Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba athletes thrive on U of M home track

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HOME soil proved mighty in this year's Canadian Junior National Track and Field Championships as a number of Manitoba athletes ended their season in style.

The University of Manitoba played host to the 2012 edition of the three-day event -- its second in as many years and last on the Canadian track circuit -- and Sunday's finale would give the home crowd a reason to cheer as the province represented five spots on the podium by day's end.

Julia Zrinyi opened the day for Manitoba by capturing the gold medal in the 800-metre race, an event in which the 17-year-old is currently ranked first in the country.

"This was kind of a different race because the pack was so tight," said Zrinyi following the race. "All I really needed to do was just to stay up with the front pack. It always comes down to who has the best kick at the end in races like this."

Zrinyi, who recently returned from Barcelona, Spain where she competed in the World Junior Championships, finished the race with a time of 2:07:61, edging out B.C.'s Devan Wiebe by 0.32 seconds.

"It feels amazing. There's no words to describe it," said Zrinyi, who will be heading south next year on a full track scholarship at the University of Connecticut. "It's just the best way to end a season."

It was also picture-perfect finish for Andy Tough, Zrinyi's track coach for the past seven years.

"There's a lot of pressure running at home in a Canadian championship and I'm really proud of her," said Tough. "She executed the game plan perfectly and had the confidence in herself to just kick it in the last 80 to 100 metres."

Zrinyi would later capture the gold as a member of the 4x400-metre relay team along with teammates Melanie Baran, Janine Zajac and Amy Andrushko.

Next to capture a spot on the podium was Amy Graceffo, 18, earning herself a bronze medal in the heptathlon and breaking a Manitoba record with an overall score of 4,712 points.

"That's probably the one thing that I'm happiest about," said Graceffo, a recent graduate of Glenlawn Collegiate. "I just really wanted to get to 4,600 (points) and getting higher than that just makes me really, really happy."

Throughout the weekend, Graceffo competed in the 100-metre hurdles, 200-metre, 800-metre, high jump, shot put, long jump and javelin throw. After a convincing win in the javelin, Graceffo held a 50-point lead heading in to the final event, the 800-metre race, but would finish third in the race and the standings.

The other two medals came in the men's high jump with Manitoba earning both a gold and bronze. Eighteen-year-old Alhaji Mansaray finished first with an impressive jump of 2.08 metres while Steven Olson finished third with a jump of 2.0 metres.

More than 500 athletes from coast to coast competed in this year's event. Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2012 C2

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