Esselink grabs national 10,000m title at Inferno

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – Evan Esselink of Courtice joined the Speed River Track and Field Club just in time to keep the Canadian men’s 10,000 metres track championship in the club.

Esselink put in a last-lap kick in the 27-lap race to win the national title event in a time of 29 minutes, 21.11 seconds during the Speed River Inferno track and field meet Wednesday night at Alumni Stadium.

“It went the way I thought it would,” Esselink said. “I actually didn’t know Kevin (Tree) was running today. He did really well last year and I knew he has a pretty good kick, too, so I was trying to feel him out. I just wanted to wait and wait and I knew when I made the move I was going to take it. That’s just what I did.”

Tree of Newmarket finished as the runner-up in the race for the second consecutive year. 29:27.70 Last year he was second to Olympic marathoner Eric Gillis of Guelph who won in 29:00.93 despite it being Gillis’s second 10K event of the day as he had won a road race in Toronto in the morning.

Wednesday, Gillis was the pacer for the field and he guided them through the first eight kilometres before pulling over and letting them go at it the remainder of the way. While Esselink has been in Guelph for about 16 months, he’s only been with the Speed River club for about a month and a half.

“I came here in February of 2016. It took a little bit to get into it, but overall I’m really happy with where I am right now,” he said. “Training by yourself, I have a lot of respect for people that do that, but I’m really happy to be part of this group.”

Esselink can look at the 10,000m race to see the improvement he’s made since being in Guelph. He ran the race last year and finished 10th overall with a time that was more than a minute slower than the time he posted this year.

“Last year I didn’t even know what the Inferno was until about a month before just because I was kind of new and I’d been in the NCAA,” he said. Esselink competed for four years at Indiana University.

By winning this year, Esselink got to hear the crowd’s cheer as he raced to the finish on the Alumni Stadium track where spectators lined the stadium side of the final 50 metres of the track to cheer the runners home.

“That was really exciting. The home track, it was great to get the win,” Esselink said. “I like Kevin, he’s a good guy, but I would’ve hated to see him win. It wouldn’t have been as loud, either.”

The spectators did a lot of cheering at the Inferno, but the loudest cheer for the introduction of an athlete came right after Guelph teen Ashlan Best’s name was called during the introductions for the women’s 200 metres.

Did Best hear it?

“I did,” she said. “I was only slightly more nervous, but I love it. I love it when people come out.”

Best, the Centennial CVI runner and Speed River club member who’s headed to Stanford in the fall, responded to crowd by being the fastest of five Canadians in the field of eight. She was third in a time of 23.94 seconds, finishing behind the U.S. pair of Charonda Williams and Alexis Love who recorded identical times of 23.57 seconds. Williams was judged to be the winner.

“I felt it went quite well,” Best said of her race. “I’ve always been working on my starts so I tried to come out hard and I felt that I came out harder.”

With the race likely to be her last race in Guelph this year, Best was excited to compete in it.

“I was definitely looking forward to it – hometown, lots of people coming out to watch,” she said. “The field was amazing and I’m honoured to run against some of the best Canadian athletes.”

The win also capped off a spring season that saw her claim the OFSAA provincial high school senior girls’ championships in both the 200m and 400m.

“I’m super happy with how it ended,” she said. “I maintained not to be injured through all four years of my high school career and have continuously gotten better. I could ask for nothing more. The times were continuously getting faster.”

That was true in the Inferno, too. Last year she was fifth in the 200m in 24.15 seconds and this year she beat two of the competitors who had finished ahead of her in 2016 Farah Jacques and Shai-Ann Davis.

Guelph’s Geneviève Lalonde of Speed River left the field behind in winning the women’s 1,500m.

“I went for it and I came home with a victory and came home with a personal best,” she said. “What a great night to do it here at the Inferno.”

Lalonde won with a time of 4:10.91 while runner-up Rebecca Addison of the U.S. was second at 4:19.67. Lalonde’s time was a personal best for the distance, beating her previous best set at last year’s Inferno by 14/100ths of a second.

Victoria Coates of Hamilton won the final event of the night, the Canadian women’s 10,000m. She finished in 33:50.62 after breaking away from Melanie Myrand of Lachine, Que., and part-time Guelph resident Rachel Hannah, the defending champion. Myrand finished second among the Canadians in the race while Hannah was third. Maddy Trevisan of the U.S. was second overall, but ineligible for the national award.

The men’s 800m had the exact same top two as last year with Robert Heppenstall of Hamilton winning in 1:46.65 and Speed River’s Anthony Romaniw 39/100ths of a second behind in second. Both were faster than last year when Heppenstall won by 5/100ths of a second.

Shannon Osika of the U.S. won the women’s 800m in 2:03.01 while Nicole Sifuentes of Winnipeg was second, the same position she finished last year when Amanda Eccleston of the U.S. won.

Natassha McDonald of Toronto won the women’s 400m in 52.69 seconds.

Kelsie Ahbe, who was born in Akron, Ohio, but is a dual citizen as her father was born in Canada, won the women’s pole vault by clearing 4.30 metres.

Robbie Gallagher of Vancouver won the men’s long jump with a best leap of 7.50 metres.

Marissa Papaconstantinou of Toronto took the ambulatory women’s 200m in 28.10 seconds while Peter Snider of Waterloo won the ambulatory men’s 200m in 23.71 seconds.

International athletes won all the other races that were part of the main meet.

Renny Quow of Trinidad and Tobago won the men’s 400m in 45.81 seconds.

Vanessa Clerveaux of Haiti was victorious in the women’s 100m hurdles in 13.13 seconds while Jeff Porter of the U.S. won the men’s 110m hurdles in 13.53 seconds.

Rorey Hunter of Australia won the men’s 1,500m in 3:42.59.

Dedric Dukes of the U.S. won the men’s 200m in 20.51 seconds.

Kyle Smith of Toronto won the Campus Mile in 4:28.91.

Winners of the pre-meet events were Caroline Stricelj of Oakville in the women’s 200m in 25.10 seconds, Christopher Green of Kitchener in the men’s 200m in 22.12 seconds, Sarah Welch of Guelph in the women’s 800m in 2:16.63 and Andrew Leblanc of Fredericton, N.B., in the men’s 800m in 1:52.96.