For the first time in their 42-year history, the B.C. High School Cross-Country Running Championships will set foot in Prince George.
The meet will take place Nov. 3 and is expected to bring 500 to 600 athletes to the city. The championships have rarely been held outside of the Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island. They have been in Kelowna twice (1979 and 2011) and in Vernon once, in the early 1980s. So, to have them in the north is a bit of a coup for this part of the province and its runners.
"It's a very big deal," said race director Brian Nemethy, the north central zone representative and a teacher at Vanderhoof's Nechako Valley secondary. "When we first told people, they were all keen and then coaches started thinking about the big drive all the way up here and they started to complain that it was too far to go and it would be too cold. So we had some resistance from a few coaches but a lot of the other coaches -- I'd say probably 85 per cent -- were all for it and thought this would be kind of neat."
The start/finish line will be at D.P. Todd secondary. The course will take runners to Moore's Meadow and then loop back to the school. Girls will complete two laps, for a total distance of 4.3 kilometres and boys will do three laps (6.3km). At the end of the day, individual awards and team championship banners will be handed out. Last year, the team champions were Vancouver's West Point Grey Academy (girls) and Victoria's Oak Bay secondary (boys). Nechako Valley placed fourth in the girls division and 15th in the boys category.
Individually, two athletes who have legitimate chances to finish at or near the front of the pack this year are Emma Balazs and Alexander Nemethy.
Balazs is a Grade 12 student at Kelly Road secondary and is coming off a summer in which she claimed a national title in the 2,000-metre steeplechase. In previous cross-country provincials, she has ninth- and 13th-place finishes to her credit.
Alexander Nemethy, meanwhile, attends Grade 10 classes at Nechako Valley. At the end of last school year, he won a bronze medal in the 3,000m run at the high school track and field championships.
This Saturday (10:45 a.m. girls start, 11:45 a.m. boys start), cross-country's north central zone championship will be held on the same course that will be used for provincials. That being the case, Balazs, Nemethy and other local and regional runners will get the benefit of a preview.
"That will for sure be an advantage," Brian Nemethy said. "I know [coach] Brian Martinson has been running with Emma and the other runners there once a week so they'll know the course. They've been training on the hills, and the hills are good ones.
"The course is very challenging," Nemethy added. "The commissioner for cross-country came up here in August and we went over the course with her and she thought it was fantastic. I think it's probably the best course out of all the years."