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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Athletics Canada recognizes outstanding work of track coach

PICKERING -- Recognition in his sport has come to Tony Sharpe both as an athlete, and now a coach.

As an athlete, the ultimate honour came on the podium of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles back in 1984 as a member of Canada's bronze medal winning 4x100m relay team. The latest came from Athletics Canada, naming Sharpe as the recipient of the Gerry Swan Development Coach of the Year.

While the recognition for his coaching with The Speed Academy was certainly appreciated by the Pickering resident, it's not something he chases.

"It's not my sole objective. It's not about me," he says. "I have an Olympic medal, so if I don't get one coaching, that's OK. I'm not in it for me. I'm here for the kids.

"I've already been on an Olympic podium and that's the ultimate. If I can help somebody else get there, that's what I'm here to do."

Since he established The Speed Academy back in 2006, the club has grown in size and stature. The idea was first hatched innocently enough as his son, Mitchell, was playing soccer and hockey, and some dads on the teams suggested Sharpe do some dryland training with the boys.

Three years after the club started and out of the corporate world, Sharpe turned his focus to building up The Speed Academy, getting the proper certification and putting some other things in place. At the time, there was no real long-term vision, just a concept.

"I wanted it to be a place where kids could come and find out track is actually a lot of fun," he says. "It's a little different than hockey and soccer, because we have no tryouts, so you can't get cut.

"My premise was that everyone was welcome. Everyone gets a lane," he continues. "It's your own performance that counts not anybody else's. That the difference between us and other sports for young kids. Expectations are based on kids being as good as they can be.

"With that model, the parents liked it. The sidelines were friendly. Everybody cheered for everybody. It was a real positive environment that we created."

With his wife Colene also on board as a coach, the club has sent more than 20 athletes to the U.S. on scholarships, including their own twin daughters, Sommer and Taylor, who are running track at George Mason. The club has changed a number of lives, providing young athletes with a new direction and goal to follow, combining athletics and academics.

While producing several provincial and national champions, the club had four members on the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championship team. One of those members, Mariam Abdul-Rashid of Oshawa, was named the Youth Athlete of the Year by Athletics Canada.

While Sharpe has a wealth of experience advancing junior athletes to the provincial, national and international levels, he would like a crack at working with senior athletes in the national program at some point. To that extent, he networks with a number of other successful coaches in the sport, exchanging, borrowing and implementing ideas to continue to grow and develop.

Until that opportunity comes along, he will continue to do what he does best, develop athletes to their fullest potential, regardless of what that is.

"Ultimately I want them to compete at the highest level. If that's the Olympics great, but at the highest level," Sharpe says.