The thrill of being named to Canada's team for this week's IAAF world U20 championships is over, says its rookie head coach. It's time to focus, perform and reach the podium with regularity.
Joel Skinner is impressed with the talent level and experience of the 32-member squad that is among 1,466 athletes from 160 countries competing at the six-day meet in Tampere, Finland, starting Tuesday (CBCSports.ca, 2 a.m. ET).
"I think we have a competitive crew," says Skinner, a 15-year coach based in Sarnia, Ont., who has worked previously with three Canadian world junior teams. "I've done some analysis of stats from the past world junior championships and we're going to do well.
"Our top end is very good and we're just hoping that some of our kids that are looking to break through in the top 16 and top eight in the world [in reaching the finals] get it done."
Canada's recent world U20 medal results
- 2016: Bydgoszcz, Poland – Two bronze medals (seven top-8 finishes)
- 2014: Eugene, Ore. – Zero medals (six top-8 finishes)
- 2012: Barcelona – One bronze (five top-8 finishes)
- 2010: Moncton – Two bronze (eight top-8 finishes)
- 2008: Bydgoszcz – Zero medals (four top-8 finishes)
While Canada hasn't been overly successful at the world U20 event, Skinner is looking for each of his athletes to improve on their past successes.
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There are only four returnees from the 2016 outfit: Ashlan Best from Guelph, Ont. (women's 200 and 400 metres), Ottawa's Keira Christie-Galloway (100 hurdles), Camryn Rogers from Richmond, B.C. (hammer throw) and Xahria Santiago from Ajax, Ont. (400 hurdles).
Skinner noted "we've had a bunch of kids pop out of the woodwork and do great things" this year and several of the athletes had success at their respective high school championships.
Eleven athletes have produced a combined 12 individual medals – five gold, five silver, two bronze – at the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games and 2017 Pan American U20 Athletics Championships.
"We have three or four kids ranked in the top five in the world who will probably be shooting for a medal spot," Skinner said. "These are our next hopeful Olympians and our kids ranked in the top eight looking to make the finals or get on the podium could be our next Olympic medallists.
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"The world U20 event is the ultimate springboard for these athletes. The mentality from a lot of the kids that qualify for [national] teams like this has shot their expectations through the roof a little and pushed them in their training."
Skinner said exposing the young Canadian athletes to big crowds at 16,800-seat Tampere Stadium, along with the rigours and format of high-level competition, is very important for them to progress through the system to the senior level. Track and field in Scandinavian countries like Finland is hugely popular, especially in a smaller community like Tampere with a population of 225,000.
"They have a tendency to rally around their community and obviously their athletes," Skinner said. "We are setting up [our athletes] for success, not only at this meet but beyond and into their senior years."
Here are some Canadian athletes to watch in Tampere:
Anastas Eliopolous, 110-metre hurdles – Ranked fourth in the event, the Vancouver athlete's personal-best time of 13.73 seconds is the fifth fastest U20 time in the world. The 19-year-old Eliopoulos ran a blistering 13.36 last July to win a silver medal and set a Canadian record at the PanAm U20 Games in Peru. The old mark of 13.43 was held by Jonathan Cabral, who clocked 13.64 to beat Damian Warner for a Canadian title on Saturday.
Grace Fetherstonhaugh, women's 3,000 steeplechase – The New Westminster, B.C.-born runner capped her high school track career with a steeplechase victory and second-place finishes in the 3,000 and 1,500. At 10:01.95, Fetherstonhaugh is the world No. 11 U20 steeplechaser. This fall, the 17-year-old will attend Oregon State University near Portland on a full scholarship and plans to study kinesiology.
Trinity Tutti, women's discus throw/shot put – At her final track and field meet last month, the 18-year-old from Welland, Ont., won gold in senior girls' shot put and posted her sixth Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations record with a throw of 15.25 metres. The previous mark of 14.86 belonged to current Canadian-record holder Brittany Crew. Tutti plans to take a year off school to focus on training.
Camryn Rogers, women's hammer throw – Rogers, 19, enjoyed a standout freshman year at the University of California-Berkeley where the Richmond, B.C., native finished third at the Pac-12 Championships (64.25m) and twice broke the school record in April. The second time her throw of 65.61 put her second to 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Sophie Hitchon of Great Britain.
Xahria Santiago, women's 400 hurdles – She just completed her freshman year at the University of Maryland, where the 18-year-old Santiago placed second and earned All-Big Ten honours with a personal-best 56.69 seconds at the Big Ten Championships in May. At the 2016 world U20s in Poland, the native of Ajax, Ont., finished third in the 400 hurdles in 56.90.