Athletes seek out top coach McCleary ‘to reach the top’



When you are the coach of the world’s top ranked 100-metre hurdler, the requests are many for you help other athletes reach that plateau.

That was the case last year with Jamaican-born Anthony McCleary as his star athlete, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, was on her way to winning the Diamond League championship.

Phylicia George, who won this year’s inaugural National Track League (NTL) series, and University of Illinois graduate Nikkita Holder are quite open and honest about why they chose to enter the McCleary camp.

“Anthony has produced a great athlete,” said Holder who was among many young fans who turned out to catch a glimpse of Perdita Felicien and get a piece of memorabilia signed at an event in Pickering eight years ago to celebrate Canada’s only gold medalist at the 2003 world championships. “Why not train with the best if you want to go to the next level? In addition, Priscilla is a great mentor and training partner. This is absolutely a great environment to be in.”

George made the phone call nearly a year ago as she was completing physiology and neurobiology studies at the University of Connecticut.

“Coming back home, I wanted a coach that would help me reach the top and when you see what Anthony has done with Priscilla, my decision was easy,” said the 2010 Big East Scholar-Athlete Sport Excellence Award winner.

The newcomers are also benefitting from Lopes-Schliep’s vast experience.

“She provides them with little tips on what she did to get better and how she was able to reach the top,” said McCleary, the 2009 Athletics Canada Coach of the Year. “The girls have become very close. They hang out together and they have become a real tight group.”

George, who won the 100-metre hurdles and 200-metre events at the 2006 national school championships and was selected to represent Canada a few months later at the World Junior Championships in Beijing where she failed to make it out of the first round in the 200-metre event, is enjoying a highly successful season.

She beat 10-time national champion Felicien for the first time at Varsity Stadium and set a personal best 12.76 secs. in Halifax last month.

“This is the first year that I have been able to focus solely on athletics,” said the aspiring medical doctor who earned a 3.9 GPA. “Anthony has also been of a big help…Defeating Perdita means I am running well and I am able to compete with the best in the world.”

Both George and Holder are in South Korea with the national team preparing for the world championships that start tomorrow.

George, who plans to compete until the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics before entering medical school, said her goal is to reach the final while Holder’s expectations are to improve on her personal best 12.91 secs.

“This is my first time representing the senior team at a major championships and I will be striving to do the best I can by giving everything I have,” said Holder who graduated from Dunbarton High School in Pickering and spent a year at Missouri Baptist University before transferring to the University of Illinois.

McCleary has been very impressed with the strides George and Holder have made this summer, declaring them ready for the world championships.

“Phylicia is a good thinker and student of the sport who analyses video regularly to see where she can make improvements,” he said. “Nikkita, on the other hand, is talented and graceful but a bit inconsistent at this stage. She’s recovering from a foot injury that bothered her last year. She needs to stay focused and believe in herself.

“I would like to see both of them make the final in South Korea. If that happens, then I know we are on the right track. They are within range of what other competitors in the world are doing.”

The women’s 100-metre hurdles start on September 2. Canada has won four gold, eight silver and five bronze medals at the worlds which have been held every two years since 1983.

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