By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Jeff Sanderson says no two hurdlers—even the good ones—are exactly the same.
“Each hurdler has to develop their own little flair, their own way that they succeed,” said Jeff Sanderson, who coaches the intricacies of the discipline at Sydenham High School, where they know a few things about success.
Merik Wilcock has molded himself “into what works for him,” Sanderson said.
It seems to be working very well.
Among those currently waving the flag of Hurdles Inc., Wilcock is a junior-aged athlete whose success this year has encompassed every meet he’s entered. Others have had their chance in races that Wilcock did not contest, but when he’s been on the track, the line to the podium has started somewhere behind him.
He took three-tenths of a second off the modern Kingston Area record—set nine years ago by Sydenham alumnus Dave McGinn—surpassing it in both the heats and final. Then he won at the eastern Ontario championships a week ago by more than seven-tenths of a second, a significant margin in an event that took just 14.55 seconds to complete.
“He’s technically very good,” Sanderson said. “He’s bigger, stronger, works out a lot in the weight room; he’s doing a lot of running … and he’s very confident.
“Headwind or tailwind this year, it doesn’t seem to change his race. Look at KASSAA—they had no wind (in the heats) and then a head wind (in the final),” both of which Wilcock won. “That’s a sign of being technically sound and technically comfortable,” Sanderson said. “You never know what you’re going to get … but ultimately you’ve just got to go, and he’s done that really well.”
Wilcock said some of his training this year has been devoted to preparing for adverse conditions. “We’ve been training really hard for things like that, so I’m able to push through,” he said. “We’ll do more resistance training, when we’re doing our hurdles in practice we’ll spread them out a little bit farther to make up for the distance, as if you’re taking the wind straight on.”
In the intermediate hurdles at EOSSAA—another event where he is undefeated this year going into the East Region meet Thursday—Wilcock encountered both extremes in the same race.
“There was a very heavy tailwind in the 100-metre direction, but on the backstretch there was a huge wind right in my face, but it was good,” he said. “I went into the hurdles well. If it’s a headwind you really have to power through it, and try to buckle down to get to the hurdle with the stride that you want, and when it’s a tailwind you just have to bring your legs up faster because you’ll come to the hurdle more quickly.
“You don’t really notice it too much. When you’re going, you just kind of feel it out.”
In his inaugural high school season, Wilcock got as far as OFSAA in the 100-metre hurdles, where he was 15th, six spots behind Napanee’s Ryland Clark, with whom he’d traded victories throughout the season.
This year, the two have renewed the rivalry, and though Wilcock has prevailed each time, “it pushes me when I’m out there, to know that someone is by my side constantly.”
The keenness of that rivalry perhaps manifested itself in what Sanderson describes as increased motivation within Wilcock to excel this year.
“He had a good year last year and I think he came out of that with a real positive mindset, wanting to do well,” Sanderson said. “He was the one initiating conversations, ‘When do we start practice,’ and any time I’d start early, he would always be there.
“You could tell right from the very beginning that he wasn’t just going to be a one-year wonder and hope that things went well. The second year he was going to work to make it go well. He deserves exactly what he’s getting, in terms of his results.”
Wilcock said his experience last year “kind of opened my eyes.” As a midget, he never cracked the 15-second barrier, but he’s run under it all season, and now is posting times that are half a second better than anything he ran last year.
“I didn’t train as much as I’ve done this year,” Wilcock said. “It was my first year of hurdles and I saw all the talent and competition, as well as some role models at my school. It pushed me to train harder and try and do well.”
To that end, Wilcock no longer plays hockey.
“Now it’s football at the school and training year-round for track,” he said. “I’d love to play one of the two sports at university, either track or football, but I’ll just keep training and I guess we’ll see what happens.”
Sanderson says Wilcock is a pleasure to coach.
“He’s probably one of the most polite kids you’re ever going to meet,” Sanderson said. “We never end a practice without him saying thank-you. Anytime you make a comment about how his race was, it’s, ‘Thank-you, thank-you very much.’ He’s very humble and very positive.
“What more could you ask for?”