Olympic bronze medal hurdler, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, was Anthony McCleary’s only prized possession when he won his first Athletics Canada Coach of the Year Award three years ago.
With this success, the Jamaican-born coach was able to attract other top athletes to his stable. They include first-time Olympians Justyn Warner, who established a personal best 10.09 secs. in the London Games 100-metre semifinals and hurdlers Phylicia George and Nikkita Holder, who also set personal best times last year.
McCleary was named the top coach in the country in 2012 ahead of British Columbia’s Gerry Dragomir, Dave Scott-Thomas of Guelph and Sarnia’s Joel Skinner.
“This award says I am on the right track and that I have a good team around me that makes me look good,” said McCleary. “Everybody is on the same page and that’s what makes our camp successful.”
McCleary and former national sprinter, Desai Williams, run the Elite Edge Club in Pickering that is also home to young sprinters Tremaine Harris and Crystal Emmanuel, who competed at the London Olympics. He was quick to point out that Kittitian-born Williams is a key part of the club athletes’ success.
In the past few years, Williams has arranged for club members to train in St. Kitts at least twice a year.
“The only disappointment for me is that Desai’s name is not attached to that Coach of the Year accolade,” said McCleary. “He has just been as instrumental in the success our athletes have enjoyed. For us to compete against the rest of the world, we need to train in a warm environment in the winter and St. Kitts has warmly welcomed us with open arms giving us full access to their facilities. That’s because of Desai and his contacts. He’s also a fantastic coach when it comes to the sprints and hurdles.”
Both McCleary and Williams are coaches at the National Sprint & Speed Development Training Centre in Toronto. McCleary’s focus is on a small group of elite level athletes, selected “Rising Stars” and identified “Team 2016” athletes while Williams fills the role of sprint coach, concentrating on a selected group of Athletics Ontario-identified high performance stream athletes.
McCleary’s passion for athletics was whetted in Jamaica where he competed at the high school level before coming to Canada in 1980 at age 13. His hopes of representing Canada in the 400-metre event at the 1988 Olympics were dashed when he suffered a stress fracture injury.
The married father of three, who singles out 1976 Montreal Olympics 200-metre gold medallist Don Quarrie as his sports idol, was unexpectedly launched into coaching in 1993 when the Oshawa Legions coach suddenly quit the position.
He has been coaching Lopes-Schliep since 1999 when the then 16-year-old turned to him for assistance.
The 2009 world championship silver medallist and 2011 Diamond League winner missed the London Olympics after finishing fifth at the national championships in Calgary last June. Her trail foot clipped the seventh hurdle, slowing her down and almost causing her to veer out of her lane.
Lopes-Schliep, 30, endured a disappointing 2012 season after giving birth to her first child in September 2011.
“She’s back in training since the middle of November after taking some time off,” said McCleary. “She’s going to give it one more shot. There are the world championships later this year and we will see how it goes.”
By RON FANFAIR