Wednesday, May 22, 2024

HIGH ACHIEVERS: School change forces stellar sprinter Jorai Oppong-Nketiah to miss high school track season

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By Martin Cleary

The starting gun is scheduled to sound next week for the official opening of the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association track and field season, but one of the elite sprinters will be absent.

Jorai Oppong-Nketiah, who made a spectacular interscholastic debut last May by smashing four girls’ novice records and winning all eight of her 100- and 200-metre races, has been forced to the sidelines for the upcoming high-school season.

But Oppong-Nketiah is perfectly fine having to sit out what would have been her only girls’ junior season. She’s looking forward to her senior seasons in 2025 and 2026.

The Grade 10 student-athlete decided to switch high schools to Louis-Riel from Pierre-de-Blois for the 2023-24 academic year. That meant she was required to miss this track and field season under a national capital association rule, which is intended to prevent schools from building powerhouse programs.

“I wanted to start a new school and the track program also was encouraging to me,” Oppong-Nketiah, 15, said in a phone interview about moving to Riel, which offers a program balancing academic studies and athletic training.


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“I realized I would have to sit out a year. It’s OK because there are other (community) track meets that aren’t part of the high school season.”

Oppong-Nketiah is in her third season with the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club and is coached by Gordon Cave.

“My (Louis-Riel) teammates are disappointed. I’ll be happy for my team’s success. I’m happy for them. I’m happy to support them,” Oppong-Nketiah added.

The NCSSAA track and field campaign opens next week with the West Conference championships on Wednesday and the East Conference championships Thursday. The two-day city championships are May 22-23. All three meets are slated for the Terry Fox Athletic Facility.

The OFSAA East Regional championships are May 30-31 in Belleville, which will qualify student-athletes for the OFSAA championships June 7-9 in London.

Jorai Oppong-Nketiah reacts to her race performance at the 2023 OFSAA Track and Field Championships. File photo

Oppong-Nketiah’s positive attitude already has allowed her to look past her non-high school track season and focus on the future.

“I know I have to train hard to come back stronger,” she said about her approach to her final two high-school seasons as a senior.

Hard work is not an issue for Oppong-Nketiah as she experienced a grinding off-season this winter in preparation for her season with the Lions.

“I had the hardest training I have ever had, but I feel it will have a good impact on the coming season,” she explained about her winter practice sessions inside the Louis-Riel Dome, which features Canada’s only 400-metre indoor track.

Oppong-Nketiah was introduced to track and field seven years ago, when she was a Grade 4 student. One of her elementary school teachers suggested she try out for the track team because he knew she was a fast runner.

She entered the 100- and 200-metre races and scored two first-place results and attracted plenty of attention from her peers because of her speed. But that was her only track season until four years later in Grade 8. Not only did she want to focus on playing soccer for the Ottawa South United organization, but also the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020 and 2021 track and field seasons.

When she returned to track in Grade 8, she wanted to take it more seriously and remembered the Lions had shown an interest in her four years earlier.

Oppong-Nketiah’s approach to her first high-school season was as straightforward as it could get.

“It was my first year officially in track and field and I didn’t know what to do,” she offered. “I didn’t train as much as I train now. I didn’t get as much feedback as I get now.

“I wanted to make it to the finish line and see what happened.”

Oppong-Nketiah created plenty of excitement every time she crossed the finish line. The result sheets showed her in first place in her eight conference, city, regional and provincial high school meets, posting record marks half the time.

“It did surprise me,” she said about the start of her high school season, “but coming to the end of the season I expected a little more.”

Jorai Oppong-Nketiah. File photo

Oppong-Nketiah broke the NCSSAA West Conference girls’ novice 100-metre record twice (12.39 seconds in qualifying and 12.40 seconds in the final) as well as the 200-metre record in both her races (26.03 seconds in qualifying and 25.96 seconds in the final).

At the NCSSAA city championships, she went a little faster, winning the 100-metre final in a record 12.25 seconds, after going 12.49 in qualifying. In the 200 metres, the championship records remained untouched as she went 25.95 seconds in the final and 27.01 seconds in qualifying.

She twice broke the eight-year-old 100-metre record of 12.42 seconds at the OFSAA East Regionals on the Terry Fox track with a qualifying dash of 12.27 seconds and a gold-medal run of 12.19 seconds.

Oppong-Nketiah swept the 100- and 200-metre titles at the OFSAA championships in unmatched, but respective non-record times of 12.34 seconds and 25.17 seconds. Her qualifying sprints were 12.36 seconds and 25.35 seconds.

Competing in the Athletics Ontario girls’ U16 championships last summer as a 14-year-old, she dipped under 12 seconds for the first two times in her young career with a personal-best 100-metre run of 11.85 seconds in qualifying and 11.78 seconds to win the final.

At the Canadian U16 championships, she improved her 200-metre personal best to 24.65 seconds.

When Oppong-Nketiah returns to competition mode, she’ll focus on the Athletics Ontario U16 and U20 championships, the Canadian U16 championships and the Olympic trials in Montreal this summer.

“It will be a good experience for me, even if I don’t qualify for the (Olympic) team,” she said.

Oppong-Nketiah only needed two words to describe her goal for this upcoming outdoor season: “Faster times.”

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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