Effah right on track

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:27 AM ET

For a second, Sam Effah sounds stumped.

Asked where he stacks up in Canada’s current ranking of 100-metre sprint stars, the soft-spoken speedster responds with a measure of hesitation and even a hint of oh-no-not-this-question in his voice.

Then, finally, “Uhhh, I think ... Yeah, I’m No. 1.”

That was five weeks ago.

There’s no doubt now, not after Effah covered 100 metres

of synthetic rubber in a blistering 10.06 seconds, the best clocking by a Canadian sprinter in more than seven years.

Only four other Canucks — former world-record holder Donovan Bailey, Harry Jerome, Nicolas Macrozonaris and Bruny Surin — have ever registered times in that stratosphere.

Heading into this weekend, only 14 sprinters in the world had gone faster so far this season.

“Hearing that time, it was a good feeling,” Effah said. “But I think the thing is I’m not going to get tied down to it. I think the initial thing was, yeah, be excited. But, at the same time, I have to focus and be consistent. I don’t want to just run that time once. I want to do it several times and continue to get faster.

“Get excited, but don’t lose focus on the task at hand, the goal — the Olympics.”

Thanks in large part to his own modest nature, the 21-year-old Effah might be the best Calgary-based athlete you’ve never heard of.

That probably won’t last long.

Just four years after getting serious about the sport, the Sir Winston Churchill grad is the fastest of Canada’s current crop of up-and-coming sprinters.

He qualified for the 2010 Commonwealth Games with 10.22 seconds of work in mid-June, a time that would’ve equalled the best result by a Canadian at the 2008 Summer Olympics and been good enough to advance to the semifinal in Beijing.

He shattered his own personal-best four weeks later in sun-scorched Florida, crossing the finish line in 10.06 seconds in the 100-m final at the North America, Central America and Caribbean Under-23 Track and Field Championships.

He returned to Calgary with a meet record and a gold medal. Heck, Nike even called, asking him to wear their gear.

As a result, he’ll arrive at this week’s national track and field championship in Toronto with a bulls-eye on his back, all of a sudden the guy to beat in the glamour event of athletics. He will also be a top contender in the 200-m dash.

You could forgive Effah if he strutted to the start line at Toronto’s Varsity Centre. Just don’t count on it.

“You always see guys talking smack to each other,” Effah said. “But I personally look at running as just running in a straight line. It’s nothing more than that. My parents have kind of kept me humble, and I want to stay that way.”

Why change now?

“He proves it with his running, and that’s where his confidence is,” said Effah’s coach, Brenda Van Tighem. “I don’t think it’s in the talk. I don’t think it’s in the showmanship. That’s not him.”

In fact, it’s what sets him apart.

Glenroy Gilbert, who teamed with Bailey, Surin and Robert (Blastoff) Esmie to claim gold in the 4x100-m relay at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and now coaches the national men’s relay program, has noticed that — in a discipline dominated by larger-than-life personalities — Effah’s feet remain planted firmly on the ground.

“I think it’s actually the most important feature he possesses,” Gilbert said. “Modesty is really a good quality to have as a sprinter. I mean, you can be modest in the way you accept congratulations on your abilities, but you still have to go out there and compete fiercely when it counts, and I think Sam can do both.

“Just because you can run fast doesn’t mean you have to bring along the bravado. You need to have that, but then you need to know when to check it, and I think Sam is developing that.

“He’s quite grounded, and being that way, I think, will go a long way.”

Question is, how far?

After Effah won a gold medal at the provincial high school championship in Grade 10 with essentially no track-specific training, a close friend encouraged him to join a club program, telling him he had a shot to someday compete at the Olympics.

“My first reaction was not disbelief, but it was a far fetched goal. I was far from that point,” Effah said. “But I did keep it in mind. I just try to never limit myself. As far off as I was at that point, I kept it in the back of my mind and hoped that one day ...”

All of a sudden, that day doesn’t seem so far off.

Just over two years from today, athletes from around the globe will march into London’s Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Games.

Effah intends to be among them.

“The times I’ve been running, since they’ve been in the realm of Olympic finals, it made me realize this could actually be a reality, and that’s a huge motivation for me,” Effah said. “I want to represent Canada. I want to be that next guy — be that next Bailey or whoever.

“I want to be on that world stage. Hopefully, in 2012, I can do that.”


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