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Track stars to shine in Winnipeg

Canadian championships will decide Pan Am athletes

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The planes have landed, the field is set, and the track is waiting. All there's left to do, is run and jump.

Winnipeg will host the Canadian Junior Track and Field Championships this weekend, a three-day event with athletes from all across the country competing in all types of track and field events.

The championships will be held at University Stadium beginning this afternoon, and for the hometown athletes, the venue could not be more significant.

"This competition is probably the biggest and most important meet I'll have been been at," said Melissa Kitching, the star hurdler of the Springfield Sabres Track and Field Team in Manitoba. "To be able to sleep in our own beds, compete in front of our families and friends, and the fact that we really know the track, it could be a big advantage."

Despite Kitching being ranked in the Top 10 for both 400-metre hurdles as well as the 400m race, the soft-spoken 18-year-old has not lost her perspective on what really matters for Manitobans this weekend.

"I was picked by this team, so I feel I have a duty to represent Manitoba well," she said. "And aside from doing well in my own races, we want to be supportive, show how we cheer on our teammates, and really make a good name for ourselves."

With Kitching on the team, Manitoba shouldn't have any trouble doing so. Kitching will be attending North Dakota State University in the fall to run track, and she insists her ambassador duties will carry on south of the border. While the home-field advantage is stirring hype among locals, don't go counting medals before they hatch.

Some stiff competition has flown in, and just because the out-of-towners won't be running in front of their moms and dads does not mean they're treating it with any less importance.

"It's a really big deal, and I want to do really well," said Aaron Brown, the Canadian junior record holder for the 100 metres.

Brown is as high-profile as junior Canadian track athletes get, and the 19-year-old from Toronto, who is competing in several events at the championships, will be looking to make his mark on Bison turf.

"I'm here to come out with wins," Brown said. "I'm running the 100m, 200m, and a relay, and I want to win, but at the very least, qualify for the Pan-Am Juniors in a couple weeks."

Yes, the Canadian Junior Championships are also being used as a qualifying round for the 2011 Pan-American Junior Games being held in Miramar, Fla., July 22. Brown, who hopes to make a career for himself in track, would love to be there.

"This is my last year as a junior," he explained. "So it's really important to me I go out with a bang."

Brown just completed his first year at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where he runs as a member of the Trojans.

"One day I want to be a professional track athlete," Brown said. "And this weekend, and hopefully making the Pan-Am team, would be a great place to start."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 8, 2011 C4

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