Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ups and downs vex high jumpers

Favourites fall at junior nationals in city

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High jumping is a dangerous sport.

Don't believe me? The 2011 Canadian Junior Track and Field Championships wrapped up Sunday afternoon at the University of Manitoba's University Stadium, and the high jumpers were dropping like flies.

One of the favourites going in, Django Lovett of the Valley Royals Track and Field Club in Abbotsford, B.C., tweaked his foot on one of his early jumps, and disappointed, told an official he would have to withdraw.

Shortly before, Teodor Kostelnik, of the Capital City Track Club in Edmonton, had to withdraw himself from the competition as well, as even on his warm-up jumps, it was obvious Kostelnik was dealing with some lower-back issues. After knocking the bar out of place on one of his jumps and then immediately clutching his sore spot, Kostelnik packed it in.

That certainly opened up the door for Branden Wilhelm, another of the favourites going into the competition. Although Wilhelm, the 19-year-old from Woodstock, Ont., did manage to come away with the gold medal, he also felt the injury bug biting.

"I've been having shin problems lately," Wilhelm said after the event. "I was really happy I was able to fight through it."

That said, winning, partly as a result of your opponents' injuries, is never ideal.

"I saw Django go down early, and you never want to see other guys go down," he said. "But, with my own shin issues and all, I am relieved to win."

In addition to being a dangerous sport, however, high jumping is also a team sport, and although athletes compete individually, the team dynamic can be crucial in helping to build success.

As Team Manitoba entered three young athletes in the event -- Steven Shwaykosky, Steven Olson and Neil Clark -- their coaches, Wayne McMahon and Melanie Gregg, emphasized the importance of having teammates push you.

"This is the first year in a while we've had a few guys from Manitoba all entered in the high jump," said McMahon, a high jump coach since 1975. "And it's really nice to see."

Gregg, who competed for the University of Manitoba up until 2005 as a high jumper, spoke from experience.

"It's great when you have a good core of athletes who can all train together," she explained. "It allows them to push each other and really motivate themselves."

While McMahon explained Team Manitoba's restrained expectations for this year's championship, as the team is relatively young and inexperienced, it's a bright look into what their futures hold.

"Our goal is being able to come here and compete to the best of our ability," he said. "With the hope that next year, we will be able to compete to win. But bottom line, our guys have to get older, bigger, faster, stronger."

With such a young team, the plan is hopeful. Two of the competitors, Steven Olson and Neil Clark, just graduated high school, while Steven Shwaykosky, "the little guy," as his coach referred to him, just finished his first year of university.

"Olson was a basketball star and played multiple sports in high school," McMahon said. "But he's coming to the University of Manitoba next year to jump. Once we get his training going, he'll start to accelerate, and the team will continue to get better and better."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 11, 2011 C6

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