Friday, June 29, 2012

2012 Canadian Track and Field Trials feature profile - part 3: Ammon Nelson

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 3: Ammon Nelson

Ammon Nelson glides around the track, long legs carrying her effortlessly through a half dozen 200s. It’s an easy workout, a recovery day for the 400-metre specialist and she looks fresh and relaxed as she finishes.

Nelson is just back from two weeks training with Canada’s 4 x 400-metre women’s relay team. The goal is the Olympic Games in London in August.

To qualify the team will need to be ranked among the top 12 in the world, says Nelson’s coach, Brenda van Tighem. Canadian standards are tough, but the relay team is looking good.

In 2010 they took the bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, and this year in April, the team finished sixth in the invitational U.S.A. Against the World race at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia. “I think we’re going to have a really good team,” Nelson says.

Running fast is nothing new to Nelson. As a youngster she raced on the playground, played tag, hide ‘n seek and she was quick, she admits. She smiles. “Sometimes I was faster than the boys.”

But she was a late-comer to the sport of track. She was in Grade 10 before she tasted formal competition for the first time. As a high-schooler, she ran the 100, 200 and hurdles as well as the long jump.

It wasn’t until University that she was introduced to the 400. It was not love at first sight. “Nooo!!!,” she says, laughing. “It’s a sprint all the way and it’s a painful event, especially that last 100 meters.”

But her talent was obvious. As a university athlete, she dominated the indoor 300-metre race, winning it four straight years at the Canadian Interuniversity Championships. And last year, in the Canada West Championships she broke the 26-year-old conference record for the event.

In the process, she has gradually come to embrace the 400. “As I’ve grown into the 400 and learned the strategy that goes into it, I’m really starting to love it, ” she says.”

Nelson remembers watching the Olympics as a youngster and admiring the female sprinters in particular, but never imaged herself in that role.

“Even when I got involved in high school, I didn’t think I had the potential to be an Olympian. But as I developed people told my that I had talent and that I had the potential to compete at the international level.”

And they were right. Track has taken Nelson to the World Student Games in Serbia in 2009 and China in 2011 as well as the Commonwealth Games in India in 2010 and the World Track and Field Championships in Germany in 2011.

It has been exciting and “it’s definitely enjoyable to travel with the (track) team and see different places,” she says, “but it’s not quite what you would think.” Traveling as a track athlete is less about soaking up the local colour and much more about work. “The focus is all about training and competition,” she points out.

Becoming an elite athlete takes time, effort and support. “I’ve always had my family, my friends and my church,” says Nelson. “That support has really helped me to want to continue to train and compete.”

That kind of backing is key for anyone aiming for the top, she says, but equally important is choosing the right activity. She urges youngsters to take time to find out what it is they want to do.

“Everyone has abilities and skills to do something special. So try different things - sports, arts, music. Find out what you’re passionate about,” she says. And know that “whatever you put your mind to, you can accomplish.”

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

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