Varsity Centre to Host Festival of Excellence

Usain Bolt, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, Perdita Felicien, Others Set To Blast Off

One of the biggest phenoms ever to emerge from an Olympic Games is set to make his mark on the blue track of the University of Toronto’s Varsity Centre on June 11. While the world waits to see just how fast Usain Bolt can run, he will participate in the 100 metres as the star attraction of the “Festival of Excellence.” Will Bolt set another world record on Canadian soil?

“Any time you get the world’s fastest man in Canada to compete, it’s a huge deal,” said Mathieu Gentès, an official with Athletics Canada.

The now-famous Jamaican sprinter will not be the sole star at Varsity Centre. The 100-metre hurdles features 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and two-time world champion Perdita Felicien. The Canadian teammates are supportive of one another, but in the starting blocks, it’s all about the race.

“They have a friendly rivalry,” Gentès said, adding that he expects them to be neck and neck to the finish line. The early prognostication is that Lopes-Schliep has the edge, as the current world leader for the 100-metre hurdles after posting 12.52 seconds in early May.

Still, there are many more athletes primed to make this an excellent athletics event. The Festival of Excellence will feature American decathlete Bryan Clay, an Olympic and world champion acknowledged by many as the “world’s greatest athlete.” Canadian Tyler Christopher will take to the track for the 400 metres; he is 2008 world indoor champion and 2007 Pan American Games silver medallist. An up-and-comer with a very bright future in decathlon is Toronto native Massimo Bertocchi, who burst onto the scene last year and earned a berth at the Beijing Olympic Games.

The Festival of Excellence helps provide Canadian athletes a chance to compete at a very high level with major competition on their home soil – which doesn’t come along regularly. Gentès said the event is a springboard into the summer season that includes the World Championships in Berlin this August. (It also includes the Canadian championships, which will be held at Varsity Centre in late June.)

The Bolt spotlight aside, this event is decidedly grassroots oriented as well. Gentès, who said that Athletics Canada worked with the University of Toronto in promotion, marketing, athlete communication and sponsorships, said a big purpose is to get youngsters involved and interested in track and field. With the motto “From Playground to Podium,” event organizers are proudly trumpeting that track is back in Toronto. Throughout the day, kids will be able to participate in the same events that the stars will later on. With the media and populace of Toronto, Gentès said it’s an excellent opportunity to have people learn more about track and field and get excited about it.

It isn’t often that track takes the spotlight on any particular day in Toronto. But on June 11, all eyes will be trained just south of Bloor Street, on the edge of Yorkville, under the watchful eye of the CN Tower.

The event will be broadcast live on TSN. Tickets are available at.