Pickering Speed Academy's Tony Sharpe, Xahria Santiago honoured by Athletics Canada

Former club member Andre De Grasse recognized for Olympic performance

AJAX — The Speed Academy in Pickering has been rewarded for another excellent year, dominating the annual awards given out by Athletics Canada.

Head coach Tony Sharpe, a former Olympic medallist, has been named the development coach of the year for the second time in three years, while one of his current athletes, Xahria Santiago of Ajax, has been honoured as the youth athlete of the year.

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Eastdale student eyes scholarship, OFSAA and ultimately the Olympics

OSHAWA -- Coming off an impressive summer on the track, Oshawa’s Mariam Abdul-Rashid has big plans ahead in her final year of high school at Eastdale Collegiate.

It seems nothing can stand in the way of the talented athlete, who’s set to turn 17 on Sept. 21 -- certainly not the hurdles she’s been breezing past.

Competing for her Pickering-based Speed Academy club this summer, Abdul-Rashid set a personal best and finished fifth in the 400-metre hurdles at the world junior championships in Eugene, Oregon, and swept gold in all three of her individual events at the 2014 Legion Canadian youth championships in Langley, B.C.

With a new school year here, Abdul-Rashid is now focused in on the multiple scholarship offers coming her way and finishing with a bang at the OFSAA provincial championships next June.

“It’s interesting because it went from talking to no universities to talking to a whole bunch really. It’s exciting and I can sign in November if I want to,” she says, fully expecting to do just that.

Abdul-Rashid is a relative newcomer to the hurdles, having focused seriously on them only in the past year or so.

In her first two years at OFSAA, competing in the maximum three individual events, she raced to victory in the 100m, 200m and 400m sprints both times.

Last season, as a first-year senior, she introduced the hurdles and won both the 100m and 400m distances, breaking a 19-year-old OFSAA record in the latter.

Although she recognizes the hurdles are likely where her future success will lie, she hasn’t given up on the sprints and expects to have another difficult decision come time for OFSAA, just as she did last year.

“If the sprints are going better than they did last year then I might have to throw in some more sprints. If not, I might stick with the hurdles,” says Abdul-Rashid. “Last year I decided right before the qualifiers, so I’ll probably stress myself and do that again. I’m not really sure but I know I want to do three events.”

Abdul-Rashid raised many an eyebrow by running 58.38 in the 400m hurdles at the last OFSAA meet, breaking the 1995 record of Nadia Schmiedt.

Despite proving that was no fluke and running a time of 57.42 this summer at the world junior championships, where she was two years younger than most, her competitive nature was very much evident afterward.

“I was happy with it but I was going for a medal, so not completely happy with it,” she recalled. “Over time, I became more proud of it, but at the moment, when I was interviewed right after the race, I was not happy. I was really disappointed. I knew it was a big deal and I knew I did well, but I wanted that medal to bring home.”

Competing nationally against those her age in B.C., Abdul-Rashid did the expected and won all three of her events -- the 200m dash, 100m hurdles and 300m hurdles -- while also winning a bronze with Ontario’s 4x400m relay team.

Abdul-Rashid began training under Tony Sharpe at the Speed Academy, but has worked more closely with Patrick Russell since switching focus to the hurdles. Russell says there is no limit to her potential.

“It’s the drive, and she has the talent. She just will not be beat. And then her mental approach to the training and competition is quite superb,” Russell says. “The ceiling’s unlimited. She could choose to go sprint hurdles or she could choose to go long hurdles, 400-metre hurdles. Either one, I could see her doing well at the Olympic level.”

Abdul-Rashid, who credits both coaches along with her parents Shaka and Akilah for her success, says for the Olympics, she’ll do whatever it takes.

“Honestly if it’s the Olympics, I’ll go for anything.”