Brown anchors Canada to men’s relay gold at NACAC Championships

Aaron Brown of Canada crosses the line to win his team gold in the 4x100-metre relay during the NACAC Championships in Toronto, Sunday August 12, 2018. (Mark Blinch/CP)

TORONTO — When Canada’s Aaron Brown took the baton a step behind Jaquone Hoyte of Barbados on Sunday and set his sights on the finish line, one thought went through his mind.

"I was thinking I’m not going to lose twice. I’m going to get this guy if it kills me," Brown said laughing.

The 26-year-old from Toronto anchored Canada to a victory in the men’s 4×100 relay, the highlight on the final day of the NACAC Championships. The victory came an hour after Brown tied up over the final few metres of the 200, losing to Kyle Greux of Trinidad and Tobago.

Bismark Boateng, Jerome Blake, Mobolade Ajomale and Brown, who powered past Hoyte over the final 40 metres, won relay gold in 38.56 seconds, delighting the crowd at the University of Toronto’s sundrenched Varsity Stadium.

Barbados was second in 38.69.

With three-time Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse sidelined with a hamstring injury, Brown was Canada’s headliner in the men’s sprints, and a favourite to win the 200 gold after dipping below the 20-second barrier for the first time earlier this season. But Greux pulled ahead of the Canadian over the final 20 metres to win in 20.11. Brown clocked 20.20 for the silver.

"It’s bittersweet. I’m not going to say I’m happy with that, it would be disingenuous, I wanted to win for sure in front of the home crowd," Brown said.

"The good thing is it gives me more motivation, I can’t ever be complacent, on any given day people can come up and shock people."

Brown, who joined De Grasse as the only Canadians in history to run sub-10 in the 100 metres, and sub-20 in the 200, said it was tough shrugging off the 200 loss in the short time before the relay. But a pep talk from Canada’s head coach Glenroy Gilbert helped.

"He just told me to ‘Shake it off, be disappointed after. You’ve been running well all year so don’t beat yourself up too much, these things happen, and you’ll be better in this relay,"’ said Brown, who’ll head back to Europe to continue the Diamond League season.

Crystal Emmanuel of Toronto raced to silver in the women’s 200 in a season’s best 22.67. Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson won the gold in 22.64.

"I would have wanted a (personal best), but I can only do what my body tells me to do, and I came out with a season best so I’m happy," said Emmanuel, who was third a day earlier in the women’s 100.

Emmanuel also had a quick turnaround. She ran the second leg on Canada’s women’s 4×100 relay with Shaina Harrison, Phylicia George and Jellisa Westney, that won bronze an hour later.

In other events Sunday, 2015 world champion Shawn Barber cleared 5.40 metres to finish second in a three-man pole vault contest.

After a rocky couple of seasons that saw him finish 10th at the Rio Olympics, and eighth at last summer’s world championships, Barber is finally enjoying a bit of consistency. He won silver at the Commonwealth Games in March, and jumped a season’s best 5.92 metres that same month that was just shy of his Canadian record of 5.93 he set in 2015.

"I’m really enjoying the meets and enjoying the year this year, which hasn’t also been the case," Barber said. "So for me just to stay positive and keep looking for big heights, I think that’s the next thing for me."

American Cole Houston took the pole vault gold with 5.45. A bronze medal wasn’t awarded after Cole Walsh of the U.S. failed to clear his opening height.

Small fields were a problem for the three-day event, with some races and field events having only three or four entries. The Central America and Caribbean Games that ended less than two weeks ago was one reason for the small numbers. The qualification standards were also IAAF "A" standards — so as tough as the world championship and Olympic marks.

"The standards are tough, but you know what? We’re running a high-performance program that’s trying to win medals at the world championships and at the Olympic level," Gilbert said. "So, if we can get athletes out here challenging an IAAF ‘A’ standard, that’s how much more they’ll be prepared for Doha (2019 worlds) and Tokyo (2020 Olympics)."

The Canadian team was depleted by the injury. Sidelined along with De Grasse were: high jumper Derek Drouin (neck injury), pole vaulter Alysha Newman (knee) and shot putter Brittany Crew (broken foot). And 800-metre star Melissa Bishop took the season off to have a baby.

Gilbert was more disappointed with the fan turnout. The grandstand Sunday at the picturesque stadium with the CN Tower in the background was barely half full.

"It could be better, you have international sprinters here, you have Olympic champions (Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was one) here in Toronto, and you can’t fill the grandstand," Gilbert said. "As far as I’m concerned, that could have been far better, but that’s me."

Canada took bronze in both the 1,500 metre events, Gabriella Stafford crossing third in the women’s race, and Charles Philibert-Thiboutot taking third in the men’s.

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