Steve LeBlanc can’t stop smiling when talking about the growth of track and field in New Brunswick.
Young athletes are being attracted to the sport like never before and they’re making their mark at provincial, national and international competitions.
LeBlanc, who has been coaching at l’Université de Moncton for five years and is the co-ordinator of high performance for Athletics New Brunswick, said yesterday for many years young athletes qualified for Legion nationals and that marked the end of their track and field careers.
Now, however, many continue to improve in the sport and go on to compete at junior and senior nationals. Some even develop into university and international competitors.
LeBlanc praised the athletes for their dedication.
He failed to mention the obvious. There are more highly-qualified and motivated coaches in New Brunswick than ever and the athletes are benefitting from their expertise.
Among those outstanding coaches is LeBlanc himself. He has been rewarded for his fine work by being named the head coach of New Brunswick’s athletics team for the seventh Jeux de la Francophone International, scheduled for Sept. 6-15, 2013 in Nice, France.
With some prodding, LeBlanc discussed the role coaches have played in the development of track and field in New Brunswick.
“We’ve been fortunate to get help from our funding parters with the government and the universities,” the Riverview resident said.
“There has been a renewed commitment to athletics at the Université de Moncton and we’re seeing good things happen at the University of New Brunswick, where they’ve always been strong on the cross-country side and now they’re investing more in athletics,” LeBlanc added.
“We’re also getting more top coaches involved in Saint John, Moncton and other areas. It’s a fun time to be involved in the sport in New Brunswick.”
LeBlanc, who will also serve as the team’s manager, was humbled by his selection.
“This is an excellent opportunity for our best athletes to obtain international experience at a major multi-sport championship,” the coach said.
“I look forward to working with athletes and coaches from across the province, looking at fielding our best ever team for this international competition.”
LeBlanc is not certain how large the New Brunswick team will be at the Francophonie — it will depending on funding.
However, Genevieve Lalonde of Moncton has already set qualifying standards for the 1,500-metre and 3,000-metre steeplechase while Mike LeBlanc of Riverview has set standards for the 100 and 200m and Caleb Jones of Saint John has qualified in the javelin.
“We’ve got a large group of other athletes who are about 80 or 90 per cent of their way to setting qualifying standards,” coach LeBlanc said.
“Potentially, we could have a very large group of qualifiers and the standards are high. These are world-class athletes being developed in New Brunswick and we’re proud of them all.”
There will also be a few paralympic events at the Francophonie. Discus thrower Joey Boudreau and wheelchair racer James Brace of Salisbury are closing in on qualifying for those events.
Gabriel LeBlanc, technical director for Athletics New Brunswick, applauded the decision to name Steve LeBlanc as head coach of the provincial team.
“Steve brings an incredible passion for our sport and has been coach for team Canada on numerous occasions,” Gabriel LeBlanc said.
“Most recently he was on the coaching staff for the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championships in Moncton. It is great to have a coach with Steve’s background to lead this in what could be New Brunswick strongest team ever.”