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Ability to leap small buildings

Mansaray can run very fast as well

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SELKIRK -- Most athletes would be thrilled to finish first in the varsity boys' 100-metre race -- arguably the most prestigious event in this year's Manitoba Provincial Track and Field Championships.

But not 18-year-old Alhaji Mansaray of River East Collegiate.


"I wouldn't say this was the best race of my life, in my career," the Grade 12 student said between gulps of air moments after he captured gold. "My start wasn't really good."

The interview was cut short by a voice in the distance announcing that Mansaray was due for his first attempt in the high jump final.

About 20 minutes later, in front of an audience of several hundred, he captured his second gold of the day with a leap of two metres -- .05 metres shy of the provincial record.

Once again, Mansaray wasn't quite satisfied.

"I wanted to go for the record of 2.06 metres but that didn't quite work out today," he said.

Mansaray was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone. When civil war broke out 10 years ago, he and his family escaped to Winnipeg in hopes of finding a safer existence.

"I'm happy here, I have a lot of family and support," he said. "I have great coaches and I wouldn't want to go anywhere else."

Danielle Fontaine has been coaching Mansaray since he began attending River East Collegiate three years ago.

"He's a very talented and gifted athlete," said Fontaine. "He has an exceptional ability to jump high and far as well as sprint.

"It's very exciting to coach him."

Fontaine has seen a lot of runners in her 17-year coaching career -- the last seven with the River East club.

"He's probably my top jumping athlete that I've seen, and most talented as well," she said. "He's a naturally gifted athlete who knows how to take constructive criticism and get better and that's a very unique quality in an athlete."

A quality she'll miss when he graduates at the end of the month.

"Obviously we're saddened, but excited for the next step in his track career and we look forward to watching him at the university level."

And lucky for her she won't have to travel too far.

Mansaray's abilities on the track have landed him a scholarship at the University of Manitoba for next year. Asked how it feels to be continuing his track career in Manitoba, Mansaray smiled. "It feels great because I have all my support here," he said. "If I went somewhere in the States where I don't know anyone and I didn't have that support, I don't think I could handle that, so it's great to stay here."

Today marks the third and final day of the championships and Mansaray has a shot at his third gold when he competes in the triple jump.

And it's no surprise to hear where he hopes to finish the weekend.

"It's my last chance in the triple jump and I'm going for the record."


Small-town blues


It's the harsh reality that many rural high school track facilities in Manitoba simply aren't up to par.

And that's why so many schools outside the perimeter are looking to host big meets like this weekend's provincial championships.

"There's not a lot of money for some of these (rural) facilities," said Scott Gurney, a phys-ed teacher at Lord Selkirk High School and convener of this year's championship.

And it doesn't appear it will get any easier to receive future funds. Rural schools used to be able to bid for big competitions, and then receive funding. Selkirk got a big financial boost for its facilities because it hosted the 2003 Western Canada Games.

In 2005, track coaches across the province decided to restrict big meets like the provincial championships -- the type that earns funding money -- to schools with the best facilities, those with eight-lane tracks.

Something schools in Stonewall, Winkler and Neepawa just don't have. These schools would like to see the pie sliced into pieces.

The only facilities up to par with this standard are in Selkirk and Brandon and at the University of Manitoba.


Friday highlights


Robyn Wear of Gimli High School snapped the junior varsity girls' provincial long jump record with a leap of 5.52 metres, beating the 5.48 metres set by Glenlawn Collegiate's Janna Nikkel in 1989

Somerset School has 26 athletes competing in this weekend's events -- an impressive number when you consider the school has a fewer than 100 students.

Former national women's volleyball team captain Tammy Mahon still holds the provincial records for junior and varsity girls' high jump, set 1997 and 1998 respectively.

-- Hamilton

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 C6

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