Almost from the instant the starter’s pistol fired Wednesday to begin the senior women’s 1,500-metre run at the City High Schools Track and Field Championships, Rhiannon Johns’s victory looked secure.
Last summer, however, it was anything but a sure thing.
The 16-year-old Sir James Dunn student pulled out to a commanding lead at Jo Forman Track and held on to cross the line in five minutes, 09.9 seconds, almost 14 seconds faster than the second-place runner, Eagles teammate Erin Mallinger.
“I came in expecting to do well,” said Johns, who also won the race as a junior in 2006. “But I never like to say I’m going to win before a race. I never just expect I’m going to win.”
That’s partly because the Grade 11 student has already dealt with her share of disappointment during her fledgling career. Her status as one of the city’s elite runners was challenged last spring when a hip flexor injury prevented her competing in the 1,500 metres at the Northern Ontario Secondary Schools Association meet.
Johns did compete regionally in the 3,000 metres her second-best race and qualified for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championships, but finished 24th at provincials.
It took consultations with two different physiotherapists before the injury was diagnosed.
“I was injured in mid-April, and it affected me all through to OFSAA in June,” Johns said. “I had to take two solid weeks off after that.”
Following a little rest and some encouragement from Eagles coach Lorri Purnis, Johns was back on the track. By mid-July, the runner had posted a personal-best 5:03 in the 1,500 metres.
“Rhiannon has a very high level of fitness,” said Purnis, who is also convener of the two-day city meet. “She also has a good competitive brain and she was able to heal the injury quite quickly.
“That personal best she had in the 1,500 was huge, especially after having to bail out of the race at NOSSA. But she never worried, she came back and trained to do well.”
Johns became serious about the sport in high school, beginning with a tryout for the Dunn’s cross-country team in Grade 9.
“That didn’t go so great,” Johns said with a laugh.
She fared little better as a midget steeplechaser, but Purnis helped her find her form in long-distance competition.
“When she came in in Grade 9, she wasn’t in my top five to go to OFSAA,” Purnis said. “But she was always one of those girls who came out to greet the bus, to say goodbye, and was train, train, train.
“By the time she was in Grade 10, she was just amazing. She loves to run.”
Johns says her coach is largely responsible for not only her initial success, but also her successful return from injury.
“All the credit goes to Lorri Purnis,” Johns said. “She encouraged me all along, even when I wasn’t winning.”
Johns, who also competes in today’s 3,000-metre race, will join Mallinger and both the third and fourth-place finishers at NOSSA in North Bay, May 31 to June 1.
St. Basil’s Stephanie Kwolek was third Wednesday while St. Mary’s Vanessa Chaimbrone was fourth.
In the senior men’s race, Dominik Graf and Reg Peer of Sir James Dunn finished 1-2. St. Mary’s runner John Harvey was third and St. Basil’s Brian Bonell was fourth.
In the senior women’s 400-metre dash, Jesse Nanne of St. Mary’s was first, Kendra Wetzl of Sir James Dunn was second, Stevie Reville of St. Mary’s was third and Erin Ratelle of Sir James Dunn was fourth.
In the the men’s 400, Tom Hicks of White Pines finished first, Pascal Burton of Notre Dame was second, Izaak Wickstrom of St. Basil was third and Ryan Poser of Sir James Dunn was fourth.
Celene Bailey of Sir James Dunn was first in women’s 100-metre hurdles, followed by Korah’s Sarah Fortais, Sir James Dunn’s Carley Boynton and Sir James Dunn’s Emma Simard.
Senior men’s 110-metre hurdles was won by Eric Noland of Sir James Dunn, who was followed by teammates Jake Burmaster and Patrick Noland.
Reville won senior women’s high jump, beating out Korah’s Jessica Bauer, Bawating’s Sarah Crispell and St. Basil’s Mandy DeVincenzo.
Dustin Supak of St. Basil led the senior men, ahead of Mike Weimer of White Pines, Shawn Sullivan of St. Basil and Dave Guilietti of Bawating.
Bauer won the senior women’s javelin event,, white White Pines’ Bridgit Hindermeier was second, St. Basil’s Lauren Wozny was third and Bawating’s Amy Olar was fourth.
The Dunn’s Jason Bergamin won the senior men’s javelin, edging out teammate Daniel Lalonde. Bawating’s Dave Pipoli was third and St. Mary’s Cody MacDonald fourth.
In the open steeplechase, Christine Thomas of the Dunn led the women’s event, coming in ahead of St. Mary’s Alysha Gjos, White Pines’ Karen Alexander and Sir James Dunn’s Shannon Delarosbil.
John Harvey of St. Mary’s led the men’s open 2,000-metre steeplechase, ahead of teammate Sean Vardy, Sir James Dunn’s Ian Connell and St. Basil’s Andrew King.