Riverview sprinter Michael LeBlanc races at the Canadian track and field championships today in Calgary.
After several years of disappointment at the premier meet in the country, LeBlanc broke through for a third-place finish in the men's 100 metres and earned a spot on the Canadian team that went to the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India.
One year later, LeBlanc is back and eager for an even better performance.
The 24-year-old from Riverview hits the track for the 100 metre semifinals today at the national championships, which opened yesterday in Calgary. He gained a huge boost of confidence with his showing a year ago, coming in third in 10.37 seconds.
"That was really important because I was coming to the end of my NCAA career and it was important to be able to translate my NCAA success on to the next level," said LeBlanc, a former standout at Syracuse University.
LeBlanc had been injury plagued at the Canadian championships since he moved up to the senior ranks in 2007. He finished third in the 100 metres at both the 2005 and 2006 national junior championships.
"I was finally able to bring it all together in a strong performance and it was also important to get back on the national team because now that I'm done college, that's where my future lies. It essentially put me back on the map in terms of the national team."
However, in a "what-have-you-done-for-me-lately" sport, LeBlanc wants to prove last year's peformance was no fluke.
The competition helps determine which athletes represent Canada at the world championships Aug. 27 to Sept. 4 in South Korea and the Pan American Games in Mexico in October. LeBlanc is already a candidate for the Canadian men's 4x100 metre relay team.
"I feel great and I've already run faster this year than I did last year. I'm faster this year than I've ever been since my personal best (10.17 in 2007)," said LeBlanc, who is running for Moncton's Athlétisme sud est/South East Athletics Association.
"I'm running faster earlier and I feel phenomenal. I won't mince words. I'm going there to win. At heart, I think every one on the entries list is going to win, whether they admit it or not. That's why we race. Absolutely, I feel like I'm a contender to win."
LeBlanc, who trains out of Syracuse, N.Y., has been very busy this spring. He's competed in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Ottawa and ran the 4x100 metre relay for Canada at meets in Italy and Switzerland. He recorded a seasonal-best time of 10.35 in the 100 metres in Ottawa last month.
The 100 metres features a strong pool of contenders, including Calgary's Sam Effah, who won last year in 10.06, Jared Connaughton of New Haven, P.E.I., Gavin Smellie of Etobicoke, Ont. and Justyn Warner of Markham, Ont.
"There is a strong field and I think a lot is going to depend on the conditions, but I feel very good. I ran 10.35 in a fairly low-key meet in Ottawa. It's not the world's greatest time, but it's a good time and it was early," LeBlanc said.
"It was faster than when I finished third at nationals last year and I think I'm capable of running well inside that.
"As athletes, you tell yourself that you're good, but you need to have that attitude even if deep down you know it's not true. I can definitely say that in practice I've been running personal bests in the distances we do. In practice, I'm faster than I've ever been.
"The ability to execute in a race is a skill itself, but all things being equal if you've been practising phenomenally well for weeks on end, it stands to reason that if you can put it together on race day, you should run pretty fast."
The 100 metre final goes tomorrow. LeBlanc will also run the 200 metres Saturday for the first time at the event. He ran a 21.19 in a 200 metre race in Switzerland last month.
"I want to be more than a one-trick dog," said LeBlanc, who will race in the Hub City Track and Field Classic July 8, a meet hosted by his home club at Stade Moncton 2010 Stadium.
Moncton's Geneviève Lalonde, who shined last summer in Moncton, capturing the Canadian junior steeplechase title and then placing sixth at the world juniors championships, has moved up to the senior category. She will run in the women's 3,000 metre steeplechase final tomorrow in Calgary. The 19-year-old has set the best Canadian time (9:55.01) this year.
Moncton's Shayne Dobson will race in the 1,500 metres and 5,000 metres T-37 in the para athletics portion of the competition. Also in Calgary are Jean Marc Doiron of Collette (800 metres) and Pierre Landry of St-Louis-de-Kent (high jump).