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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Cross-country running season returns with the two-day Capital XC Challenge

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

Welcome to October 1, 2021. Technically, this is the first day of the fourth and final quarter of the year.

But if you are a cross-country runner, this is the day you have been waiting for all year – the first day of the competitive overland season, at least in Ottawa.

The Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club has put away its outdoor athletics equipment and welcomed distance runners Friday for the opening day of the two-day Capital XC Challenge at Mooney’s Bay. The event was cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The high school runners were the focus of Friday’s schedule with boys’ and girls’ junior varsity (Grades 9 and 10) races over four kilometres, and boys’ and girls’ varsity (Grades 11 and 12) competitions spread over five kilometres.

On Saturday, the Eastern Elementary School Championships will be staged in the morning for boys and girls U10 (two kilometres), U12 (2.5 kilometres) and U14 (three kilometres). The men’s and women’s open and university races will close out the Challenge in the early afternoon and will be held over six kilometres.

All runners 12 years of age and older were required to complete an event health questionnaire, show proof of double COVID vaccination, and wear a mask except during warmups and competition.

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There were 32 runners on average in each of the four Capital XC Challenge races on Friday, which worked well for physical distancing.

In the closest race, Simon Rosenthal of Villa Maria posted a two-second victory over Will Sanders of Saint Mother Teresa, 14:13.61 to 14:15.65, in the boys’ junior varsity 4-kilometre race. Tristan Bombardier of La Citadelle placed third in 14:24.64.

Isabella Chiumera of St. Pius X won the girls’ junior varsity four-kilometre test in 15:50.21, scoring a comfortable victory over runner-up Grace Streek of Merivale in 16:20.94. Third place went to Lauren Alexander of the Ottawa Lions in 16:32.07.

Amelia Van Brabant of Earl of March registered a 65-second margin of victory, largest of the day, in the girls’ varsity five-kilometre race. She finished in 17:54.55 and was followed by Clara Hegan of Nakkertok Nordic in 18:59.83, and Cara MacDonald, an unattached runner, in 19:20.86.

Amelia Van Brabant (right). File photo

Angus Skinner of Frontenac in Kingston was the boys’ varsity five-kilometre winner in 16:02.07. Zachary Sikka of St. Paul finished second in 16:23.53, while third place went to Caden Turcotte of Physi-Kult in 16:44.55.

The decision by the four Ottawa school boards to allow high school students the opportunity to resume varsity sports during the COVID-19 pandemic also was a big boost for cross-country runners.

The National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association will stage its two conference championships in mid October. The West Conference finals are slated for Oct. 13 at Walter Baker Park in Kanata. The East Conference championships are scheduled for Oct. 14 at the Hornets Nest in Gloucester.

After a two-week break, the NCSSAA city championships are expected to unfold Oct. 28 at the Hornets Nest. The top individual runners and school teams will qualify for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) championships Nov. 6 in Lakefield.

The Ottawa cross-country running season will close in a big way as Athletics Canada and Run Ottawa are scheduled to stage the Canadian championships Nov. 27 at Wesley Clover Parks in Nepean.

This will be the first time the national cross-country running championships are slated to be held in Ottawa. They will return to Ottawa in 2022.

As many as 1,000 runners will compete in the men’s and women’s U18, U20, open and masters age categories.

Wesley Clover Parks is a new venue for cross-country running and will provide challenging courses that are flat with rolling wooded trails. The park is recognized as one of the top equestrian sites in Canada and also has five artificial turf and natural grass fields for soccer, flag football and ultimate frisbee games.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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