The Canadian Junior Track and Field Championships begin in Winnipeg July 8 at the University of Manitoba and 100-metre specialist Michael Aikens is ready to put his training to work.
Aikens, 17, also a standout defensive back for the Oak Park Raiders, attended a press conference Monday along with several other prominent Manitoba athletes competing at the championships, including Melissa Kitching, Matthew Fitkowsky, and the Paracholski sisters, as well as Canadian Olympic Team head coach Alex Gardiner.
"I'm not too nervous, really," Aikens said. "I feel like my training has put me in a position to do well."
Aikens will be competing in the 100m, 200m, and 4 x 100m relay at the championships, but to give you an idea of how strong he is in the 100m, last year's gold-medal winner, Aaron Brown, won with a time of 11.11 seconds. Aikens' best time so far is 10.87 seconds.
The event, held at University Stadium from July 8 to 10, is no minor track meet.
"This is a big deal," said Gardiner, who has been involved with many of the athletes competing and knows several personally.
"The junior level and these championships are where we find out who has the talent and the tenacity to compete at higher levels. It's the beginning of what is likely their best five or six years as track athletes."
Gardiner, a Winnipeger himself, stressed not only what it means for the city to be hosting the junior championships, but also the benefits it provides for the Manitobans competing.
"Athletes will be able to go home and sleep in their own beds," he said. "And when they run, they will get to enjoy being cheered on by friends and family." For Aikens, that includes coach Gardiner.
"Mike's at my house having dinner regularly because he's good friends with my son," Gardiner said. "He's a great student, a hard worker, and really the kind of kid you would want to be your own son."
Carly Paracholski, the provincial youth as well as provincial midget record holder for the 800m, will be competing in the event against her twin sister, Meagan. Carly's personal best in the 800m, 2:05:99, is almost two seconds faster than last year's gold-medal winning time, 2:07:66, posted by Annie Leblanc.
Also competing at the junior championships are Melissa Kitching and Matthew Fitkowski. Kitching, the Athletics Manitoba 2010 Hurdler of the Year, as well as the Canadian silver medallist for 300m hurdles, will be competing in the 400m hurdles, the 400m race, as well as relays. Fitkowsky, the two-time silver medallist for 400m at the Legion Canadian Youth Championships, will be looking to break his personal best of 49.21 seconds.
"We're going to see some magnificent performances," Gardiner said. "There's going to be heartbreak, triumph, and we may even see some lunch return."
Let's hope the finish times and lunches both stay down.