By Neil Armstrong
Pride Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario – With less than 100 days to go before the start of the Pan Am Games and a week or so before ticket sales resume, Canadian athletes are revving up their training to be selected to compete at the upcoming TORONTO 2015 Pan Am Games.
The Pan Am Games will take place July 10–26 and the Parapan American Games August 7–15.
Gavin Smellie, 28, a sprinter born in Kingston, Jamaica and Phylicia George, 27, a 100m hurdler born and grown up in Markham and Scarborough, Ontario have their eyes set on representing Canada on the medal stand.
Smellie moved to Toronto at the age of 14 in January 2001 and played soccer until his senior year of high school after which he decided to focus on track and field.
He went to George Harvey Collegiate Institute and then transferred to Dante Aligheri Academy because he wanted to participate in more competitive soccer and gain a better opportunity at copping a scholarship to the States.
The transfer had rules about when he could play which stipulated that he could not compete in soccer until after a year.
“I just did every other sport from there because knowing me, I’m so hyperactive, I just can’t stay still. I played basketball, badminton, volleyball and then the last one was track. That’s when I realize that without training and stuff like that I went to my first-round Catholic Regional and I won and I was just like, ‘wow, I actually have talent in track,’” said Smellie.
He went on to compete at Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) and came fourth in the 200m. Buoyed by this, he started training the following year and improved to a bronze medal in the 100m and a silver medal in the 200m.
This was also when schools from the States starting calling him and he realized that this could be “something special to me” so he decided to focus solely on track instead of including soccer too.
“It improved my time, that’s really what got me on the world stage. I became a better athlete down there as well,” said Smellie about his track scholarship to Western Kentucky University, where he also graduated with a business degree.
When he finished school and returned home, he moved to Ottawa where he trained with Trinidad-born Glenroy Gilbert, a Canadian former track and field athlete who won a gold medal in the 4x100m relay at the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Smellie won a bronze medal in the 4x100m relay with teammates, Aaron Brown, Justyn Warner and Dontae Richards-Kwok at the World Championships in Moscow in 2013.
A lane violation cost Canada a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics in the 4x100m men’s relay.
Describing that as a bitter-sweet moment, Smellie felt that the team needed to prove to the world again that it was one of the best in the world, which was achieved in Moscow a year later.
He said having the Pan Am Games in Ontario means that family and friends who have never seen him compete will have an opportunity to do so at one of the biggest events for track.
“Toronto itself is going to experience what its like to have track and field here because I don’t really feel like there has ever been anything competitive enough to showcase to Toronto.”
George, who is of Grenadian descent, started as a sprinter in high school but was not gaining much success so her coach suggested that because of her height she should try something else.
“I just literally fell in love with the hurdles, the aggression, the fearlessness, I just loved it and kind of just stuck with it ever since,” she said.
The hurdler, who always wanted to be an Olympian and a doctor, made the final at the London 2012 Olympics and finished 6th.
“I really believe that I only have the opportunity pursue my dreams of really becoming one of the best in the world while I’m young and I kind of don’t have a timeline on that. I believe I can go to med school at anytime. Once I’ve done track, my second career will be in medicine.
She is planning for the 2016 Olympics and then will re-evaluate to see whether it will be worthwhile to compete at the 20120 Olympics.
George said a lot of women are in their prime in their early to mid-30s so they have a lot of longevity in hurdles and if she is in her prime racing, it would not make any sense to stop.
“Now as I step into the Pan Am Games, I’m looking to be on the podium so we can all hear the Canadian anthem in Canada so I think it will be a pretty cool opportunity for all of us,” said George, noting that being a finalist at the Olympics let her know that she can compete with the best in the world and is also one of the best in the world.
Speaking of the legacy of the Games, George said she is envious of the younger athletes who will have great facilities to come up with that will help Ontario produce better athletes in the future.
In March, ticket sales for the Pan Am Games were temporarily closed for six weeks until mid-April. Although nearly 300,000 tickets have sold so far, many tickets still remain, including closing ceremony, and popular events such as track and field, swimming and rugby.
The sale of tickets for the Parapan Am Games opened on March 23.