Derek Drouin won the high jump and Damian Warner raced to victory in the 110-metre hurdles on Tuesday night, as the future of track and field was on display at the Toronto International Track and Field Games.
"I think it's awesome," Warner said. "A couple of years back I remember saying 'Canada is on the rise again,' and it's showing."
Ben Johnson brings crowd to its feet
Two decades after he'd run his last race, Ben Johnson can still bring a crowd to its feet.
He just wishes he had a little more notice.
"I'm exhausted," the former Canadian sprint star said, laughing.
More than twenty years after his fall from grace, Johnson was back on the track Tuesday night anchoring his pro-am relay team to victory as part of the Toronto International Track and Field Games at Varsity Stadium.
"It's been a long time," Johnson said. "If I knew that this (race) was going to happen, I would have trained myself two or three months ago."
How much notice was he given?
"About two weeks," he said. More laughter.
A crowd that nearly filled the grandstand stood and cheered on Johnson, who won by a good 30 metres. Now 51 years old and a grandfather, he still looked strong, roaring down the track at "three-quarter pace."
"I haven't trained properly for months and months," Johnson said. "I'm in good shape but my cardio is really bad, my breathing is pretty bad. My running style is OK, just the breathing, I have to get back used to it again.
"I've got nothing to prove. I don't want to hurt myself, you know?"
Children posed for pictures with Johnson. They wouldn't have been born when he raced to Olympic gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics in a world record 9.79 seconds, only to have his performance erased for a positive doping test — an event that changed the landscape of track and field in Canada.
"I've got lots of fans, it's just a few people in track and field who don't like me," said Johnson. "I've got great fans everywhere. It's good for the young generation to recognize me and know who Ben Johnson was, a little bit of history."
He was banned for life by the IAAF — the world governing body for track and field — in 1993 for a second positive test.
Johnson was one of several celebrity anchors for the pro-am that included Johnson's former Mazda Optimist teammate Angella Issajenko, triathlete Simon Whitfield, former skier Brian Stemmle, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, and Paralympic racer Josh Cassidy.
Johnson said he still trains at York University "every so often," and coaches some masters athletes. He has some business deals in the works, he said, but "nothing I can speak about right now. Things are OK."
Save for ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary "9.79" that first aired last year, Johnson has been out of the spotlight in recent years.
His post-track career included everything from coaching Muammar Gaddafi's son in soccer, to racing a thoroughbred horse and a stock car for charity, to developing his own clothing line, and pitching energy drink "Cheetah Power Surge."
In 2010, he released his autobiography entitled "Seoul to Soul."
— The Canadian Press
Warner, a 23-year-old from London, Ont., won the hurdles in 13.87 seconds, less than a month after he won the decathlon at the prestigious Hypo Meeting in Austria — what's considered the unofficial world championships for the multi-events.
"I think (Austria) was just like London," said Warner, who was fifth at the London Olympics. "After London I found more confidence in myself. I always believed in myself but after London it just reassured myself I am where I should be. I feel like I'm in a good spot."
Drouin, also 23, won the high jump, clearing 2.33 metres. Less than a week ago, he cleared a Canadian-record 2.36 to win the NCAA championships.
"I definitely feel like track and field is on the rise, and it's incredible to be a part of it," Drouin said. "Our team was really young in London, good signs for the future."
The native of Corunna, Ont., who won Canada's only track and field medal at the London Olympics — bronze in high jump — attempted what would have been a Canadian-record 2.37 on Tuesday night in front of a crowd that clapped along with his steps. He missed on his only one attempt.
"It's been a very busy week, this is my third meet in 10 days, I wanted to come here and gain some consistency," he said.
Drouin, who is healthy for a full season for the first time in two years — he missed all of 2011 when he tore ligaments in his ankle — said he feels there's more what that Canadian record came from.
"I took a few jumps at NCAAs on Friday at 2.39, and they felt incredible," said Drouin — he missed one by just the graze of his calf. "I definitely felt there was room for improvement, maybe if the bar had been at 2.37, may have been a different story. But I've got to leave something for the rest of my career."
Zelinka focusing on hurdles
Jessica Zelinka, who was seventh in both the 100-metre hurdles and the heptathlon in London, won the hurdles race Tuesday night in 13.06.
Zelinka is taking a break from the heptathlon this season so is focusing solely on the hurdles, and will run just that event at the world championships in Moscow in August.
She couldn't help but feel a pang when fellow Canadian Brianne Theisen won the women's heptathlon at the Hypo Meeting last month.
"It was hard for me to see that because I wanted to be there," said the London, Ont., native. "It was great that Canadians won, very excited about that. And the winning was $20,000, so that would have been good for my season. But it's good, it's OK, I really needed the break."
Zelinka moved to Connecticut this year with husband Nathaniel Miller, an Olympian in water polo who took a job coaching his sport there. She'd been without a coach until Kansas State University's Cliff Rovelto recently agreed to write her a training program.
As a result, she's had a late start to the season.
"I'm very strong and powerful right now, I just need to get my quickness back. I think it will come with having a program," she said. "My goal was to win here, because I hadn't won anything this year yet,and I wanted to get that feeling back of being aggressive and just going for it."
In other events, Kate Van Buskirk of Brampton won the women's 1,500 in four minutes 8.34 seconds, while Zane Robertson of New Zealand won the men's 1,500 in 3:40.27.
Other winners included Shai Davis of Richmond, B.C., who won the women's 100 in 11.52, and Jason Rogers of St. Kitts and Nevis, who won the men's 100 in 10.25. Justyn Warner of Markham, Ont., was second in the men's 100 in 10.32.