Elite eight from Speed Academy heading to nationals in P.E.I.

Oshawa's Mariam Abdul-Rashid among those representing Pickering club

PICKERING -- When eight members of the Speed Academy head to Prince Edward Island next month for the Canadian national youth track-and-field championships, they will do so with one goal in mind.

To come back with a solid medal haul.

"I think they all can medal, but there are a couple that anything less than a win they'd probably disappointed," Speed Academy coach Tony Sharpe says of his group of young athletes. "Well, not really disappointed, but I think they are going to nationals with the expectation to win ... That's the given. We're going there to win."

The elite eight consist of Brandon Bobb (100m sprint and relay), Keyshaun Cumberbatch (300m run and relay), Taylor Sharpe (400m run and relay), Mariam Abdul-Rashid (100m, 300m and relay), Joshua Cunningham (200m, 400m and relay), Myles Williams (400m and relay), Tacuma Anderson-Richards (high jump, triple jump) and Zack Lakeit (pentathlon).

Their inclusion on the team represents 20 per cent of the roster.

While Sharpe repeats his belief that all should be in line to medal, the two athletes he is most referring to when the discussion entered the likelihood of winning gold are Abdul-Rashid and Anderson-Richards.

Abdul-Rashid was a triple OFSAA gold medalist this past high school season at Eastdale Collegiate in Oshawa, while Anderson-Richards won at nationals last year and most recently took home the senior national crown at the trials in Calgary.

Meanwhile, the inclusion of eight on this year's Team Ontario roster is up from the three named this time a year ago.

That development, understandably so, brings a big smile to Sharpe's face and he says the reason behind the spike in high-level athletes within his club is a combination of their dedication to their craft, the help of a new member of the coaching staff and a change in general focus.

"When we started the club it was sort of recreational almost. Since 2006 we've changed a bit of the direction," Sharpe says. "Our focus became on being more of a high-performance organization and I think that has sort of attracted some of the more talented kids and we've brought in some better coaching resources," Sharpe said.

Case in point is the addition of level 3 hurdles/jump coach in Patrick Russell, who is a teacher at Bill Crothers in Unionville.

"He's had a huge impact. He came onboard back in September and has had a huge impact on the jumpers and I've got to give him credit. Anything related to hurdles or jumps, Patrick owns it."

"There's a great talent pool in Durham Region and when you put the right talent with the right coaching together, you start to see the results," he says.

The championship will be held on Aug. 17-19 in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Canada's Morales Williams riding with confidence as NCAA indoor 400m champion Morales Williams riding success with confidence.

Christopher Morales Williams

Christopher Morales Williams, of Vaughan, Ont., is seen in action for the University of Georgia during the NCAA Southeastern Conference indoor championships, in Fayetteville, Ark., in a Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Georgia, Wesley Hitt, *MANDATORY CREDIT* GAC

The switch flipped for Christopher Morales Williams in the time of the 2023 outdoor season.

Last spring, the runner from Vaughan, Ont., learned to control his negative thoughts, discovered that it was OK to feel nervous before races, and built his confidence.

Morales Williams credits the change in philosophy for the recent addition of NCAA national champion to his growing resume.