Posted By Mark Spowart, Special to The Londoner
Mention the name Hershey Pennsylvania to anyone, and they will likely see the famous chocolate bar that put the town on the world stage. But if you ask Nicholas Fournie, he see's gold. As in gold medal.
The twelve year old London Legion Track and Field Club athlete, returned recently from the town that chocolate made famous with a gold medal around his neck for winning the 400m race during the North American Championships on August 7th. And he won it in a blistering 1.01.03 time, finishing several steps ahead of second and third place finishers.
The Hershey Track and Field Games was created over 30 years ago to promote physical fitness for children aged nine to 14. It is the largest youth sports program of it's kind in Canada and the United States. More than 400,000 athletes compete in regional qualifying events each year in an effort to make it the finals.
This was Fournie's first trip to the event, but he is already planning for next year.
Next year it is going to be hard, because I will be younger in the next age group, but my goal is to make it back to Hershey. They don't have the 400m (in that age group), so I am going to train in the 200m and try to make it there, said Fournie.
This was Fournie's first season with the London Legion Track and Field Club, and is coached by Bud Willis. In addition to track, Fournie also competes in cross-country, and speed skating in the winter.
He also presently holds the Thames Valley District School Board record for the 800m, but he always comes back to the 400m.
I really like the 400, it is the perfect race, said Fournie. I am not really interested in the longer distances, they are kind of boring, I just really like the shorter distances, added Fournie, who even at age 12 has a strategy for each race he runs.
I run hard at first, and on the back stretch I try to stay with the group and then I take off on the last stretch. In the final stretch everybody starts dying and that's when I go for my sprint, said Fournie.
In his winning race, Fournie followed his strategy and had to come from behind to win the gold medal.
I started well, and I was in second (place) by the 200m mark, so I was doing all right. At the end of corner (last turn) I was right beside first place and someone was right beside me.
First place was just ahead of second and third and he was starting to slow down, and I was starting to speed up. I pulled ahead of first, and had a five step lead at the end, said Fournie.
The three-day event also gives athletes a chance to meet each other as well as special guests.
This year Carl Lewis, the USA's Olympic track star from the 1980's and early 90's was on hand to inspire the younger athletes.
The first day we were hanging around and doing T-shirt trading. We were given five T-shirts, and you trade with everyone else.
The second day we had a training session in the morning, and then the chocolate factory tour and we went to the Hershey theme park. It is a lot like Canada' Wonderland, said Fournie.
Another London Legion Track and Field athlete also qualified for the trip to the Hershey games. Camryn Steckel competed in the 800m race and finished in 7th place. Both Fournie and Steckel had the best times of athletes from Ontario, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio.
It was also the second year in a row that athletes coached by Willis and fellow coach Sally Chamberlain qualified to go to Hershey.