Thursday, June 28, 2012

2012 Canadian Track and Field Trials feature profile - part 1: Sam Effah

With the 2012 Canadian Track and Field Trials for the Olympics and Paralympics being held this weekend at Foothills Athletic park, the Calgary City News blog would like to feature local talent. Please peruse parts one, two, three and four.

These Calgary athletes are competing on a national stage, many with high potential to win medals on the International stage at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England. The recent renovations at Foothills Athletic Park make Calgary the ideal place to host the 2012 Canadian Track & Field Trials and other world class track and field events.

Track Trials - part 1: Sam Effah

The runner powers down the straight. In the midday quiet of the Olympic Oval the staccato drumming of his feet is a blur of sound. It’s mid April and he looks good. Very good.

Sam Effah is fine-tuning his technique for the 2012 Olympics and the 23-year-old 100- and 200-metre specialist is right on track.

“He’s really linear,” says coach Brenda van Tighem with satisfaction.

There’s no wasted motion as Effah flies down the track. Every stride carries him directly towards the finish line and, he hopes, eventually into the 100 metre final in London, England, this August.

But first there are the Olympic Trials in Calgary. To guarantee a place on the Olympic team, he'll need to finish in the top three in his race and make the qualifying standard of 10.13.

In 2010, Effah posted a blazing 10.06 and earned the title of the fastest man in Canada that year. Last year an injury interrupted his training, but this year he’s healthy and ready to go. “I definitely feel like I’m back to where I was before the injury,” he says.

But he’s taking nothing for granted. “I’m taking it step by step.” First, he’s focused on securing his place on the Canadian team, he says. Then his goal is reach the 100 metre final in London, “and once I’m in the final, go for a medal.”

As a kid Effah realized he was fast. “I always knew I was randomly quick,” he says. “You know, running around at recess, nobody could catch me sort of thing.” But the Olympics weren’t on his mind then.

Like most kids he had dreams. His first was to play football, something he did in high school and had planned to do in university. But that didn’t work out. “I’m not the biggest guy,” he admits with a smile. His second dream was basketball, but that didn’t come to pass either. He grins. “I was not coordinated with ball.”

Track wasn’t exactly an afterthought -- he had that quickness after all -- but training for track was.

Before his first City championships in Grade 10 he’d had exactly two practices. And he won. In Grade 11 it was the same story. In Grade 12 he skipped the Provincial Championships meet because it conflicted with his high school graduation.

Track was not a priority. Training was an afterthought.

However, later that summer, van Tighem persuaded him to go to the Junior National Track and Field Championships. He finished fifth.

“I thought, if I can go to Junior Nationals and come fifth without even training, then with training maybe I could do something.”

And he has. He has traveled, seen more of the world than he had ever imagined he would - China, Korea, India - and he has excelled in his chosen sport. He was four times Canadian Interuniversity track athlete of the year and holds the CIS 60-metre record at 6.57. Only three Canadians have ever run the 100 metres faster than his 10.06.

Training is now something Effah loves. “It’s changed from something I didn’t look forward to to something I really want to do,” he says. “I know that with each stride, I’m getting faster.”

Bad luck in the 100-metre final in the 2010 Commonwealth Games reinforced that determination. “I didn’t have the race I wanted and I acquired an injury. But I think everything happens for a reason,” he says.

“It made me realize that there is always more work to be done. I’m now working harder to make sure that the next time my blocks don’t slip. Next time I have the opportunity to win.”

He tries to pass that understanding on to the youngsters he has worked with in the Dino Youth track program, but even more, he encourages them to try a lot of different things.

“You never know what you’re going to be good at, so try everything and see what happens.”

When you find your passion, then focus, he says. To become one of the best in the world requires commitment. “It is a sacrifice, but if you like what you’re doing and you’re having fun, then it’s awesome.”

For Sam Effah, third choice was the charm. Track is his passion. “I want to run until my legs won’t let me run any more,” he says.

***Submitted by 65-year-old master sprinter Betty Dargie.

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