According to Nikkita Holder, it was track and field’s version of love at first sight.
Only in this case, the two teenagers and their families already knew each other.
“We were walking up to the track and I was like ‘Who’s that little boy with the dreads? He’s so cute,’” Holder said, recalling a Grade 7 track meet in Oshawa, Ont. “Then, when I went to the stands a few hours later, he’s sitting there with his mom next to my mom.”
Twelve years later, that little boy (Justyn Warner) is Canada’s fastest man, Holder is a top-ranked women’s hurdler and both are bound for the 2012 Olympics in London this month as two of the 41 members of Canada’s track and field team.
In October, the 25-year-olds will wed in a ceremony that will be made even more special by the fact their mothers, Debbie and Sandra, were close friends growing up together in Barbados.
At that track meet more than a decade ago, they reconnected, helping bring together two future Olympians as a couple.
“We’ve kind of always had this connection between the two of us,” Warner said.
On Tuesday, the pair – who hail from the nearby Ontario centres of Markham and Pickering – was on hand in Toronto as part of the unveiling of the team’s new track uniforms. The cameras circled and clicked every time they interacted in front of the gathered media.
Two elite athletes on the verge of getting married and participating in a Games together isn’t unheard of, but it’s rare enough the Canadians should continue to receive plenty of attention on the track.
For a team where two or three medals is considered the ceiling (and the sprinters may be shut out altogether), they’ll be one of the top stories, win or lose.
“I can’t recall this happening before,” Athletics Canada head coach and director Alex Gardiner said. “We’ve had newlyweds on the team before, but it is unique.”
Of the two, Holder is likely the better candidate for a medal, as Canada has one of the strongest groups of women’s hurdlers – even without big names such as Perdita Felicien and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, who failed to qualify.
Warner, however, will get two chances at a medal, as after winning the Canadian title in 10.15 seconds last month in Calgary, he’ll compete in both the 100-metre sprint and the 4-x-100 relay.
With the top of the men’s field all capable of times well below 10 seconds, Warner may be in tough to make the final, but he is confident Canada’s young relay team – which includes his 21-year-old brother, Ian – can contend for a spot on the podium.
“We can get in and get a medal,” Warner said. “The right things just have to happen.”
“He’s absolutely right,” Gardiner said. “We’ve got a couple new guys … but we’re pretty excited. They’re good enough to challenge the podium, but they’ve got to get the stick around right. The baton exchange has to be near perfect.”
Having a support group not only at the Games but also competing in them could help, too, as the Warners and Holder are – like the vast majority of Canada’s track team – all first-time Olympians.
Warner believes training alongside his fiancée and brother has been part of his success story to this point, and that having them all in this together should make their Olympic experience that much easier.
“If I’m having a bad day, she kind of lifts me, and vice versa,” Warner said. “Having each other there at the most important meet of our careers is just a great thing.”
“Sharing that first experience with him is going to be pretty special,” Holder said.