What a difference a year makes.
Twelve months ago, Nasiir Willabus-Stephen was dejected and disappointed after finishing .01 secs. behind Ibrahim Ayorinde in an exciting sprint to determine the fastest pre-teen in Ontario.
That the Grade Five student had placed so high was in fact a huge accomplishment since he started running competitively a few months earlier.
At last week’s third annual Toronto International Track & Field Games at Varsity Stadium, Willabus-Stephen was smiling after comfortably winning the “Cisco Fastest Boy” crown in 13.53 secs.
“I was confident I could come back and do what I didn’t last year which was win,” said the poised St. Patrick Catholic School student.
Willabus-Stephen’s mother – Dawn Willabus – is surprised by her son’s vast improvement in the sport.
“Just over a year ago, he was not involved in any sports activity,” said the former York University student-athlete. “He ran some meets at school and started coming home with all these ribbons. That was when we started to take notice and enrolled him in a track club. He has won every race he has competed in since then.”
Devonte Medley of Pickering and Mississauga’s Adrian Forrest were second and third, respectively, in 14.08 and 14.29 secs.
Brianna Gayle of Scarborough proved beyond a doubt that she’s the fastest girl in her age group.
The Macklin Public School student retained the title in 13.59 secs. She breasted the tape ahead of Kelesha Brown and Courtney Chochol, who clocked 14.48 and 14.74 secs., respectively.
“My focus was to come here and win again and I am happy I did,” said the 10-year-old.
Boys and girls under the age of 11 from seven regions across the province competed in qualifying events to determine the participants in the Varsity meet that attracted Olympians from Canada and around the world.
The first ever Scotiabank high school sprint relays featuring Canadian, American and Caribbean teams resonated with the large crowd that included former national sprint stars Ben Johnson and Angela Issajenko, who took part in a pro-am relay and five-time Olympian, Donald Quarrie, who made a guest appearance at the event. The Jamaican legend won a gold medal in the 200-metre final at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and the 100-metre event two years later at the Edmonton Commonwealth Games.
Holmwood Technical demonstrated why they are the Jamaican high school girls’ champions for 10 straight years with a close victory over their Ontario counterparts. Britney Hew set a blistering pace that Shenice Cohen and Osheen Erskine maintained for anchor leg runner Chanice Bonner to complete in 46.36 secs. The time was slower than the team’s 44.82 secs. winning effort at last April’s Penn Relays.
“We came here with a mission and we achieved it,” said coach Dwight Jones. “We really wanted to win this race and showcase our prowess to a wider audience. I am proud of our girls.”
Michigan’s Oakland Community College clinched the boys relay in 40.45 secs. ahead of Calabar, which won this year’s Jamaica high school boys championship, and St. Jago High School. The Jamaicans’ time was 40.48 and 40.63 secs.
Caribbean athletes shone brightly at the meet, which is the second stop in the 2013 National Track League (NTL) grand-prix style series.
Kittitian Jason Rogers won the 100-metre sprint in 10.25 secs. Canadian Justyn Warner and Lerone Clarke of Jamaica finished second and third respectively, in 10.32 and 10.34 secs.
Grenadian Patricia Sylvester established a personal best 1.86 metres in the women’s high jump, while Guyanese cop, Winston George, was the runner-up in the 400-metre race in 46.76 secs.
“I can work with this,” said the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony flag bearer, who was making his first visit to Canada. “This was just my second 400 this season after completing 46.01 secs. in my first race four days earlier.”
A corporal in the Guyana Police Service, George spent six months in Jamaica last year preparing for the Olympics. Two weeks ago, he made the 200-metre qualifying time for the world championships in August.
Manhattan College sprint and hurdling coach Joe Ryan is helping George – who is in New York for two months – prepare for the world championships.
Canadians Shai Davis and Damian Warner clinched the 100-metre and 110-metre hurdles races, respectively.
The NTL series continues in Edmonton on June 29, Burnaby on July 1 and Victoria seven days later.