When it comes to Annie Reader, Randy Supak isn't the last bit shy about offering praise.
"This girl is an absolute phenom," said the head coach of the St. Basil track and field team.
Based on what Reader did last Wednesday, when the 15-year-old not only won, but set a new record in the girls' 1,500-metre, open steeplechase competition, Supak may very well be right.
Just a Grade 9 student, Reader opened the two-day, City High School Track and Field Meet by unseating last year's steeplechase champion, Tessa Kasch of St. Mary's, and bettering the mark established by Sir James Dunn's Christine Thomas in 2007.
Reader finished the often grueling race in 5:53.26, while Thomas recorded a 5:55.10 two years ago.
Kasch's winning time last year was 5:55.72.
And now Reader, who also finished first in last week's midget 1,500-metre and 3,000m races, sets her sights on the Northern Ontario Secondary Schools Association (NOSSA) championships.
The two-day event begins Thursday in North Bay.
"I surprised myself by winning and now I'll try to have a better time at NOSSA," said Reader, who'll take aim at the Northern Ontario record of 5:27.14, set by Thomas in 2007.
Last year's NOSSA event was won by Kasch in 5:39.90.
"I'll prepare for the race this week," added Reader, who admitted her surprise at winning the city's steeplechase. "I was really nervous beforehand. I knew there'd be a lot of older kids and I wasn't even sure I wanted to run the race."
In fact, Reader didn't find out she was entered until the day before the city meet.
After speaking to the Saints running coach, Eric McLean, who thought Reader would do well, Supak slotted in his young star.
In St. Basil's final practice at the Jo Forman Track, Supak said he "put the steeples out on the track and showed her two ways to jump over them and the water pit."
"It was a tough race and second place was right behind me," Reader said of Kasch, who finished the city meet just .16 of a second off the winning time. "I sprinted after going over the last barrier and I was thrilled to win."
"Annie is an amazing runner," said Kasch. "She ran a good race."
When asked if Reader, who ran track and cross-country a year ago as a Grade 8 student at St. Ann elementary school, could grow into one of the city's elite runners, Supak said: "I think she already is. She has a lot of natural ability and she's focused on what she has to do."
Supak, who's coached track for several years, said Reader and her twin sister, Chelsea, went out for track practice a couple of months ago.
Chelsea Reader will also attend the NOSSA meet, after winning the city championship in the midget 800m run.
The Saints coach said he was immediately impressed by both sisters.
Supak watched the steeplechase and said he wasn't shocked Annie Reader won, "but I was totally shocked when she set a record. We knew she'd do well, but that went above and beyond."