Three Kelowna area track and field athletes felt the difference a little added competition can make as they ran and threw their way to personal best performances, including a bronze medal, at the Oregon Relays held last weekend at legendary Hayward field in Eugene, Oregon.
Competing for the first time at the event—held annually at the University of Oregon campus and attended by over 7000 competitors and fans—the Okanagan contingent of Aaron Stroda, Sean Bergman, and John Gay took advantage of the elite level fields to post seasonal and lifetime best marks in their respective events, placing them amongst the top competitors in the nation heading into the Canadian outdoor season.
Stroda, the reigning Canadian youth (16-17) champion in the hammer throw, discus, and shot put, was in action in all three of those events.
Using the heavier weights of the American high school level competition, the grade 12 student at Okanagan Mission secondary struggled early, posting finishes of 8th (15.36m) and 13th (41.04m) in the shot put and discus before rebounding with a throw of 58.23m in the hammer; good for third place in the event which he hopes will carry him back to the top of the podium at the Canadian junior championships in July.
In the high school boys 3000m, fellow OKM senior John Gay ran to an 18-second personal best time of 8:44.09 and 11th place out of 34 competitors in the hotly contested “A” final. With the time, Gay, who will join the Thunderbird Cross Country and Track teams at UBC Vancouver this fall, earned a qualifying spot to join Stroda at the junior nationals in St. Therese, Quebec, where he will compete in the 5000m and steeplechase events. “Competing at such a legendary venue as Hayward was an amazing experience for me” said Gay following his race, “the history behind that place and the energy from the fans was just incredible.”
Competing in the second section of the 3000m, Gay’s training partner with the Okanagan Athletics Club and KSS Grade 10 student Sean Bergman proved he belonged amongst the older competitors. Although originally disappointed at his placement in the slower heat, the silver medalist from last years Legion Under 15 national championships made the most of the situation, leading the field of 36 from start to finish en route to victory and a 16 second career best time of 8:58.9. Bergman didn’t stop there, as less than three hours after his win in the 3000m, he was back on the track for the 1500m, where he set an another personal best with a clocking of 4:09.48 for 16th place out of the nearly 50 competitors.
Nathan Reiter, who coaches Gay and Bergman with the Okanagan Athletics Club’s distance group had this to say following his athletes races at Eugene “After consistent training by the entire group all winter, I knew that (Bergman and Gay) were ready to roll going into the event. All the work put in during the off season paid huge dividends for them both and after a big milestone this weekend, it’s only onwards and upwards for the rest of the season.”