Instead of thinking about years of coaching tips in track and field the night before provincials last weekend, Illya Omelyanchuk was watching YouTube videos from the 2016 Olympics.
With very little formal coaching and relatively new to the sport of long jump, the grade 10 student at Notre Dame did something only seven other athletes from the school have done: win a gold medal at provincials.
His gold was the first since a victory in the junior long jump four years ago.
To be fair, Omelyanchuk didn’t think he had much of a chance to medal, after he was bested in the zone meet in Stettler the week before. His best jump at that meet was only 6.13 metres and before the competition, he said a number of the athletes were talking about regularly jumping 6.40m and beyond.
“I wasn’t really expecting to do that well. It’s my first year doing high school track and I never really practiced for it. Did decent at zones, came second, but there’s people better than me if (at provincials) it’s Edmonton and Calgary,” he said.
“The guys came in and said they have jumps of 6.49 and 6.41, I’m thinking okay, this is a big deal because it’s provincials. I was thinking I would have to work much harder, but I didn’t let it get to my head.”
With his parents watching online, the skinny kid who only moved to Canada seven years ago from the Ukraine jumped out of his shoes, going over six metres on three of his six jumps.
He was the only athlete in the junior competition to jump over that distance. The winning jump was his final one, 6.06m, 13 centimetres further than second place.
“I didn’t really expect to go over six. I was really surprised no one got that close,” he said.
His parlay into the sport of track goes back to a bit of a family joke, when he started in the sport he really wasn’t that good, which led to some friendly teasing from his dad.
“When I wouldn’t do that well before, my dad would always say when he was my age, he would always do track. It sort of inspired me to do better, at times he said, when he was my age he would do much better,” Omelyanchuk recalled.
After the gold medal win?
“He was really proud of me. (My parents) were really happy,” Omelyanchuk said.
For the rising star in the high school track world, he even more remarkably finished tied for second in the junior aggregate individual standings. He got 16 points from his first place finish in the long jump, nine points for an eighth place finish in the 200m and eight points for his ninth place finish in high jump.
“Pretty proud of that,” he said. “I kind of had a mark to at least get a medal, at least bronze in long jump, because I knew that was my expertise. Surpassed my expectations.”
Omelyanchuk said track and field was always just fun for him, he’s played a little bit of a basketball here and there, but really likes handball. He added that after doing so well at provincials this year, he thinks he’ll put in some more work at the track to try and finish even higher next year.
“I want to definitely work further and do better in the 200m and try 100m. I didn’t make it in the tryouts. But I want to improve a lot. I think I’ll be hitting the track a lot this summer,” he said.