Ontario Summer Games: Athletes’ springboard returns to London

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About eight years ago, Alysha Newman was riding in a car with her parents headed to Prince Edward Island.

Itwould be her first major track and field competition — at the Canada Summer Games.

A week ago Newman finished seventh in the pole vault in the World Track and Field Championships in London, England.

“Going to that (Canada Games) competition helped make me what I am today,” she said.

Newman was speaking for all the athletes who in a year’s time will invade this London to participating in the Ontario Summer Games, a competition that will be a jumping-off point for them as it was for Olympians like Newman and decathlete Damian Warner.

Organizers gathered at TD Stadium Wednesday to begin the one-year countdown to the Games. Newman was joined by MPP Daiene Vernile on behalf of the Ministry of Culture and Sport; London Coun. Paul Hubert; Christine Stapleton, Western University’s new director of athletics; Cheryl Finn, director of sport tourism for Tourism London; Dave De Kelver, general manager for the Ontario Summer Games; and several others.

The message from all the speakers was uniform. This is a competition geared to the 3,500 athletes, coaches and officials who will come to London. It’s about their experience and enjoyment.

“For the youth program and up and coming rising stars, it’s a great way to kick off,” Newman said. “Everyone is going to be really good at a young age because you don’t critique everything, you just do the workouts and everyone is pretty much good at what they do. Now to be able to compete against the best, you can place yourself (and say) this is where I am.”

This is the fourth time these Games have been held in London and they will be expanded.

For the first time since 2010 athletics will be one of the disciplines. There will be 21 sports, including women’s field hockey.

Among the other sports are box and field lacrosse, rugby 7s, golf, and road and mountain cycling.

Newman has competed at the highest levels of her sport, including the Olympics in Rio in 2016. She knows competitiosn like the Ontario Games will help athletes respond to the intense competition some of them will find later in their athletic career. It’s a way to boost an athlete’s confidence.

After a tough Olympic competition, Newman needed her own boost in confidence and she got it at the world championships. She put in a pressure vault on her final try to qualify for the final.

“I feel like so much weight was lifted off my shoulders,” Newman said. “I think the hardest part of the competition was qualifying. The best 40 girls in the world are trying to compete for 12 spots and that’s hard. The fact that I got what I needed on the third attempt in qualifying, which is a bar that I always jump, shows me mentally that, ‘OK, Alysha, I put way too much pressure on myself.’ That means that maybe I need to talk with my sports psychologist about how I need to deal with those situations.

“But then after I came through to the final, I knew that anything could happen, but that I am also a great vaulter, I’m great at what I do and I just need to execute.”

She finished seventh against the same athletes that she competed against at the Olympics.

“To be able to come seventh only a year later, only 365 days later, and to be able to move up 10 spots, that’s a very big deal for me personally as an athlete. It just means the sky’s the limit for me. That’s all,” she said.

Newman, 23, has four more meets including going back to England Thursday. She says the only pressure she feels is if she lets people down but she knows where she wants to be in a few years.

“I want to be the first Canadian ever to bring home an Olympic gold medal in the women’s pole vault. That’s never been done,” she said. “That’s a goal, but at the same time people expect that for me because of how I portray myself. It’s going to take time but I’m not going to stop until I get there.”

And a year from now no doubt, there will be another athlete competing at the Ontario Summer Games with the same dreams and attitude as Newman.

Also announced at the press conference was the opening of the volunteer expression of interest. Some 1,000 volunteers are needed and a form can be filled out at the just launched website for the Games at www.london2018.ca.

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