the bends at the north and south ends you will actually be able to get fairly close to the track. With the long jump and triple jump runways and pits on the backstretch . . . those areas will be very accessible ad very close. And you’ll still be able to see across the field to the 100m.
“The thing is we’ve got this issue (with reduced seating) and the earlier people are there the better it’s going to be in terms of getting closer to the track.”
Chris Winter, a recently retired distance and steeplechase runner for Canada, says there was a real intimate feeling running at standing room-only track events in Europe, something he hopes can be replicated at Percy Perry.
“It’s kind of a festival feeling with booths and food stands,” said Winter, now the track and field technical manager for BC Athletics. “It’s really casual and relaxed and there’s a fluidity and flexibility to be able to move around the venue.
“The stands tend to be for VIPs, tickets go for more money. Around the rest of the meet, it’s for the common person. It’s a more social atmosphere . . . you can get around and talk to different people rather than just the three or four people around you if you’re sitting in seats.”
Winter recalled a meet in Oordegem, Belgium, a town of 3,000 near the border with Germany.
“It was out in the middle of nowhere, in basically a farmer’s field, but it was packed with thousands of people. They had the beer garden going. It was a real intimate feeling. Some of these smaller venues can sell that. And it’s better for the athletes with fans spread out around the track.”
Percy Perry Stadium features a 400-metre polyflex synthetic rubberized track surface that is reputed to be one of the fastest in the country. That bodes well for de Grasse, a Markham, Ont., native who said on a conference call last month that he wants to impress the crowd with “a sub-10 second performance.”
Clement said the Jerome will be an exciting opportunity for people to see the man who won the Canadian Press, CBC and Air Canada athlete of the year awards for 2016. De Grasse also won the IAAF Rising Star Award for 2016 after the 22-year-old earned a silver medal in the 200 metres at Rio in a captivating battle with Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt and bronze medals in the 100 and 4x100 relay. (See CBC television special 20 minute here on the ascent of Andre De Grasse.)
“I still run into people all the time who say ‘I saw Harry Jerome run,’” said Clement. “We’ll probably look back historically, over the generations, and ask ‘Did you see Andre de Grasse?’ There’s a cachet with an athlete of that calibre to be able to say ‘I was there, I saw him do this.’”
While de Grasse will undoubtedly be the biggest draw on June 28, Winter noted the dynamic sprinter wouldn’t be the only big name at the meet. Commitments are still being confirmed, but it’s likely that many of athletes from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games will attend.