Michael LeBlanc has never felt so good on the track.
The timing couldn’t be better.
LeBlanc, a 25-year-old sprinter from Riverview, returns to the Canadian track and field trials, which open Wednesday in Calgary. The stakes are higher than normal this year.
Athletics Canada uses the national championships to help selects its teams that will represent the country at the London Olympics and London Paralympics later this summer.
“This is a very important meet for me every year, but it’s impossible to downplay the extra weight that comes with the Olympic year,” said LeBlanc, who trains out of Syracuse, N.Y.
“The people in the sport pay attention and we’re always concerned about it, but the public at large really only lifts their heads up when it’s an Olympic year and that causes us to be a little more dialed in.
“People will always say there’s something special about the Olympic year. People show up hoping to do things that they don’t normally do, performances that are out of their character.”
LeBlanc expects a top-three finish and a strong time — the Canadian qualifying standard in the men’s 100 metres is 10.18 seconds — would land him one of the three spots Canada has for the event in London.
“This is an exciting time. I guess it sounds cliché, but I don’t get that nervous. I don’t get the race scared feeling,” said LeBlanc, a former standout at Syracuse University.
“It’s a positive pressure. I like the feeling that what you’re doing matters. It’s substantial, it’s not for nothing. I think it’s a good thing. And obviously, if you don’t succeed, it’s harder to take. But that’s a trade I’m willing to take.”
LeBlanc, one of nine New Brunswickers competing in Calgary this week, finished sixth in the 100 metres at last year’s Canadian trials, a disappointing performance after placing a career-best third in 2010.
His expectation this year?
“To win. I think I would always say that — and I think anyone should say that because what else are you racing for? — but deep down no matter what you tell yourself I think there is an awareness of what you’re expecting or capable of, but this year I would actually be disappointed if I don’t win,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc had a positive feeling heading to Calgary. He’s ranked sixth in the 100 metres in Canada this year — his season-best time of 10.28 seconds came in Ottawa last month — but has been more impressed with his results in practice.
“The things I’ve been doing in meets don’t necessarily add up to what I’ve been doing in practice. Right now, I am empirically — based on what I’m doing in practice — the best I’ve ever been,” said LeBlanc, who will run for Metro Moncton’s Athlétisme Sud-Est/South-East Athletics in Calgary.
“I feel very good going into trials. I just got back from a workout 30 minutes ago and I don’t think I could have done any better in what I did for my final workout,” he said earlier this week. “I think I’m exactly where I have to be.”
LeBlanc had received a bye through Wednesday’s 100 metre qualifying heats, but has opted to run instead to get in a tuneup after recovering from a minor back injury. The semifinals and final follow on Friday.
LeBlanc is also entered in the 200 metres, but the 100 is his top priority. If he feels fatigued during the meet, he may drop out of the 200 metres. He has a season-best time of 21.31 in the 200 metres.
LeBlanc’s 100 metre competition in Calgary includes the likes of Toronto’s Aaron Brown, who has run the fastest Canadian time this season in 10.18, Justyn Warner, also of Toronto, and defending champion Sam Effah of Calgary.
“I think it will be tough. People are ready to run from what I see. I have all the respect in the world for those guys. I know a lot of them, I’ve beaten a lot of them, some of them have beaten me,” LeBlanc said.
“No one is going to make it easy for anyone else. It’s an Olympic year and people want to get on the team. People show up for trials. Nothing really matters before trials and I certainly have the upmost respect for the competition and I don’t think any of them are going in unprepared.”
Also competing in Calgary is Moncton’s Geneviève Lalonde, who will run the women’s 3,000 metre steeplechase on Saturday. She will try to improve on her third-place finish at last year’s national championships.
Campbellton native Shayne Dobson, who trains out of ASEA, will try to defend his national title in the T37 800 metres and will also compete in the 1,500 metres. Dobson holds the national record in both events and will try to qualify for the London Paralympics.
The rest of the New Brunswick contingent competing in Calgary includes Chris Robertson of Moncton (decathlon), James Brace of Salisbury (wheelchair T54 100 metres and 200 metres), Jean-Marc Doiron of Collette (800 metres), Pierre Landry of Saint-Louis-de-Kent (long jump), Adam Gaudes of Fredericton (800 metres) and Sarah MacPherson of Fredericton (1,500 metres).