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May 18 2017 - JDLF 2017: International Games Highlights Development of Elite Track & Field Athletes in New Brunswick

For New Brunswick’s burgeoning track and field program, the World Francophone Games holds overwhelming significance.  What a change from just 10 years ago when Athletics New Brunswick counted only 10 senior athletes in its membership.


Ten years later backed by a changed provincial culture that support sport promotion, and following NB’s hosting of the 2010 IAAF World Juniors, the 2013 North American and Caribbean and three national championships combined with the hard work, passion, and dedication of countless coaches, professionals, and volunteers, athletics has transformed into one of the largest participation sports in NB, from which have emerged international caliber athletes.  


The NB team heading the International Francophone Games in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, this August are certainly of that class.  9 Athletes will wear the New Brunswick colors in Track and Field They are  Grace Annear (800m-1500m ) of Hampton, Barry Britt (1500m-5000m-10 000m Hampton) ,Shelley Doucet (Marathon Saint John) , Jonathan Gionet (Shot Put – Bathurst), Elizabeth Macdonald (Hammer Throw – Oromocto) Sarah Macpherson (800m-1500m -Fredericton) ,Naomie Maltais (Hammer Throw Val D’amour) Chris Robertson (Decathlon –Moncton) and Alex Witmer (High Jump – Moncton)

The Jeux de la Francophonie brings athletes from over 80 countries in various sports and cultural events. Track and field is one of the core sports and brings the very best athletes in the world.

The International Francophone Organization recognises official French language states, where the language holds a significant influence in culture and government. As Canada’s only officially bilingual province, New Brunswick did earn an independent cultural recognition and, thus, fields its own competitive delegation.


For athletes from the small and culturally rich province, this international championship could not arrive at a better moment.


New Brunswick’s top athletes use this meet as a ‘stepping stone’ competition. “Les Jeux de la Francophonie provides just the international experience they need. It will help prepare them for future national team qualification and for international success,” says ANB’s Executive Director and JDLF head Coach, Gabriel LeBlanc. “Three years out from the Olympic games, it’s the perfect competition to get the ball rolling.”


Case and point: at the 2013 JDLF in Nice, France, Geneviève Lalonde won the bronze medal in the 3000m steeplechase and then Rio 2016, she smashed the Canadian record and qualified for the Olympic final.


In the past, merely keeping New Brunswick athletes in sport was a challenge. Often, the high cost of training and travel resigned athletes to casual participation or retirement. Further, the small competition pool discouraged athletes from continuing after high school. Except for the rare few who immediately reached Olympic caliber, ten years ago, New Brunswick lacked a platform upon which they could hope to become serious senior athletes.


ANB’s adult elites travelled for the opportunity and relocated for resources. In high school, Sarah MacPherson commuted to New York City, where the stiff competition helped her run fast enough to earn a NCAA Division One scholarship. After high school, NBIAA champions Ryan Cassidy, Adam Gaudes, and Grace Annear moved to train in Victoria BC. While Lalonde moved to Guelph, Ontario.


However, over the last decade, change rolled in. With it came new opportunities. Today, athletes can pursue the road to excellence within their home province, including the fact that UNB and l’Université de Moncton both offer well-developed varsity athletics ‘programs.


Hosting the 2010 IAAF World Junior Track and Field Championship sparked a rise in awareness and interest. Government funding improved, which allowed ANB to hire High-Performance coaches. Young athletes saw first hand the possibility of international competition. Once inspired, they could then access high-level coaching to help them reach that level.  


ANB rolled with that momentum. It spearheaded the Maritime Track League, which brings the best of from these three provinces into one competitive circuit. They hosted two Senior National Championships, which highlighted the reality of professional competition. To support the burgeoning elite population, they created a sophisticated financial support system, hosted workshops, and hired specialists in the fields of conditioning, biomechanics, nutrition, and sports psychology. A new indoor track facility is scheduled to break ground in Saint John. And, finally, the organisation cultivates a province-wide Integrated Support Team.


According to LeBlanc, the new IST initiative is a key component to athletic growth – and, something the organisation is delighted to finally offer. “It’s huge. It recognises all the other components beyond the training program. Injury management and prevention, strength and conditioning, mental performance, and culture of excellence.”


The effort and initiative paid off. 9 New Brunswick athletes will make the trip to Ivory Coast this July and all have surpassed the international standard to compete at these games.


“Our goal has always been to show athletes that not only can they reach their goals, but they can reach their goals from home,” says LeBlanc. “We’ve built the framework for the opportunity. And now, with the upcoming Francophone Games, we get to prove that it’s working.”


Leading up to the 2013 JDLF, only one team member achieved standard while training in New Brunswick. Today, athletes no longer need to move away to reach their potential. Eight members of the 2017 Team Canada–Nouveau-Brunswick surpassed qualification standards while living and training in-province. Elizabeth MacDonald, Barry Britt, Shelly Doucet, Jonathan Gionet, Chris Robertson, Alex Witmer, Naomie Maltais, and Grace Annear have all harnessed ANB’s resources and, in the summer of 2016, achieved the necessary results.


The other team member, Sarah MacPherson, today resides out of province, though she partakes in her home province’s events whenever she can. ANB plans to release articles on these star’s unique and individual journeys throughout the months leading up to the games.


LeBlanc will be accompanied by Fredericton coach Yvan Pelletier, a veteran of the JDLF, having served as head coach in 2005 and 2013.


The eighth World Francophone Games will take place on the Savannah of the Cote d’Ivoire. In July, our nine New Brunswick athletes will pack their suitcases and fly off to a tropical city bursting with a culture entirely different from their own. Once there, they will stand up against some of the world's top competitors and perform before an international assembly and the world.


With any Games comes a sense of symbolism, of deeper significance. “Because of who we are, and because of our heritage, we have this incredible opportunity,” says LeBlanc. At JDLF 2017, that our little province is ready to shine.

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