Ottawa – Opeongo High School (OHS) had another golden performance this past weekend, with Junior Girl Quinn Coughlin winning gold in both the 300 metre hurdles and 400 metre races at the Ontario Federation of Schools Athletic Association (OFSAA) provincial championship held Thursday through Saturday at the Terry Fox Complex.

The 16-year-old phenom ran a personal best 43.69 in the hurdles final on her way to her first place and a 56.89 in the 400 metre to edge her rival, Gabriella Ruggeri, of Toronto, by under a second as they crossed the finish line. Coughlin ran a personal best of 56.77 in the preliminaries of the 400 on Thursday night.

“I was really hoping to pull off the wins,” she told The Leader Monday. “I knew it was something I could do, but it had to be a good performance.”

She said the results in the 400 were an exact reversal of what occurred in the 2022 OFSAA novice girls final with Ruggeri.

“She beat me last year and this year, I ended up beating her, which was good. She’s a really great competitor.”

Her times this year were better than her rival from Toronto, however that doesn’t always guarantee the outcome in any race.

“It gave me some confidence going into it, but it doesn’t matter until the gun goes off on the track,” she said. “It’s nice knowing going in, but it’s not really relevant.”

Coughlin said she has watched how Ruggeri runs, saying she is a great athlete who races very bravely and loves to get out in front early on.

“I had to try and prepare myself going into that because I know my start isn’t my strong suit,” she explained. “I’m working on it, but it’s still not as good as hers.

“I knew that going in and tried to prepare myself, but she got off so fast and for the first 100 metres I was super tense, which just wastes so much energy,” she added. “Down the backstretch, after about 100 metres, I told myself I was fine and relaxed a bit and she wasn’t pulling away any further than she already was.”

Coughlin said with the staggered start where Ruggeri was to her right and had about a 15-metre lead, she knew that advantage would change in her favour as the race went on.

“So, I tried to stay relaxed, get my knees up, and focused on my form,” she noted. “With 200 metres left, I tried to pick it up again because I know that’s usually about when she starts to die off a little bit.

“At 150 I made my move and passed her and did not look back,” she added. “I kept pumping my arms and held on for dear life.”

She said she was very excited at the finish line, saying after losing on different occasions to Ruggeri last year, it was nice to get the win this year.

“I was super excited.”

Knowing she had run a PB in the preliminaries, gave her an added boost of confidence in the final, she said.

300 Hurdles Race

In the 300 hurdles, she ran the heats in the morning and did not overdo it, knowing she just had to win the race to move on to the final that same afternoon.

“I didn’t want to waste energy because they were really close in time. Going into the final I was seeded third because I didn’t need to run as fast in the prelims.”

The girl with the fastest time, Ella Steel-Douglas, of Windsor, was inside her and she had won the sprint hurdles the day before.

“So, I knew she’s a really good runner and an amazing athlete. I knew I’d have to get out really hard because once somebody inside passes you in a stagger race with a turn, it’s hard to come back from it.

“So, I knew I had to get out as hard as I could and I did,” she added.

On the fourth hurdle, she stuttered a little and almost fell, allowing Steel-Dougals to pass her. She noted before the race she told herself that it was okay if she was passed because she had her 400-metre endurance to draw on and get back in the race.

“I stayed relaxed and she stuttered on the next hurdle so we were back to neck to neck on the home stretch. Over the last two hurdles, we were completely in sync, then over the last hurdle I dug deep, found another gear, and started to pull away.”

While that is the last event in the school track and field season, she is hoping to participate in the Royal Canadian Legion national championship with her Ottawa Lions Club.

“I’m taking a break for a week, then starting my club season with the Lions. We’ll do some twilight meets and hopefully nationals, which are in Sherbrooke, Quebec.”

Earlier this year, Coughlin was drafted into the Canadian Track and Field League and will compete in a few meets there as well as a member of The Bears team.

“I just run two or three races in a different season,” she said.

One of the younger competitors in the CTFL, she said she followed it in 2022 and was really excited to be drafted this year.

“Sometimes it seems surreal,” she said of her successes. “I have goals for myself too that I know are achievable so… But it’s pretty cool to compare myself where I was last year to this year. It’s a big difference.”

She won double silver last year at OFSAA, in the 400 and 800 events.

Looking ahead to next year when she will be a first-year senior competing against Grade 12 and fifth-year athletes, she realizes the challenges that presents.

“My expectations will probably be more focused on my personal results. Instead of trying to run for a medal, it will be more focusing on my race and getting a PB because it’s not as realistic to win.

“But you never know, stuff can happen,” she added smiling.

Grateful to Coach/Parents

Quinn expressed her gratitude to coach Dennis Brash, the longtime volunteer coach at OHS.

“He’s truly amazing. His dedication is just crazy for the team.

“He just loves us all so much, and we love him so much too,” she added. “His dedication is awesome. He’s done so much for me and is a great coach.”

She said she could not forget the great support he receives from her parents, Jonathan and Jackie as well. 

“Mom drives me around a lot and both my parents are super supportive. They both want me to do well, but if I don’t, they’re still happy with me just trying.”

She said she received lots of congratulations from the staff and her friends when she returned for class on Monday.

Coach Brash said the smoky skies cleared just in time for competition that included high schools from every corner of the province.

In addition to Coughlin, senior boy Liam Davis also represented Opeongo in the shot put.

“Liam had an opening throw of 11.61m in the Senior Boys Shot Put,” the coach noted. “Unfortunately, he faulted on his next two throws, and thus was unable to advance as one of the final eight competitors.

“This much-valued experience of throwing with Ontario’s best will put him in a better position for next-years competitions,” he added.

Turning his attention to Coughlin, he said they knew she had the times to win gold in both events but took nothing for granted.

“She just gets stronger and so far, we’re very fortunate that she is staying healthy,” he said.

He said she is a very coachable young woman.

“And keen to perform and very humble,” he remarked.

He has given her direction to take at least a week off from training.

“When they get to this point as athletes and becoming elite athletes, they need more rest,” he stated.

Brash said he sees some similarities between her and Melissa Bishop-Nriagu, Eganville’s Olympian, who he also coached.

“They both have that grit and drive. And that will to succeed is in he training that they do.”

He said OFSAA marks the end of the high school track and field season.

“Success was measured in student participation, being part of a close-knit team,” he said. “Many thanks go out to the athletes who dedicated the past three months in honing their running, jumping and throwing skills and their coaches who were there for teaching moments and support throughout the season.”