By Dan Plouffe
It was another sparkling day for the hometown crew at the OFSAA Track and Field Championships Saturday at Terry Fox Athletic Facility, as Ottawa athletes added five gold, two silver and two bronze to bring Ottawa’s final medal count to an even total of 20 for the 2023 high school provincials.
Jorai Oppong-Nketiah, Quinn Coughlin, Zachary Jeggo and Will Batley all registered their second victories of the meet, while Timéo Atonfo walked away as the most decorated local athlete with his third medal.
Preston Schwarz earned his second bronze medal, while Ange-Mathis Kramo and Grace Streek joined the party with their silver medal wins on Day 3 of 3.
And Beni Nkongolo authored a remarkable finish to his unexpected rookie season with an inspirational gold medal performance in the novice boys’ high jump (see OttawaSportsPages.ca for more coverage on that in the coming days).
Gisèle-Lalonde’s Atonfo followed up his junior boys’ 100-metre hurdles bronze and triple jump silver from Friday with another bronze in the long jump.
Atonfo says he felt a personal-best would be coming, and his 6.84 m leap was a big 24 cm improvement.
“That’s a lot,” underlines the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club athlete, before countering that it still wasn’t a great jump.
Atonfo felt he was flying faster than usual down the runaway, but he had to compensate by shortening his stride before takeoff in order to avoid faulting.
“We can work on that, as well as my technique in the air, so I’ll be at seven metres or more for sure,” he pledges. “I’m happy with the results, but I know there’s a lot more in me.
“I’ve got a lot of potential, a lot. This is just the start of what’s going to happen with my club summer season.”
Chinguacousy’s Sayanthan Arulrajan won the event with an OFSAA-record jump of 7.17 m.
Atonfo feels encouraged that he’s been improving every meet, and that’s what’s most important. It’s also nice, he adds, to win three medals, which he’ll give to his mom to keep with the ever-growing collection in his parents’ room.
“I told her not to look at my other medals until I’ve got some more,” smiles Atonfo, while underlining his appreciation for his parents’ support. “They’ve given me the chance to be here. They drive me here for training every day. I’m really happy to have parents like them, who push me and are proud of my results at every competition they join me for.”
Oppong-Nketiah was also quick to thank her parents as she finished off her perfect rookie season with a final win in the novice girls’ 200 m, clocking in at 25.17 to match her victory from the 100 m a day earlier.
“My mom’s been with me through the whole journey and she’s always been supporting me. She struggled so hard just to put me in training,” recounts the Pierre-de-Blois student-athlete. “I’m happy for myself and I’m happy that my mom and my family got to see me win a few times. I just wanted to make my mom proud and I feel like I accomplished that.”
A junior girls’ 400 m champion Friday, Coughlin was the best once again in the 300 m hurdles. The Lions athlete who attends Opeongo in Cobden found herself in a close race down the home stretch, but with the crowd screaming its encouragement, she was able to pull away for her second gold of meet in 43.69.
“I’m pretty excited right now,” Coughlin highlights. “It’s so nice having everybody here and having it at my home track. It’s really exciting having a bunch of my family here. I just love the support.”
Jeggo, the man with the perfect name for fans to cheer for, delivered for his supporters once again on Saturday. The Louis-Riel runner flew to his second gold medal of the meet in the junior boys’ 300-metre hurdles, with rhythmic chants of “Go Jegg-o!” echoing around the track.
“It’s wonderful. It’s a great venue and it’s so fun to see everybody cheering,” indicates Jeggo, who won his race in 39.29.
Jeggo’s best result last year at OFSAA was sixth in the 400 m. He ran almost five seconds faster when he won the 400 Friday.
“A lot better than last year, so it’s good that I have an improvement,” he adds.
Batley and Schwarz provided a virtual instant replay of their 100 m race from a day earlier in the junior boys’ 200 m, and the race followed the same script as every time the friends have met this season, from cities through regionals and now provincials.
“A little bit of déja-vu,” smiles Schwarz. “It was a pretty similar race to yesterday too. It was how it usually goes: I get out harder than Will and then I just feel him coming and coming until he gets by me.”
The CANI Athletics sprinters earned identical results in both events – West Carleton’s Batley in first and Ashbury’s Schwarz in third. Batley won the 200 m in 21.80, while Schwarz finished in 22.28.
“We were supposed to be on the podium” based on rankings, signals Batley. “It was the main goal for this.”
Like he did after the 100 m, Batley waited until the podium placements were confirmed on the scoreboard before celebrating.
