Pickering's Tony Sharpe named development coach of the year

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.

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.