By Sam Loveys and Dan Plouffe
Will Batley had just won the biggest race of his career. The West Carleton Secondary School student was the clear winner as he crossed the finish line of the junior boys’ 100 metres Friday at the OFSAA track and field championships. But he wasn’t jumping for joy, yet.
The runners in second, third and fourth place finished in a virtual dead heat, and Batley was huddled next to friend Preston Schwarz from Ashbury College waiting to see the results on the electronic scoreboard.
Once Schwarz’s name appeared in third place – .01 seconds in front of fourth place – then the celebrations began with a flurry of yells and hugs.
“I wanted to make sure we finished on the podium together,” underlines Batley, who won the event in 11.02. “We trained all year together and it felt great to see it pay off.”
Schwarz and Batley’s embrace was a highlight moment on a day full of them for the hometown contingent competing at the OFSAA high school provincial championships at Terry Fox Athletic Facility. Local high school student-athletes combined to win six gold, two silver and three bronze medals on Day 2 of the three-day meet that concludes Saturday.
“It felt like an eternity before the third (place result) popped up,” recounts Schwarz, who clocked in at 11.16. “It was pretty nerve racking waiting. I knew Will won and then I knew it was tight 2-3-4. It was a great race.”
The pair became fast friends last season after it quickly became evident that the speedsters would be seeing plenty of each other in high school sprint races. Batley now travels in from the west end at the crack of dawn to work out with his chief rival and CANI Athletics teammate at the Rideau community hub.
“Our coach is definitely ecstatic right now,” signals Schwarz. “It’s really great to be up there with Will. He’s pushed me all year, training together early Wednesday morning before school, me and him. So that’s all paying off now.”
Batley, who was thrilled when they both broke the 11-second mark for the first time together at the OFSAA east regionals, says he and Schwarz always joke around with each other when they’re at the track.
“Before we go to the marshalling area, we’re friends,” he highlights, “but once we’re there, we pretend that we don’t know each other.”
Batley was victorious in each of their races this year, but he always gained motivation because Schwarz would take the early lead thanks to his lightning quick starts.
Schwarz acknowledges that Batley has the upper hand in 100 or 200 m races, but the Ottawa Nepean Canadians baseball player says there’s no doubt who’d win a 90-foot race to first base.
“I think I’d have him,” smiles Schwarz, who first took to the track in order to improve his explosive speed on the base paths. “It paid off for me. I work on getting out hard and it’s transferring well to baseball.”
Schwarz plans to run track throughout high school, though his sights are mainly set on reaching the next level in baseball. Batley started in track very innocently, but now has big hopes too.
“I saw (track and field) last year at school and thought, ‘Hey, I’m pretty fast, might as well try it,” recalls the Grade 10 student. “Now I’m trying to get a scholarship at an American school for track. If I continue on this path, I can compete at the highest level.”
PAIR OF PODIUMS FOR GISÈLE-LALONDE’S TIMÉO ATONFO
Gisèle-Lalonde’s Timéo Atonfo accounted for two of Ottawa’s medals Friday. He followed up his morning junior boys’ triple jump silver with an afternoon bronze in the 100-metre hurdles.
“I would have liked to win of course, but it is what it is. I got a personal-best even though it was a bad race,” notes Atonfo, who may have clipped the seventh hurdles before stumbling and going a a little off line. “I’m not quite sure what happened there, but it was still OK. I did get a medal anyway.”
Atonfo got to the finish line in 13.71 seconds. Earlier, he’d recorded a similar number with a 13.81 m performance in the long jump. Atonfo was leading that competition after the fifth round of jumps until Chinguacousy’s Sayanthan Arulrajan leapt 13.94 m on his final attempt for the win.
“I could have won that one too,” states Atonfo, who had to take off mid-competition to run the hurdles preliminary round. “My energy wasn’t at 100%. But I still got another personal-best and a medal, so I’m happy about that.”
LOCAL GOLD MEDALLISTS RECORD DOMINANT VICTORIES
Like in Batley’s race, there was no doubt about who won the race as five more local athletes earned gold medals by impressive margins on the track.
On two occasions, Ottawa was golden in back-to-back races.
Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club runner Quinn Coughlin won the junior girls’ 400 m by more than half a second in 56.89 to improve on her 2022 result when she was over a second away from the top spot.
“It was so exciting. I lost last year and wanted to compete even harder this year,” indicates Coughlin, who embraced her mom and her coach after the race. “They’re two of my biggest supporters and it means a lot that they were able to come cheer me on.”
When Coughlin was in middle school, her coach invited her to train with the high school girls at Opeongo in Cobden.
“It had a huge impact on my development,” she underlines.
Next up in the junior boys’ 400 m, Zachary Jeggo soaked in the hometown support to earn a sizeable .78-second victory in 49.70.
As he rounded the final corner, chants of “Jeggo!” rained down from supporters around the bleachers. Not to disappoint, he pulled away from the field even further in the final stretch while dipping under 50 seconds for the first time.
“I felt a lot of pressure before the race. It wasn’t until the final corner that all the pressure was relieved, the final 100 was my motivation,” notes Jeggo, who first got into track to improve his fitness for hockey, but switched his focus after discovering his talent on the track.
James Budrow has no plans to switch his main athletic pursuit from para-alpine skiing, but the Grade 12 John McCrae Secondary School student does want to spend some more time on the track this summer while there’s no snow.
Earlier this year, Budrow won a Canada Winter Games silver medal in his first real skiing competition after losing part of his leg in an accident. He enjoyed similar success in his debut track season, winning the OFSAA ambulatory boys’ 100 m in 13.07.
