AUGUSTA — Ashley Quirion has been involved in track and field for two years but didn’t pick up a shot until two weeks ago. On Saturday, she found herself competing with the state’s top young shot putters in the state shot put championship.

“I just decided that I wanted to try something new, so I tried shot put,” Quirion said between throws and rain drops at Cony High School’s Alumni Field. “My coaches encouraged me to keep going with it. In the qualifying meet, I came in third.”

Cupping the 4 1/2 pound shot in her hand, the 14-year-old Quirion wasn’t really thinking about becoming the next Michelle Carter, who on Friday became the first American woman to win Olympic gold in the shot put. But some of her fellow competitors at the USATF Maine Youth Championship were no doubt dreaming of being the next Carter or the next Usain Bolt, the Jamaican superstar sprinter.

Around 11:30 a.m., organizers briefly interrupted the day-long event so that hundreds of Maine kids, age 4-15, could parade on the newly-dedicated Taylor Harmon Track in a colorful culmination of the summer youth track season. Then the athletes scattered back to some of the 20 events taking place.

Just as the curtain comes down on the youth season in Maine, track and field takes center stage at the Rio Olympics this week, and stories such as Michelle Carter emerge from the games, Track and field enthusiasts couldn’t ask for a better way to spark and sustain interest in the sport.

Drawing from Winslow and surrounding communities such as Fairfield and Oakland, Winslow track had 70 kids in its program this summer — the most they’ve ever had, according to assistant coach Glen Chase.

This being an Olympic year helped spark interest. So did the presence of high school track athletes who can inspire younger kids to try it out.

“We’ve had 10 or 12 high school kids come out to help us and give of their time on Monday and Wednesday mornings and all day Thursday, to come help some of their future teammates,” Chase said.

Nick Tiner was one of those helping out his future teammates. About to enter his sophomore year at Winslow High School, Tiner was coaching Winslow’s distance runners in the 1,500 and 3,000 meters.

“It really feels good because when I was younger I got to look up to the kids that coached me, and now I get to coach alongside them. It’s exhilarating. It sounds a little cheesy but I really like it,” he said.

Tiner started in the program at age 9 and said his coaches had a big impact on him and his love for track and field.

“They made running fun. They didn’t make it stupidly competitive. They made it enjoyable while still being focused,” he said.

Fellow Winslow sophomore Maeghan Bernard worked with athletes in sprints.

“It’s a great experience to help out with the younger kids,” she said. “You tell them to have fun with it and try their best.”

Adding to the enjoyment for many of the athletes is the freedom to dabble in many different events over the course of the season.

Ryan Pelletier, a 12-year-old from Augusta, has been in track and field for four years and normally competes in the 100, hurdles and high jump. Saturday was just his third time running the 400, and he won his age group easily.

“It feels really nice,” Pelletier said. “I like to run. It’s a lot of fun.”

Siblings Kayla and Orion Dickinson of Skowhegan competed in the shot put and discus. Kayla, 14, has three years experience in both events but is leaning towards discus being her favorite.

“I just feel like I have better momentum. I know my technique better,” she said.

After doing the shot put for four years, Orion, 11, decided to follow in his big sister’s foot steps.

“I just started discus, but I really like it,” he said.

Of course, that’s the idea behind the Maine Association of USA Track and Field sanctioning summer meets — get kids involved in the sport at a young age so they can find their niche.

Tiner hopes he helps the kids he works with find their niche, and ultimately get as much out of the sport as he already has.

“You can go places in USATF,” he said. “If you really put in the hard work, track leads to something. I think that really means a lot.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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