SPORTS

Peter Eriksson has Canada's track and field team blazing

07/19/2015 06:07 EDT | Updated 07/19/2016 05:59 EDT
Peter Eriksson was a firefighter in his younger days back in Sweden, but when hired to run Athletics Canada two years ago it wasn't to put a blaze out, it was to start a new one.

He found lots of kindling to work with.

Track and field in this country, he believed, had settled into a pattern of picking up a medal here and there in big international competition, but without any consistency or depth.

It's deep now, as there are currently 12 athletes (including four from the men's 4x100m relay team) in the top-eight of the world rankings. 

"We know what we're trying to achieve," said Eriksson, who coached in Canada previously and most recently headed the Paralympic and then Olympic athletics programs in Britain. "You are not living on past performance, you are living in the present [and] the potential for the future.

"You have to perform year to year. That pushes the limit upwards."

The former international speed skater and 35-year track coach admits it's a mountainous task. There are around 140 countries in the world championship hunt "so it's a tough gig. But if we can double [the medals] or triple it, then we're good."

There was a lot of talent around when Eriksson arrived, and he quickly realized a key component would be changing the relationship between Athletics Canada and its top performers.

First, the seven high performance centres across the country were cut down to just two, with distance in Victoria and sprints in Toronto.

Next, athletes were no longer forced to come into the training centres at certain times of year, instead they can stay with their own coaches, wherever their homes are, and work there.

"This is the second year we've implemented more funding direct to athletes and their personal coach, wherever they live," said Eriksson. "And it's those changes you are seeing coming into place now where you see more people are ranked higher and they have better opportunity for camps and competitions."

You can also bring your personal coach to camp and competitions, though not necessarily paid.

Let's have a look at some of the top athletics performers, with a capsule comment from the head coach:

Shawnacy Barber, pole vault

- Personal best: 5.91m (both indoor and outdoor).

Barber, 21, has starred at the University of Akron in the last few years where he's won three NCAA titles, two indoor and the 2015 crown this season. He was a bronze medalist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Eriksson: "I think were only seeing the beginning of his potential."

Khamica Bingham, 100m, 200m, 4x100m

- Personal best: 11.18 (100m); 22.84 (200m)

Bingham, 21, was the only Canadian to qualify for a 100m final at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Anchored the 4x100m relay team that qualified for Rio at the IAAF World Relays.

Eriksson: "She has shown she is a consistent performer, but … she needs some more time to go up one step more."

Andre De Grasse, 100m, 200m

- Personal best: 9.95 (100m); 20.03 (200m)

Outstanding season in the NCAA this year where De Grasse won both the 100m and 200m finals within 45 minutes of each other. Has a 9.75 second wind-aided run. Key member of the 4x100m relay team.

Eriksson: "He's only at 70 per cent of where he can be at this moment."

Derek Drouin, high jump

Personal best: 2.40m

Won a bronze at the London Olympics in 2012, the first medal in the sport by a Canadian male since Greg Joy in 1976. All had a bronze at the 2013 worlds, gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Five-time NCAA champion when at Indiana.

Eriksson: "A Constant performer, high level throughout."

Sultana Frizell, hammer throw

Personal best: 75.73m

Has won two Commonwealth Games gold medals, and was a silver medalist at the 2011 Pan Am Games. Chosen as the flag bearer at the Commonwealth event in 2014. A former figure skater, she made the 2008 Olympic team in the field event.

Eriksson: "I think we've seen the beginning of something great, and that's when she came together with Derek Evely, her coach."

Elizabeth Gleadle, javelin

Personal best: 64.83m

Gleadle was the first javelin thrower to make an Olympic final since 1968 when she finished 12th at London three years ago. Fifth at the Commonwealth Games, she has a third in a Diamond League competition.

Eriksson: "She's back from long term injuries and climbing the ladder."

Cameron Levins, 5,000m, 10,000m

Personal best: 27:07.51 (10,000m); 13:15.19 (5,000m)

Levins made history at London 2012 by making the final for the first time by a Canadian since 1968. Was also first from this country to be chosen the NCAA college track athlete of the year.

Eriksson: A natural born performer that I believe is going to be a constant threat (at the top) in years to come.

Christabel Nettey, long jump

Personal best: 6.99m

Nettey was second at the 2013 NCAA championships and won bronze in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games last year. She also has an outstanding second place mark at a Diamond League meet.

Eriksson: "She has shown that she belongs in the World Cup, and Rio; because of her age (24) she will see much more high level performance."

Brianne Thiesen-Eaton, pentathlon

Personal best: 6,808 points

One of the fastest risers in Canadian track, she was 11th at the 2012 Olympics, won silver at the 2013 world championship and a gold at the Commonwealth Games. A three-time heptathlon champ for Oregon at the NCAA level.

Eriksson: "If she's not on top of the world this year, she will be next." 

Damian Warner, decathlon

Personal best: 8,512 points

Warner is the best decathlete this country has produced since Michael Smith. Was a surprise fifth at London 2012 after setting six personal bests during the competition. Won the famed Hypo decathlon at Gotzis in 2013, fouled out of the shot put this year. Commonwealth Games gold.

Eriksson: "Same thing, almost like Brianne, he's a (strong) competitor, shown he's improving in most of his events, he just needs to reproduce that."

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