By GARY KINGSTON
Swangard Stadium in Burnaby on a glorious night in late June. The grandstand packed with thousands of red-and-white and red-and-yellow-clad spectators.
The newly re-surfaced running track promising to deliver some fast performances. A healthy Andre De Grasse, Canada’s triple 2016 Olympic medalist, doing battle at 100 metres with top Chinese sprinter, Su Bingtian, who hails, interestingly enough, from one of Burnaby’s sister cities, Zhongshan City.
That’s the vision Doug Clement has for the Achilles Track Society’s plan to revitalize the 35th running of the Harry Jerome International Track Classic with a two-day China-Canada Sprint Challenge.
“It’s never been done before, focussing on one event like the sprints,” Clement, the Achilles president, said at a news conference Wednesday confirming the meet-within-a-meet idea for the Jerome on June 26-27.
“We’ve got the history, the sprinters (Percy Williams, Jerome, Donovan Bailey, De Grasse). They do as well,” he added, noting that Bingtian has run under 10 seconds four times and the fast-improving Chinese won silver in the 4x100-metre relay at the 2015 IAAF world championships.
“It’s going to be a great contest. It could be very exciting. I think the team concept and the Pacific World Cup add another dimension where there’s a clear winner and a clear loser.”
The Chinese and Canadian sprint teams, which are expected to be named by the end of April, will consist of 20 runners, 10 men and 10 women.
The first two events, the men and women’s 100 metres and 4x400-metre relays, will be held on June 26. The second night will feature the men’s and women’s 200 metres, 400 metres and 4x100 metre relays.
China, which sent six coaches to Jamaica three years ago for a month-long program focussed on sprinting, has put considerable resources into its track and field program in recent years, including the hiring of American coaching legend Randy Huntington.
Back in 2004, when Liu Xiang won Olympic gold in the men’s 110-metre hurdles for China, there were hardly any other track athletes of note from the country. But Dong Bin won bronze in the men’s triple jump at the 2016 Olympics, Wang Jinan was a bronze medalist at the 2015 world championships in the men’s long jump and Bingtian earned the silver medal in the 60-metre final at the world indoor championships last November.
“Now, when you walk out into the worlds, they are looking at China,” Huntington said recently. “Before they did not see China, they only saw Liu Xiang. It’s very different now. There was no China before, there was an athlete only. Now they see a country.”
Clement said Jerome officials are hoping to attract a sizeable crowd from the local Chinese community and thinks there is an opportunity to replicate some of the enthusiasm seen at the Rugby 7s event at BC Place.
“We’re going to try to encourage (spectators) to wear their colors, try to catch some of that same entertainment experience. Those choosing to get behind China, wear their red and yellow, then, of course, the Canadian colors of red and white. We want to try to get that fun element into it.
“I really do believe we’re going to sell out on the two days. The stadium seats between 4,000 and 5,000 people. In Europe, they sell out lots of standing room (for track meets.) I suspect we could get, beyond the seating, another couple of thousand.”
Clement said he is very hopeful that De Grasse, who ran at the Jerome in 2016 and 2017, will be at Swangard in June. “We are working hard at that.”
De Grasse recently withdrew from next month’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast of Australia, saying that while he was 100 per cent healthy after missing the 2017 worlds due to a hamstring injury, he was not where he wanted to be from a fitness standpoint.
“My team and I feel like this is the best decision for the long term,” said De Grasse. “I will now train hard through the spring to be ready for a strong and full outdoor season.”
Get your tickets now as sell-out is expected
Details on Ticket Prices Vancouver Sun Harry Jerome Track Classsic
Tickets for Adults, $45 for both days, $25 for a single day
Tickets for Youth (4-17 Years) $19 for both days, $11 for a single day
Tickets for Families, $96 for both days, $58 for a single day
Tickets for VIP Hospitality $115 for both days, $75 for a single day
Preferred Seating $75 for both days, $45 for a single day
Adult Group $16 a day
Youth Group $9 a day