Long Live Dontae; Long Live The Woodlands Rams

So if you’ve noticed the last couple of days I’ve been gushing on social media like an obnoxiously proud parent, it’s because I feel like one.

Or at least like a big brother.

Sunday morning Canada’s men’s 4×100 metre relay team crossed the line fourth in the final at the IAAF World Championships, but were promoted to bronze medallists when a replay revealed that the British squad made an illegal exchange. Team Canada’s time — 37.92 seconds — was the fastest recorded by a Canadian quartet since the mid 1990s, when Donovan Bailey, Bruny Surin et al set the relay world ablaze with gold medals at three straight major championships.

A big moment for Canadian athletics, and for a relay program that has come tantalizingly close but has struggled to regain the glory of the Bailey-Surin era.

And it’s a massive milestone around my way because of the guy who ran the third leg.

That’s Dontaé  Richards-Kwok.

I met him in March 2004, at the start of my second season as the volunteer sprints coach at The Woodlands School in Mississauga, Ont. He wandered into practice one afternoon wearing baggy shorts and bulky basketball shoes that looked like buckets on his feet.

Eventually we replaced high-tops with track spikes and talked him out of his outlandish hoop dreams by pointing out that the market for 6-foot power forwards is as soft as the one for guards who can’t shoot.

There were days I yelled at him for slacking in practice, and others when I had to pump him up when races didn’t go as planned — see: SOSSAA, 2004, false start DQ.

One day when he was injured and taking the day off racing I lent him my camera and he returned with this album, littered with selfies and a few really good shots.

But the evolution from raw freshman to world championship medallist has hardly been smooth. It never is, especially in a community like ours, which boasts a roll call of obscenely talented athletes who somehow never made it big.

That’s what make’s Dontaé ‘s medal so special.

He’s not the most talented athlete to come through the Woodlands.

That would be my football and track teammate Granville Mayers, who possesses the best size-speed combination this side of Yasiel Puig — he’s one of the few 39-year-olds on earth whose vertical leap exceeds his age. These days he’s a kettlebell guru hard at work transforming physiques.

And Dontaé  wasn’t even the fastest guy on the team.

That was Tyrone Halstead, who went on to put York University’s track program back on the map before injuries derailed him. He’s currently in training to become the world’s fastest police officer.

But after an interminable line of near-misses Dontaé hit the target this season.

Have there been bumps and chicanes in the road?

Of course.

If you’re an athlete who has never battled injury or disappointment you’re probably not competing at a very high level. In high school a stubborn adductor injury slowed him down. Earlier this season it was a balky hamstring.

But now the leg is healed and Dontaé is the owner of the second-fastest 100-metre time in the country this year (10.12 seconds). He came from nowhere to run his way into the relay program’s final four, and on the curve in Moscow he showed several more experienced sprinters who’s boss and set up Justyn Warner for the anchor leg that secured the medal.


Left to right: Dontaé , Aaron Brown, Gavin Smellie, Justyn Warner. Photo via Athletics Canada

I hope there’s more in store on the track for Dontaé . He’s only 24, and should keep improving for a few years if he stays healthy.

But if this is it for him, I’m fine with it. Making it this far is a bigger deal than he realizes.

And I’m already prouder of him than he will ever know.



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