Friday, June 29, 2012

2012 Canadian Track and Field Trials feature profile - part 4: Alister McQueen

With the 2012 Canadian Track and Field Trials for the Olympics and Paralympics being held this weekend at Foothills Athletic park, the Calgary City News blog would like to feature local talent. Please peruse parts one, two, three and four.

These Calgary athletes are competing on a national stage, many with high potential to win medals on the International stage at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England. The recent renovations at Foothills Athletic Park make Calgary the ideal place to host the 2012 Canadian Track & Field Trials and other world class track and field events.

Track Trials part 4 - Alister McQueen

Alister McQueen stands at the end of the javelin runway conferring with coach Glenn Smith. He’s having trouble with his left foot plant and the javellin isn’t flying well in this practice session. Smith offers a suggestion. McQueen nods.

He returns to his mark and starts his run-up again.

All along the fence enclosing Glenmore track a large cluster of elementary school students on their way home after classes pauses to watch.

“Go for it!” one of them suddenly yells.

McQueen checks in the middle of his run-up, looks around and grins briefly. Then he focuses again.This time his approach is solid and the left foot plant is near perfect. The metal spear soars into the afternoon sky to land, point down, a breath-taking distance away.

“Whoo!” the young watchers yell. “Awesome!” “Way to go!”

What they doesn’t realize, because on this overcast afternoon McQueen is wearing long pants, is that their new hero is a para athlete. He runs and throws off a prosthetic lower left leg.

He’s had it since he was nine months old. “I had a birth defect,” he explains, “and amputation was the best option for me to have a normal life and be able to do all the things I do.” Those things include hockey (starting when he was three), skiing, golf, volleyball, swimming, badminton and now track and field.

“I really don’t know what it’s like to have my leg, so it makes it easier for me in that way.” The downside is that most coaches aren’t para-athletics coaches “and so sometimes when they give me cues to do this or that, I don’t know how it feels to do it,” he explains.

But he finds ways to adapt. He has adapted so well in fact that in 2009, he represented Canada in the IWAS (International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports) World Junior Athletics Championships in Switzerland. He won three gold medals and set three world records -- in the 100-, 200- and 400-metre sprints.

He has since droppped the 400 and now specializes in the 100, 200 and javelin. He hopes to compete in all three at the London Paralympic Games this August.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” he says, adding that his preparation is going well and he has met the A standard in all three events. (A and B standards are set by the International Paralympic Committee and must be met for an athlete to be eligible for the Games.)

However, just meeting the standards is not enough. As McQueen explains, “Each country only gets a certain number of spots based on world rankings and recent world championships results. I’m competing against all the other para athletes in Canada (not just para sprinters and javelin throwers) for those spots.”

Still, both he and Smith like his chances for London. Only 20 years old, McQueen is already a veteran on the international stage. He has been to the World Junior Championships twice, once in Switzerland and once in Newark, New Jersey.

And while Switzerland in particular “was really good,” he says, the highlight of his career was the Para PanAm championships last November in Guadalajara, Mexico. There, competing as a senior, he took bronze in both the 200 and the javelin and finished fifth in the 100.

His 100m time was a personal best - 11.89. “It was the first time I’d gone under 12.0,” he says. It was very satisfying, he says, but a little disappointing at the same time. “I’d wanted to be on the podium.”

His goal for London is to make the team,” he says, “and I’d love to make the finals and just get that experience under my belt.”

A medal in London might be a stretch, but the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, should be a different story. “I’ll be about 25 then,” he says. “I’m looking forward making the podium there and winning.”

In the meantime, though, it’s back to training, building strength, polishing technique and improving his performances. “Things are looking good,” he says. “Training is going well and I’ve been improving in practice.”

His young audience has moved on and McQueen picks up the javelin again. Another run-up, another plant and release. Once more the spear flies far down the field.

He and Smith watch it go. They’re pleased. The throw, it turns out, is a personal best for McQueen - by about two metres.

Training is going very well.

***Submitted by 65-year-old master sprinter Betty Dargie.

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