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Spectacular run gives Sydenham silver in OFSAA relay

June 9, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

OSHAWA — They came Saturday afternoon anticipating an opportunity to witness something special.

When the final race of the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations track and field meet was done, it was difficult to tell who was happier — this cadre of Sydenham High School 4×400 relay alumni who watched their former teammates and successors complete a stunning run to a silver medal, or the four current Golden Eagles who pulled it off.

“I’m so happy for the boys,” said Hayden Peters, now a student at St. Francis Xavier University, and one of the relay alumni in the stands Saturday afternoon. It was difficult for Peters to find the right words to express just how happy.

“Unbelievable,” he said. “Amazing,” he added, finding two that, in the europhia of the moment, would have to do.

Ben Trickey, Jay Dearborn, Eamon Hillis and Wade Embury combined to give Sydenham its second silver medal in the event in three years, the only medals ever by a Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association team in boys 1,600-metre relay. The season in between was one of disappointment, however, as Sydenham was disqualified last year in the heats for an illegal pass of the baton.

Peters was on the team last year with Trickey, Dearborn and Embury, and he dedicated his medal-winning performance the next day in the 400-metre hurdles to them.

Dearborn said the decision was made immediately after year’s race not to let it happen again. “We’ve been thinking podium for about 12 months,” he said.

The group trained collectively during the summer. “Then it got real serious over the fall,” Dearborn said. “We figured we could go just as fast as last year, if not a little faster. For three of us it was our last year of high school. It was more like forget about last year, let’s go make it special.

“For 12 months we approached it that way, and it paid off.”

Sydenham, seeded third coming into the event, had the second-fastest time in qualifying Friday night. In Saturday afternoon’s final Trickey led off and he was the first runner to the first exchange.

Dearborn, the javelin thrower who runs second, fell as low as fifth on the backstretch before rallying to be second to pass the baton at the second exchange. Hillis, the new man, held his own, keeping Sydenham in medal position against an ever-increasing challenge from behind.

Then came Embury. Third among the anchors to receive the baton, he faced about a 30-metre deficit behind the race leader.

It didn’t stay 30 metres for long.

Already the owner of a bronze medal in the 400 metres Friday and a silver from the 200 metres about 70 minutes before this race, Embury brought the crowd to his feet as first he caught the second-place runner from Pickering, then bore down on the runner from Kitchener Cameron Heights. With about 100 metres to go, Embury was within a couple of strides of the leader.

It was a spectacular performance. Embury would finish his leg in 47 seconds, a second faster than his time in the 400; some suggested he likely ran the first 200 metres of his relay lap faster than he ran the 200 final.

As a result there wasn’t much left in the tank for Embury’s final 80 metres, and he couldn’t match his opponent when he picked up his pace. For Sydenham, the storybook finish would have to be merely incredible instead.

“I gave it my all,” said Embury, who collapsed on the track and laid there, on his back, for some time before Peters arrived, bent over, wrapped his arms around him and lifted him to his feet in a bear hug.

“I thought I had it in the last 100 metres,” Embury continued. “Coming off the corner, I thought he was mine. He just out-kicked me. I used up too much energy catching him in the first 300 metres.”

Even so, over the weekend, Sydenham’s time improved by more than five seconds from a week ago, a staggering gain in this event. From the beginning of May the time came down every time the team raced, ultimately improving by almost 16 seconds over the course of six meets.

“Everybody ran a great race,” Embury said.

To put it mildly.

“Three of the four had such a sad OFSAA last year,” their coach, Leslie Lawlor, said. “They were pretty focused and determined to get back here but I think that finish is beyond their wildest imagination.

“The goal was really just to be a team and try and get back to OFSAA. To make the final was a secondary goal but to run like that in a final is a beautiful thing.”

Lawlor recalled the events of last year, when the boys finished first in their heat only to be disqualified some time later. “They were devastated,” she said.

“To not give up, to not be angry and negative about it and not be afraid to risk trying again is part of the beauty.”

Another part is the way Hillis fit in, Lawlor said, “in an unprecedented way.”

“We didn’t really know (if he was capable) until we saw the first race, about six weeks ago, and we thought, ‘There it is. Eamon can do this. He can absolutely do this.’

“I’ve known that he was progressively going to become a better runner but that’s a lot of pressure, not only to accept the job but to be able to step in and help this group get back here. I’m just really proud of him for being able to step in.”

For Embury, the best part of the race was difficult to define.

“I’m still trying to get over everything that happened,” he said, almost 30 minutes after the race. “It’s a lot to take in.

“I’m still kind of in shock. Two medals in one day, that’s a little crazy for me.”

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One Comment
  1. Tim Hillis permalink

    Great Kids …Great coach…

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