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Brown and Blake should battle for sprint gold at Canadian championships

LANGLEY, B.C. — In between the photos of Jerome Blake standing on the medal podium or sprinting down the track, there are fashion photos of him posing in a sheepskin coat on a deserted road, or a button up shirt between sand dunes.
Maude Leveille, front, of Sherbrooke, Que., is silhouetted during the heptathlon 100 metre hurdles event at the Canadian Track and Field Championships in Langley, B.C., on Thursday, June 23, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

LANGLEY, B.C. — In between the photos of Jerome Blake standing on the medal podium or sprinting down the track, there are fashion photos of him posing in a sheepskin coat on a deserted road, or a button up shirt between sand dunes.

The Canadian sprinter, who's also a model, is as comfortable in a designer suit as a track and field singlet.

"Fashion is kind of a thing for me, it's one thing I really love apart from sports, so I put a lot of effort into it, it's one thing I really try to implement into everything I do," said the six-foot-three Blake. 

His favourite style icons are NBA guard Russell Westbrook and NFL quarterback Russell Wilson. He said Canadian basketball player Kia Nurse and fellow NBA player Sue Bird have "great shoe game."

"People with really good style, they always say you dress the way you want to play," he added. "So you dress well, you feel good and you feel good, you look good, you compete good, so that's how I look at it."

The 26-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., who has raced in the shadows of Canadian sprinters Andre De Grasse and Aaron Brown for the past few seasons, has been more than good this year. 

Blake turned some heads when he beat a star-studded lineup that included American star Noah Lyles, his cousin and Jamaican star Yohan Blake, plus Brown in a 100 metres in Bermuda. He beat Yohan Blake again late last month, winning the 200 at the Ostrava Golden Spike.

"Coming into this year, I was a lot more focused, and just more determined on what I wanted this year, because I feel like last year, I didn't really give myself a fair chance," Blake said. "I was new and I thought, 'Oh, it’ll come easy,' but soon realized it's not going to come as easy as I thought."

While De Grasse was forced the skip the Canadian championships due to COVID-19, the 100 and 200 events at this weekend's Canadian championships could be a tight battle between Brown and Blake.

Blake initially did long jump, high jump and the 400 hurdles while growing up in Buff Bay, Jamaica. His family moved to the Okanagan a few years ago and he received his Canadian citizenship in 2018.

He moved to Florida after the 2020 season to train with Brown and American coach Dennis Mitchell.

"His first year (with Mitchell) was kind of spotty, was all over the map, which is normal for an athlete adapting to a new training plan and training environment," said Canada's head coach Glenroy Gilbert. "So now things are actually starting to settle down a bit, he's starting to actually put together races, plus he's getting more confident, he's able to run with some of the big guys. 

"And he's got big aspirations for not just here at the Canadian championships, but also world championships and Commonwealth Games."

Blake is frustratingly hovering on two milestones: his best 100 time is 10 seconds flat. His 200 time is 20.04.

"I was more frustrated with (the 200), because I feel like 19 is a magical number, to run 19 is very impressive, not a lot of people have run 19," he said. "I'm more excited to run 19 than I am to run nine seconds."

He actually did run a 19-second 200 last year, but the time didn't count because of the track configuration. He won the 200 at the Adidas Boost Boston Games, but the race had no corner, just a straight 200 metres on a raised track on the road. His time of 19.89 was the fifth fastest in history on a straight 200-metre track.

"I think that's one of the longest races I've ever run in my entire life," Blake laughed. "A straight 200, you're looking, like OK, where's the finish line? At one point you're like, 'Okay, I should just stop now.'"

While Blake might seem like a late bloomer, he has climbed the international ranks swiftly since winning gold in both the 100 and 200 metres at the 2017 Canada Summer Games. 

"I think there's a time and place for everything, that's how I look at it, it was just the right time," Blake said. "I feel like because I didn't have the traditional way of coming up, there's no pressure on me, more or less just having fun and just learning from the people who are ahead of me."

Brown, Blake and De Grasse have all qualified for the 100 and 200 metres at the world championships next month in Eugene, Ore. And their relay team that won silver at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — Brendon Rodney was the fourth runner — should be a favourite for a podium performance there again.

"Aaron's expectation . . . he's probably going to try to win both events (at the Canadian championships). Andre is not here, so he's going to try to do that. I'm pretty sure that Jerome is going to have something to say about that," said Gilbert.

The 100 final is scheduled for Saturday at McLeod Athletic Park, while the 200 final is Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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