“I was just trying to find a competitive sport to keep that drive and stay fit,” signals Budrow. “I’m really glad that my school gives an opportunity for everyone to participate (in track and field).”
Budrow participated in many sports growing up – hockey, swimming, volleyball, running and recreational skiing among them – but he never pursued any competitively.
“I just liked to be able to keep the variety,” he explains. “But I’m really happy to be able to push a couple of para sports now.”
Right after Budrow’s win, Pierre-de-Blois’s Jorai Oppong-Nketiah sped to victory in the novice girls’ 100 m in 12.34.
“I’m so proud of myself for finishing in first,” says Oppong-Nketiah, who broke numerous city and regional records in earlier meets this season. “I didn’t know I was going to come this far in my track journey.”
Oppong-Nketiah plans to keep training and competing all summer, with an eye on running under the 12-second mark, while also continuing to play soccer with Ottawa South United.
“Track really helps with my play on the field,” she notes. “With my speed I’m able to beat a lot of defenders.”
Ottawa Lion Louise Stonham posted a comfortable victory in the open girls’ 2,000 m steeplechase, besting her nearest challenger by 4.63 seconds with a winning time of 7:02.80.
“I really wanted to race hard,” recounts Stonham. “I actually hurt my calf on the second jump, so that threw me off a bit. But I just kept pushing and stayed strong throughout the whole event.”
Rather than celebrate her impressive victory, the Arnprior District High School senior immediately went and congratulated her fellow runners.
“I always want to give my teammates a hug, regardless of how good or bad I do, because your worst day could be someone else’s best day. Supporting everyone is a big part of the sport for me,” beams Stonham, who’s looking forward to racing at the Canadian Championships in Langley, B.C. before heading straight down to California State University Long Beach for her rookie NCAA season.
PILES OF PODIUMS AND TOP-8S FOR LOCAL ATHLETES
The breakthrough performance of the day went to the Merivale junior girls’ 4×100 m relay team. Seeded sixth, Ingrid Moreau, Jiayang Rong, Shaharazad Singh Sharpe and Sasha Vilkoff came up with their best performance on the best day.
They shaved .30 seconds off their east regionals-winning time to jump onto the podium in the silver medal position. Vilkoff, who placed 14th, was the only athlete in Merivale’s lineup to qualify for OFSAA in individual sprints, but they moved the baton quickly to win a battle for second place with Ajax’s Notre Dame. It went down to the thousandth of a second as both squads were awarded times of 50.73.
Daniel Cova also enjoyed a big breakthrough. The Louis-Riel runner matched his bronze medal performance from the east regional meet to land on the podium in the junior boys’ 1,500 m. He outkicked three athletes on his heels down the home straight to beat his previous personal-best by over five seconds with a time of 4:02.72. Glebe’s Saul Taler finished 12th in the same race in 4:18.36.
It was a bit of an unexpected result for Cova, who’d been worried about the smoky air earlier this week and didn’t train as much as usual before OFSAA. A provincial podium in running would have been doubly unexpected before he settled in to the sport in high school.
“I used to play basketball and started to do a bit of running with my dad to train. From there, I fell in love with the sport and it’s all I wanted to do,” recalls Cova, who’s now got his eye on an NCAA track scholarship, with plans to studying engineering.
Ashbury’s Lecia Patrick engineered her second fourth-place finish in the junior girls’ jumps, this time landing fourth in the long jump to match her triple jump result from a day earlier. Her 5.35 m leap also established a new school record for the second day in a row.
“I’m just so happy with how I performed,” Patrick highlights. “Even if I don’t end up placing, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.”
Ashbury teammate Deborah Adeleye also made it to the final round in the same event, placing seventh.
Ottawa athletes earned three fifth-place finishes on Day 2 – Paul-Desmarais’s Sadie Gilbert in the junior girls’ shot put (11.64 m), Peak Centre’s Grace Streek in the junior girls’ 1,500 m (4:41.33) and Glebe’s Derek Strachan in the open boys’ 2,000 m steeplechase (6:11.57).
“I was happy just because of the time,” signals Strachan. “Maybe I didn’t get the place I wanted, but my time was good, so that’s something I can be proud of.”
St. Pius X’s Isabella Chiumera finished all of .03 seconds behind Streek, her friend and neighbour, in the junior girls’ 1,500 m, placing sixth in 4:41.36, while Paul-Desmarais’s Ciara Villeneuve was eighth in 4:43.86.
Also earning sixth-place finishes were Sacred Heart’s Kaiya Woodcock (junior girls’ 100 m – 12.94), Franco-Cité’s Damien Richer (senior boys’ 100 m – 11.01), Canterbury’s Nicolas Belan (senior boys’ 1,500 m – 4:00.88), Lisgar’s Shea Sampson (novice boys’ shot put – 12.74) and the Louis-Riel junior boys’ 4×100 m relay team of Bradley Vilson, Jeggo, Basirou Sorné and Ibrahim Domiati (44.93).
Ashbury’s Justin Desjardins, Schwarz, Chase Gillespie and Matteo Nicolini were eighth in the junior boys’ 4×100 m relay (45.20). Rounding out the local top-eight finishes were Paul-Desmarais’s Ange-Mathis Kramo (seventh, novice boys’ 100 m – 11.54), Lisgar’s Meredith McCabe (eighth, novice girls’ 400 m) and Merivale’s Aaron Cheung, Flory Muka, Braden Reid and Logan Reid (eighth, senior boys’ 4×100 m relay – 44.80).
The OFSAA track and field championships wrap up Saturday with a full slate of events from roughly 8:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
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