Cross-country prepares to welcome the world

Fort Henry Hill, Queen’s to play host to FISU cross-country meet

Fort Henry Hill and Queen’s also played host to the CIS championships last November.
Fort Henry Hill and Queen’s also played host to the CIS championships last November.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Queen’s is welcoming some of the world’s best university athletes, as Fort Henry Hill will be playing host to the 17th Federation Internationale du Sport Universitaire (FISU) cross-country meet from April 7 to 11.

It’s the first time in the biennial event’s history it will be held in the western hemisphere.

“We’re trying to make this a first-class event that Kingston and Queen’s can be proud of,” organizing committee president Shane Lakins said.

Lakins, who resigned from his 14-year post as Queen’s cross-country and track coach last year to focus on community fitness initiatives and his own personal training business, was the driving force behind Kingston’s bid to host the international race back in November 2007.

“This is my swan song, as it will on the coaching end of things. I have community things I want to do with kids programs in order to get kids active and things like that,” he said. “I run a free running group two times a week.”

He said coaching the first-ever Canadian national team at the 2000 World University Cross-Country Championships in Germany prompted him to bring the event to Kingston. It will welcome about 200 athletes from 22 countries.

“For me, it was about a six-year process. It’s not something you can go home and say ‘I’m going to do this.’ but I kind of did. You have to get all your ducks in row first.”

Lakins said the organizers are welcoming Queen’s track and cross-country alumni to celebrate 100 years of running at Queen’s.

Lakins said the five-kilometre women’s race and the 10-kilometre men’s race will use roughly the same course at Fort Henry Hill as when Queen’s hosted the CIS cross-country championships in November.

“It’s a little bit modified from what we had at CIS,” he said. “It has smaller loops, so it’s more spectator-friendly.”

Lakins said planning the event hasn’t been without obstacles. Fundraising was the organizing committee’s biggest challenge, he said.

Lakins said their tight budget forced the committee to come up with creative revenue-generating strategies such as hosting a full day “endurance summit” for long-distance, high-performance athletes the day before the races at a $30 cost to all participants.

“We’ve got some of our national team coaches and trainers to talk to long-distance athletes,” he said. “These strategies can be applied to other long-distance events such it would apply for those who cross-country ski, mountain bike and do triathlon.”

Lakins said the organizing committee received financial support from local businesses. Queen’s Athletics has been a strong supporter of the event, but there hasn’t been any financial support from the school, he said.

“It’s a large one and the important thing for a student to recognize is we’ve done this budget without asking for the financial support of Queen’s,” she said. “They’re supporting it by providing venues and providing support from a volunteer perspective.”

Director of Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Leslie Dal Cin said Queen’s Athletics is playing a behind the scenes role.

“Our contribution is mostly in the way of expertise,” she said. “There’s no formal exchange of money, it’s more in the way of goods and services such as equipment, volunteer support, fundraising support, facilities.”

Dal Cin said the championships are one of first opportunities to show off the recently completed Athletics and Recreation Centre, which will host the opening ceremonies on April 9.

“What better way is there to showcase this jewel of a facility but at the opening ceremonies of an international sporting event?” she said.

Dal Cin said athletes will also be eating at Queen’s cafeterias.

Dal Cin said she hopes to use the event as part of the town-gown partnership, which was involved in the organization of the event—a model she hopes to continue when Queen’s hosts the 2012 CIS men’s volleyball championships.

“This is one of the first times we’ve worked with a combined community and university organizing committee,” she said. This is a way we can bring different experiences to the table and get the community on board, where in the past it’s been somewhat of a closed door.”

Dal Cin said she feels the event will benefit Queen’s athletes and coaching staff.

“It provides an opportunity for our athletes to see first-hand what that high level of performance looks like,” she said. “There’s also benefits for our coaches to talk to other coaches from other countries and to set up those types of reciprocal relationships.”

Cross-country and track runner Matt Hulse said he and his teammates are volunteering at the games.

He said he looks forward to meeting fellow runners.

“Running is notorious for having a very social community after the race is over,” he said. “You can relate to people really well afterwards … I’m sure we’ll be welcomed there and we look forward to welcoming them.”

National cross-country head coach Bob Vigars said he’s looking forward to bringing his team of six men and five women to a course in their own backyard.

“We don’t have to fly, we don’t have to change time zones,” he said. “They can come a couple days before hand and they don’t have to adjust to their surrounding, they can just concentrate on their race.”

Vigars, who is the coach of the University of Western Ontario’s cross-country team, said the Canadian team athletes have adopted Fort Henry Hill as their home course.

“All of them have done well on that course. We picked our team based on the results at last year’s CIS Championships.”

Vigars said his squad has a disadvantage competing against some more established European and African running powerhouses in the spring because the CIS cross-country runs during the fall.

“The challenge was to have our athletes do enough training during the winter so they would have enough strength and endurance to do well in the five and 10-kilometre races.”

Vigars said most Canadian athletes have been competing in the CIS indoor track circuit, but some devoted their winter months to cross-country-specific training.

“I think we’re going to have the strongest women’s team we’ve ever had,” he said. “Our men’s team will be as strong as the best men’s team we’ve ever had.”

Vigars, who has coached cross-country for 42 years, said Kingston has historically been a welcoming host-site for cross-country tournaments.

“Most of [the international athletes] have never competed in an international running event outside of Europe or Africa,” he said. “Their exposure to Canada will be Kingston and the people of Kingston.”

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