By Martin Cleary
To best understand William Sanders’ remarkable and inaugural high school track and field season in the 400 metres, allow me to break down his spring campaign into four 100-metre segments, having each one represent one of his four major competitions.
The Grade 10 student/athlete at St. Mother Teresa High School missed his track and field debut in 2021, when the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association cancelled all meets for the second straight year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Sanders continued training with the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club, as best he could under trying restrictions, in hopes of representing Mother Teresa. That opportunity presented itself this spring. He seized the moment and built significant momentum week after week.
Here is how Sanders’ first track season unfolded.
THE FIRST 100 METRES
Recognized as a good and experienced cross-country runner, having won the 2021 NCSSAA west conference boys’ junior title and placing third at the city finals, Sanders stepped onto the track for the NCSSAA west conference athletics meet with an empty resume.
But he was willing to build a good reputation quickly as he entered the boys’ junior 400, 800 and 1,500 metres and the 4×100-metre relay.
Sanders’ major discovery that mid-May day was that he was a quality track runner, placing first in all three individual races with respective top times of 52.08 seconds, 2:12.94 seconds and 5:01.31 seconds. He also contributed to Mother Teresa winning the relay in 48.31 seconds.
“It was a big confidence boost. In a few preliminary races, I won the 400 and 800 consistently and my times seemed to be good. I race to win,” Sanders said in a recent phone interview.
THE SECOND 100 METRES
Sanders’ track debut performances advanced him to the NCSSAA city finals a week later, where he repeated as a triple champion in his individual events.
In each case, his times were faster as he went 51.63 seconds for the 400 metres, 2:02.82 for the 800 and 4:18.05 for the 1,500. The Mother Teresa relay team finished fifth in 49.01, but took the final qualifying spot for the East Regional meet.
“It (NCSSAA championship) went very well. I felt really, really good. I had a PB (personal-best time) in everything,” added Sanders, who was especially happy with the 1,500-metre run.
In the metric mile, he narrowly defeated cross-country arch-rival Derek Strachan of Glebe by 16 one-hundredths of a second – 4:18:05 to 4:18.21.
“He (Strachan) always beat me in cross-country (running). So, it was nice to get a win,” Sanders continued.
THE THIRD 100 METRES
The battle gets tougher when competitions take in more talented runners from other regions. The East Regionals, the final step before last week’s OFSAA provincial high school championships, were a good example.
Sanders ran slower times than the week before, but qualified for three events at OFSAA. It wasn’t the three events you might think.
Following the trend of his two NCSSAA meets, he won the 400 metres in 51.67 and the 800 metres in 2:04.09, but placed fifth in the 1,500 metres in 4:34.91 and didn’t graduate to OFSAA. However, the relay team ran its best time of the season – 47.09 seconds – to place third for a ticket to OFSAA.
“There were no PBs, but I achieved the end goal and made it (to OFSAA),” Sanders said. “I was disappointed I didn’t qualify for the 1,500 metres. I was 16 seconds slower than the week before.”
THE FINAL 100 METRES
“I had no expectations going into this season,” Sanders offered. “OFSAA gold definitely wasn’t on my radar. I knew I would do fine and perform to the best of my ability. But my expectations were not high.
“Initially, I didn’t think I could reach OFSAA. I knew it was a long way to go. But a few weeks in, I saw a possibility. But I had to perform best times to get there.”
At OFSAA, which attracted around 2,000 student/athletes from across the province, the competition reached its peak as the best from 18 Ontario high school sports associations went head to head.
For Sanders, his three events played out with happy, sad and at-least-we-made-it endings.
After winning his 400-metre heat and posting the fastest overall preliminary time in a near personal-best 51.67 seconds, Sanders ran the best time of his life in the final and secured the boys’ junior gold medal.
He won the 400 metres in 51.51 seconds, which was 0.24 seconds ahead of Appleby College’s William Bigler.
“I did expect a tough race. We knew we were going a level up. I’m glad there were some really fast guys to push me,” Sanders explained.
“Everything went well. I had a good sleep. I was excited. I was confident as well as I had the best time going into the final. There was a possibility of a win. Everyone is so fast.”
Sanders raced the first 200 metres fast and then hung on. Over the final 100 metres, he could “hear the footsteps,” as his opponents did their best to survive the brutal sprint and track him down, while Sanders did his best to maintain his lead.
“It was really exciting. It was a great moment. I had no expectations of standing on the podium,” offered Sanders, who ran out of steam in the 800-metre final and was eighth in 2:12.26, and finished 20th with his Mother Teresa teammates in the 4×400-metre relay in 47.67.
Sanders also was one of three NCSSAA student/athletes to place first in a single event at the conference, city, regional and provincial levels.
Sanders achieved that rare Grand Slam feat with Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Elizabeth Vroom (girls’ open 2,000-metre steeplechase) and Gisèle-Lalonde’s Timeo Atonfo (boys’ novice 300-metre hurdles). High Achievers: Stay-Safe Edition gave that Grand Slam label to them for their stellar, four-victory accomplishments.
“I was pleased with my undefeated high school season in the 400 metres. I was happy I made it to OFSAA and had a win. I’m good at the 400 metres, I guess,” he understated.
Sanders will strive to be faster as a senior in his final two years at Mother Teresa.
“This (season) has given me more motivation. It will be tough to race against the Grade 12s. But hopefully my training will be strong for next year,” he concluded.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.