Marek Jedrzejek was the legendary head coach of the UBC Track and Field team since 2001 and had much success in his role. Last year, Laurier Primeau — who served as assistant coach for the Thunderbirds from 2001-2009 — was asked to return as head coach following Jedrzejek’s retirement.
“I didn’t recruit this team,” said Primeau. “To be fair, a lot of these athletes wouldn’t have asked for me as their head coach. Some people really enjoyed their time under Marek’s program, but he retired and they were stuck with me.”
This season, Primeau built a program with emphasis on injury prevention, along with making changes to the staffing on the team.
“Instead of trying to fix athletes when they’re broken, we put therapy track-side and introduce warm-ups to the team that enhance mechanics,” said Primeau.
The program has proved successful for athletes like Natalia Hawthorn, whose performance has been up and down with injuries during her time at UBC. Hawthorn led the women’s 4x800 relay team to victory at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Championships (NAIA) in Gulf Shore, Alabama this season.
“One of our girls, Kirsten Lee, got a muscle rupture in her foot and was unable to run the relay. So one of our alternates, Camille Van Tassel, stepped up to run the heat and ran the finals with us,” said Hawthorn.“We were coming up to it as underdogs, because we lost a lot of our girls from last year’s team, but we ended up finishing second, which was a really awesome surprise.”
“I was really happy with the success of the team in Alabama under some fairly challenging conditions,” said Primeau. “We arrived the night before the first day of competitions, and we needed to get [accustomed] to humidity, the time zone, travel fatigue and jet lag.”
“The biggest thing is the humidity — it’s pretty close to a hundred percent humidity on most days. Coming from the West Coast of Canada, it’s a real shock to the system. But a lot of those issues were remedied by the coaches, and they brought me into this race prepared,” said John Gay, who finished his second season with the Thunderbirds and took first place in the 3,000 metre steeplechase final.
“It was definitely a real change in the coaching style, as Merrick was both the head coach and the endurance coach, so he fulfilled both those roles. But I saw a lot of improvement with Laurier at the helm with Chris Johnson and Norm Tinkham guiding the distance athletes. It’s been successful for a lot of people,” said Gay.
“Organizationally, Laurier is incredibly talented, and his strengths really lie in coordinating the team and ensuring training and travel times work together to elicit the best performance from the team. He sets the bar quite high, which develops a culture of excellence that he wants to build here,” said Gay.
This year’s NAIA showed surprising performances from athletes far surpassing their rankings— Enid Au finished fourth of a projected 17th place in the 5,000 metre finals, and Bogdan Pavel finishd seventh in the 110 metre hurdles final, of a projected 21st.
The upcoming track season will see the return of many of this season’s athletes, as well as an addition of 39 freshmen.
“We will continue to excel in our performance, especially in the next two or three years — once the freshmen become third-year students, we’ll really see them shine,” said Primeau.
“This place feels like home, and I’m in it for the long term,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed my experience, and hope that the athletes feel the same way that I do.”