Connor Black after finishing second at Victoria, BC’s Beacon Hill Park in 2017. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall

© Copyright – 2018 – Athletics Illustrated

Connor Black of the University of Guelph Gryphons track and cross-country team had his eyes on the Canadian national university cross-country championships (U Sport) for his entire five-year varsity career. During the 2017 edition of the meet that took place in Victoria, BC, he finished second to Laval’s Yves Sikubwabo, who graduated in the spring of 2018. Black ran most of the race with Sikubwabo, but was dropped late in the race to the superior kick.

Conditions were very different in Kingston, Ontario’s Fort Henry Park in comparison to Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park. In Victoria, the rain pelted down in mild temperatures with little wind. In contrast, Kingston, as expected, was cold and the chilly temperatures were exacerbated by gusty wind.  Perhaps the conditions favoured the Southern Ontario-dwelling Black.

“It was a very emotional win. I don’t think there wasn’t a day in the past five years I didn’t think about wanting to win the U Sports Cross Country Championships title,” said Black.

The fifth-year captain from Forest, ON – a small town with fewer than 3,000 people nestled on the shores of Lake Huron approximately half-way between Sarnia and London – won his final cross-country race – a goal that he envisioned as a rookie. He expected the win on November 10.

“My expectations going in were to challenge for the title, as I was the top returner and my belief in my ability to perform when it counts. That being said, it was a thoughtful process as I had been banged up with a foot injury for the prior month and I had to make some big adjustments with training,” shared Black. “At one point, the day before, I just told myself to quit analyzing and hold my belief strong – that the prep was as good as I could make it, that I was very rested, and that I know how to perform. The team was looking for redemption from OUAs. We all had the intent to take a team title. I would say it was a trust we had to have in one another to chase the win, as we had a few unknown variables – my health, and our 2/3/4 guys running how we know we can, and not how they did at OUs.”

The Ontario University Athletics Cross Country Championships took place at Thames Valley Golf Course on October 27, in London, ON. By their standards they underperformed. The Gryphons finished third behind McMaster and Queens University.

At U Sports, the Gryphons finished second to the Calgary Dinos who finished with three All-Canadians as Russell Pennock, who led the team. He was followed in by Eric Lutz (9th), Stefan Daniel (10th), Ryan Grieco (21st) and Tyler Kiyonaga (32nd). Calgary finished with a team score of 75, 14 points better than Guelph and 19 ahead of third place McMaster. It was a close race and an emotional individual win.

Asked about his personal performance, Black said, “The race was easily the best I have ever executed. It was gnarly windy at the Fort on Saturday, and when I went out with guys to grab coffee in the morning I knew I would just need to chill out for about 6-7k as no-one was going to be getting away in that windstorm.”

He did just that, getting out comfortably and settling in the top-30, looking relaxed.

“Without any concern of touching the front for a while, during the second loop, I kept it as exactly the first; chilled out, as there was lots of running left. I had to make an important decision as we finished 5k, as I found myself at the front of the chase-pack.”

“I was about 15m off the lead-pack, so, I looked back to see where guys in the chase were, looking to tuck in and out of the win. It looked like the guys behind me were getting tired, so I made a quick move up to the lead-pack to get out of the wind.”

“Near the end of the third loop, I really started to think I was going to win. I felt amazing. I knew there was a lot of wind to take with 2.5k of running left, so the plan was to wait as long as possible. With 500m to go, the last switchback, I thought for a moment about going, as I was getting antsy, but I told myself to trust in my kick,”

Trusting in his kick would require incredible patience and faith in himself, as he was outkicked during the final lap in Victoria after running a patience-style game against Sikubwabo. Coming off of injury, no athlete can be sure that their kick will be available during the late stages of a championships race, but his patience paid off.

“I felt too good at that point. We came up the last hill and John Gay surged, I matched and passed, and sent it for home down the chute. It was very emotional as I crossed the line, as it was a bit of pure disbelief, that I accomplished it in my final cross-country race.”

Team Standings

Calgary, 75
Guelph, 89
McMaster, 94
Laval, 131
Queen’s, 149
Western, 173
UBC, 235
Trinity Western, 242
Victoria, 243
Toronto, 279
Manitoba, 331
StFX, 344
Laurentian, 385
Alberta, 405
Sherbrooke, 427
Regina, 540
Laurier, 541
UQAM, 650
Montreal, 700

First Team All-Canadians

Connor Black, Guelph (31:13.0)
Jean-Simon Desgagnés, Laval (31:13.6)
Russell Pennock, Calgary (31:16.2)
John Gay, UBC (31:17.0)
Isaiah Frelink, Western (31:18.5)
Caleb De Jong, Trinity Western (31:25.3)
Nick Colyn, Trinity Western (31:28.3)
Second Team All-Canadians
Jack Sheffar, Western (31:33.1)
Eric Lutz, Calgary (31:34.1)
Stefan Daniel, Calgary (31:36.7)
Max Turek, McMaster (31:38.0)
Mitchell de Lange, Queen’s (31:42.0)
Alexis Lepage, Laval (31:44.0)
Alex Drover, McMaster (31:45.1)

Award Winners

Athlete of the Year:

Connor Black, Guelph
Rookie of the Year:

Ruben Sansom, Queen’s
Student-Athlete Community Service Award:

Craig Klomp, Toronto

Coach of the Year:

Doug Lamont, Calgary