Hundreds of athletes hit Saint John for national track and field meet

More than 350 athletes from across the country have descended on the Irving Oil Field House this weekend to compete in national track and field events happening at the two and a half year-old sports and recreation facility in east Saint John.

“With the pandemic, up until about a month ago we weren’t even sure if we would be able to host this event,” says Saint John Track & Field Club president Bill MacMackin. “So we’re really thrilled with the turnout, but it’s a little less than we would have imagined a few years ago.”

The field house is a 110,000 square foot, $27 million facility which took a decade to go from drawing board to reality.

But it was only a few short months between when the doors to the field house opened, and when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.

“We started to open again in the summer of 2020, and then through the fall – but we’ve operated quite consistently throughout the pandemic, varying our protocols through the restrictions,” says MacMackin. “But we couldn’t hold massive events as you can imagine – so this is really the biggest one we’ve had.”

The Athletics Canada & Canadian Masters Indoor Championship is taking place this weekend. And later this week, the facility will play host to the U-Sports Track and Field Championship — both events are expected to generate a collective economic impact of between $1.5 and $2 million dollars for the region.

“It’s being hosted, essentially by a combination of Saint John Track and Field, the University of New Brunswick and essentially the region steps up in a big, big way so we’re pretty excited about it,” says head coach for UNB cross country and track, Christopher Belof.

“It’s the university championships for indoor track and field.”

Amid all of the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, when it comes to sporting events like these, organizers are just glad to see athletes back in action.

“There was this great concern that everything would be deferred again,” says Belof. “And for us to be here in this building in a pre-championship kind of meet, knowing that next week is going to happen and go off without too many hitches I’m optimistic, it’s really, really exciting.”

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