Learning to burst out of the blocks made all the difference for Sciera Opaleke.
The Grade 10 Elmwood High student’s strong starts made for a pair of joyous finishes at the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association MILK Provincial Track & Field Championships earlier this month. Opaleke, 15, took home gold in the junior varsity girls’ 100m and 200m dashes.
Coach Tyler Chochinov kept a close eye on Opaleke at the beginning of the races, and helped her make small adjustments before she put her feet in the blocks again.
"It was her first year using blocks, so it was a matter of figuring out what she was comfortable with," he said. "When she first started using blocks, we noticed she went up to a vertical position pretty early on in her acceleration phase, so one of the tweaks we made was just staying low."
Opaleke acknowledged it was a challenge getting comfortable with the blocks.
"First you have to learn how to use them, then you have to find what’s comfortable for you. At different track meets, they have different blocks, so you have to find your position," she said.
Even with the meticulous attention to detail, Opaleke admitted the golds were a bit of a surprise to her.
"I knew who my competition was, and I knew that before when I raced the girls, I didn’t win, so I didn’t have very high expectations," Opaleke said. "I went there to just beat (my personal bests), not beat everybody else."
A headwind prevented Opaleke from beating those personal bests, but it was good enough for the six-year racing veteran, who also plays on the school volleyball and basketball teams.
She said she started running more intensely last summer, causing everything to click.
"Track was something that I liked to do when I was little, but not something that I put my heart into," she said. "As I got older, track started to be my thing."
Opaleke, who is not a member of a track club outside of school, said the 100m is her favourite race since it’s a straightaway race.
Chochinov said Opaleke is pulled in a few different directions as a multi-sport athlete, but admires the raw talent she displays.
"It’s hard to find time to train for track specifically," he said, "but she has all the potential in the world to go where she wants."
Other first-place finishers from northeast Winnipeg schools were: Immanuel Christian’s Jesse Kuik (JV boys’ 700g javelin throw), River East’s Sean Wake (varsity boys’ 100m dash) and Isaac Henry (JV boys’ tetrathlon long jump) , Elmwood’s Jean-Baptiste Ajua (varsity boys’ 3000m run).