Making the jump this season from high school to university track and field was no problem for Alhaji Mansaray.
The former River East Collegiate Kodiak made a smooth transition to the University of Manitoba Bisons, putting together a solid rookie season that culminated in a bronze medal win in the high jump at the CIS Championships on March 8.
Mansaray cleared the bar at 2.06 metres, just two centimetres shy of his personal best and three centimetres below the gold-medal jump of Regina’s Jeremy Eckert. The East Kildonan resident had a chance to win gold with an attempt at 2.09, but didn’t quite pull it off.
"At first I wasn’t happy," he said. "But then I thought about it. It was my first year, and not a lot of people can do that (as rookies). The bronze medal was pretty good. "Just having a chance to get gold is good enough for me."
Bisons coach Claude Berube said he knew Mansaray had the potential to be a top athlete on the national stage, but not necessarily this quickly.
"It’s not something you see very often (with first-year athletes)," Berube said. "He had competed well at the national level in the past, with a gold medal last year at the national juniors, so we knew the possibility was there."
Making Mansaray’s accomplishment even more impressive was the fact that he’s been bothered by a sore knee all season. He’s hoping some added rest now that the university season is over will allow it to fully heal in time for the Canadian juniors in July. The top two finishers there will earn a trip to the Pan Am Junior Championships in Peru.
"I think the knee problem is the only reason why I haven’t gotten a personal best this year," he said. "As soon as I started getting to higher heights the knee started bothering me. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to jump and see what I really can do."
Berube is also eager to see just how high Mansaray can get. The coach sees plenty of untapped potential, as well as some technical details that can be worked on.
"He was real close to making the 2.09 barrier at the met," Berube said. "Sometimes once you get past the barrier that stopped you, all of a sudden things move up quickly."
Once the knee is 100%, Mansaray will also resume his training as a sprinter. He’s the Bisons’ second-fastest 60-metre runner and would have been part of their relay team if he’d been fully healthy. While the high jump will remain his focus, Mansaray is looking forward to running the 100- and 200-metres during the summer outdoor season.
"We knew he was a sprinter too," Berube said, "but I guess I didn’t realize in how many areas he’d be able to contribute to the team. He’s not a bad triple jumper either. The idea was that we were getting a real good high jumper, but he’s going to help in several other areas."