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Trio of Vic City Elite club members named to track team for Commonwealth Games

Commonwealth Games have full integration of athletes, instead of a separate Para games.

The big debate within the Paralympic community is whether it is better to have its own Games, such as the Paralympics following each Olympics, or to be fully integrated into a Games.

The Pan Am Games follow the Olympics model with the Para Pan Ams but the Commonwealth Games have full integration. Both have their pluses and minuses. A separate Para event means more opportunities for athletes to compete. Integration is an important principle, but far fewer Para athletes can compete in an integrated Games, because the number of Para athletes must necessarily be restricted to be part of the already-crowded general able-bodied program.

The 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, featuring 4,500 athletes, will have 19 able-bodied sports and eight Para sports on the program and all will be counted in the medal standings. The Canadian quota for Para track and field is six athletes, three of which train with the Vic City Elite club under coach and former runner Geoff Harris, who was semifinalist in the 800 metres at the 2012 London Olympics.

David Johnson has been selected for the T12 100 metres, 2019 Lima Para Pan Am Games silver-medallist and Tokyo Paralympics bronze-medallist Zachary Gingras for the T38 100 metres, and 2016 Rio Paralympics bronze-medallist Tristan Smyth for the T54 1,500 metres and marathon.

All three overcame tremendous adversity to become international athletes. Saanich’s Johnson, a veteran of the 2019 Para Pan Ams in Lima, was an all-rounder in soccer, baseball and hockey when diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition at the age of eight. He has only three percent vision remaining and runs with a guide. He said he was forced to play the body in hockey because it became difficult to see the puck. That’s when he changed sports and became a runner.

Smyth became paraplegic ­following a skateboarding ­accident while long-boarding down a road. Gingras, a ­University of Victoria computer science major, has cerebral palsy.

The other Canadian track and field Para team members for Birmingham 2022 are Josh Cassidy from the Ottawa Lions club for the T54 1,500 metres and marathon, Jessica Frotten of Whitehorse for the women’s T53 1,500 metres and Sarah Mickey of Redcliff, Alta., for the women’s F55 shot put.

“What makes these Games so special for me is that it’s a combined major athletic event with both able-bodied and Para side. Getting to compete at an inclusive international event with all my teammates is truly special,” Cassidy said in a statement.

Cassidy has won the wheelchair divisions of the Boston and Los Angeles marathons. Birmingham will be his third Commonwealth Games following Delhi 2010 and Glasgow 2014: “I’m going to try and win a couple more Commonwealth Games medals for Canada in ­Birmingham.”

Canada won two Para track and field medals at the last Commonwealth Games in 2018 in Gold Coast, Australia, with Alex Dupont taking gold in the men’s T54 1,500 metres and Diane Roy bronze in the women’s T53 1,500 metres.

The Canadian able-bodied track and field team, which won six medals last summer in the Tokyo Olympics, will be announced for Birmingham 2022 on June 21.

The Commonwealth Games run July 28 to Aug. 8.