“That’s a great thing,” Schwarz notes. “He just won OFSAA and he’s more worried about how I came.”
“Well, I wanted him up there with me,” Batley chimes in.
The pair’s rivalry is about as amicable as imaginable, as both sprinters continue to perform without failure race after race after race.
“Even though it’s the biggest meet we’ve had, we’ve been a little bit more friendly before races than before,” Schwarz details, noting they coordinated when to eat, warm up and head over for pre-race marshalling. “It’s a little bit more like we’re running as teammates, not like we’re running against each other.
“It’s a big help having each other.”
A day after an unsatisfying seventh-place performance in the 100 m, Paul-Desmarais’s Kramo flipped the results table and earned a silver medal in the novice boys’ 200 m, with a time of 22.45.
“I had a strong start, and I pushed and pushed to the end,” recalls Kramo, who says his main athletic pursuit is basketball, followed by track. “I’m very proud of my race. I came second, and next time I’m going to come back stronger and bigger, and try to take the gold medal.”
Streek’s OFSAA meet kept getting better and better. In the junior girls’ 1,500 m heats Thursday, the Peak Centre athlete ran a five-second personal-best time, then she went 10 seconds faster than ever before to place fifth in Friday’s final. And the crowning jewel came Saturday when she dropped her 3,000 m PB by 20 seconds to charge to a silver medal.
“This is the most successful weekend for running of my life, so I’m just so happy,” beams Streek, who finished just .61 back of the 3,000 m winner in 10:14.94. “I knew I was fifth seed and it was going to be really hard, but I wanted to challenge for the podium. I was like, ‘This has been a great weekend for me, so why can’t it keep being that way?’
“I tried to position myself near second or third for the whole race. I could hear there were still people right around me near the end, but luckily I found it in me to bring it around the last bend and just go as fast as I could. I’m just so happy with how I performed.”
St. Pius X’s Isabella Chiumera left it all on the track to place fourth in the same event in a time of 10:20.81, while Ashbury’s Kate Johnston-Zemek finished eighth in 10:52.71. Chiumera required medical attention after finishing her race in hot weather.
There were two more local fourth-place finishes Saturday – Ottawa Tech’s Marika Holan-Stutz ran 3:21.96 in the girls’ 800 m intellectual category, while Merivale’s Fega Eruotor hit 25.38 in the junior girls’ 200 m. Eruotor finished ahead of Ashbury’s Lecia Patrick, who came eighth in 26.12 on the heels of back-to-back fourth-place performances in the long and triple jump in previous days.
Franco-Cité’s Damien Richer (senior boys’ 200 m, 21.71) and Paul-Desmarais’s Ciara Villeneuve (junior girls’ 800 m, 2:18.69) were both fifth-place finishers.
Placing sixth were Louis-Riel’s Daniel Cova (junior boys’ 800 m, 2:01.33), Colonel By’s Owen Siderus (novice boys’ 3,000 m, 9:21.32) and Glebe’s Saul Taler (junior boys’ 3,000 m, 9:14.51), while Glebe’s Waverley Lyons (junior girls’ high jump, 1.50 m) and Brookfield’s Eric Zielonka (senior boys’ 400 m hurdles, 57.95) were seventh, and Immaculata’s PJ Lobetti completed the local top-eight results in eighth spot for the senior boys’ triple jump (13.42 m).
Two new Canadian interscholastic records were established at OFSAA by out-of-town athletes. Oakridge’s Julia Tunks won the senior girls’ discus by over 16 m ahead of her closest competitor with her new national benchmark of 55.62 m, and Cameron Heights’ Trinity Shadd-Ceres leapt 6.19 m to set a new standard in the senior girls’ long jump.
“It’s been everything we could hope for, given what we worried was coming,” OFSAA co-convenor Kirk Dillabaugh reflects, referencing the smoky air that threatened to cancel the event earlier in the week. “We’re pretty excited that everything went off without a hitch.”
OFSAA wound up getting great weather, great competition and great support from the community, he highlights.
“You don’t put on a meet of this size without an awful lot of volunteers,” Dillabaugh notes. “Our volunteers and officials have done a great job and we’re extremely grateful for them for the work they do. It makes us look good.”
The strong performances by many local competitors provided the icing on the cake as Ottawa welcomed OFSAA track for the first time since 2007.
“It’s exciting to see the local athletes perform well in front of the home crowd,” Dillabaugh adds. “Overall, I think it was a very successful meet.”
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.
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