Nicolas Macrozonaris is training a new generation of sprinters

Costa Blidjios and Praise Omogbai are ‘phenomenal athletes,’ says ex-Olympian


Martin C. Barry

If you were training in track and field either for self development or for the more serious purpose of one-day competing in the Olympics, wouldn’t it be nice knowing that your trainer is one of the top three sprinters Canada ever produced?

Six years after retiring from competition, Chomedey-born Olympian Nicolas Macrozonaris – who became the third-fastest Canadian in history behind sprinting legends Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey – is training a new generation of sprinters out of his Finalpush Athletics Track Club which meets at the Claude Robillard Sports Complex in Montreal.

The making of a sprinter

Since Nicolas’ mentor and agent was Surin himself, who won the gold for Canada in the 4×100-metre relay at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, there’s every reason to believe that Nic – who competed in two Olympics and in 2003 managed to beat then-world sprinting record holder Tim Montgomery – will be giving back to the sports community by helping raise two highly promising sprinters to the best they can achieve.

Nicolas’s top two protégés are Costa Blidjios, a 60-meter junior provincial champion, and Praise Omogbai, a 60-meter and 200-meter juvenile provincial champ. Both are western Laval residents. They went to provincial indoor championships held in Sherbrooke earlier this year where, according to Nicolas, “they competed with the best in the province” and won.

The two sprinters’ times have improved quite dramatically, according to Macrozonaris.

Inspiring athletic excellence

While they’re both Quebec champions now, Nic describes Praise as “amongst the best in the country right now in her age category. Both are phenomenal athletes. Both are extremely hard workers. I feel that sometimes working so hard for such long periods of time just gives them more and motivation to go further. That’s why I’m glad to share the news about them to hopefully inspire other young kids in our region and our communities towards athletic excellence.”

Praise, 13, a grade-eight student at Laval Junior Academy, is a double gold medalist having won medals in provincial 60-meters and 200-meters sprinting events, while Costa, 18, and a second-year student at Montreal’s Vanier College, is a 60-meter champion in his age category.

Before deciding to concentrate on sprinting, Costa played high school football for five years. Prior to that he trained in martial arts. Nicolas Macrozonaris was the catalyst who ignited Costa’s zeal first for track and field and then for sprinting.

Training with the best

“I hadn’t even thought about track and field until I met Nic and he asked me to come train with him,” he said. “I don’t think I could have found a coach that was any better than Nic. I mean he’s been there, he’s done that so he really knows his stuff.”

Praise started to acquire her taste for track and field at an earlier age than Costa, albeit with some reluctance at first. “When I was in grade five and six I was part of a track team, but I wasn’t really serious about it, I didn’t really like it,” she said. Then her parents began encouraging her “and I started liking it more and more.”

In addition to her sprinting interest she also plays basketball at Laval Junior Academy and has proven to be fairly proficient at longjump. “I think Nic has really helped me to improve more and more,” she said of her trainer. “I’ve gotten faster. The training really helps.”

Macrozonaris Sprint Trainees

Surmounting challenges

Nicolas described how Costa first had to surmount challenges before he could succeed. “When he went to the provincial championships where it all counts and they give out all the medals, that’s where he was able to execute and run the best race of his life.” Costa agreed that faced with reality, it was at the provincials that everything he’d done leading up to the moment finally connected.

Nicolas described Praise as an athlete who has worked “very consistently and very hard and she’s very cerebral as an athlete. She understands quickly. There’s a saying, ‘Learn fast or get left behind quick.’ She understands quickly what needs to be done. She started off with good times and continously has worked hard to become faster and faster.” According to Nic, Praise competed at the provincials with girls three years older and finished a highly respectable third despite the age difference.

Some notable improvements

Since training with Nicolas, Costa’s time in 60 meters has gone from 7.77 secs. to 7.23. “In the world of running that’s a big improvement,” said Nic. For her part, Praise started off the current season at 8.30 secs in 60 meters and has dropped to 7.79, which her trainer calls “a huge improvement.” For the record, Nic’s 60-metre personal best, set in Montreal in 2002, was 6.56 secs.

While Costa’s sprinting dreams are fairly modest (he wants to make the McGill University track and field team) while studying medicine at McGill at the same time, Nic said about Praise, “I think she has potential to do very, very well at the international level.” Looking far ahead, she’s considering medicine as a possible career choice.

What Nic always tells his protégés is that “school is a priority. If they can use the sport to experience things in life, great. But I feel that they both have a bright future in academics, but also in athletics. Athletics is temporary, but education will be with them for the rest of their lives.”