Vancover, Canada -- For most elementary school girls, the game of hop, skip and jump is a playful pastime. For Sabrina Nettey, it was the start of a track and field career that has made her one of B.C.'s most remarkable high school athletes. Nettey is the reigning provincial prep champion in the girls' long jump and triple jump. She leaped to gold-medal finishes in the events as a 13-year-old Grade 8 student at Surrey's Johnston Heights secondary last June, becoming the youngest athlete to accomplish the feats in the 36-year history of the B.C. high school track and field championships.
Nettey's performances at Burnaby's Swangard Stadium didn't stop there. She also earned silver medals in the girls' 100 metres and 4-by-100-metres relay.
The provincial championships are an open meet, meaning Nettey was competing against older girls in all of her events.
"Given Sabrina's age, it was probably the most remarkable performance by a female track and field athlete I've witnessed," says long-time Johnston Heights coach Brian Cameron. "What made it all the more remarkable was that Sabrina was technically a Grade 7 student at the time. She skipped a grade in elementary school."
That is where Nettey's interest in track and field started. She joined her classmates in fun-filled hop, skip and jump games in her youngest years at Surrey's Harold Bishop elementary before joining her first track and field team in Grade 3
"I was involved in everything at first, long jump, triple jump, high jump, 100 and 200 metres and relay teams," Nettey says. "But I became more specialized as I was older. Concentrating on fewer events was probably the main reason for my success last year."
Tall for her age at 5-foot-7, Nettey won the long jump with a leap of 5.63 metres at last year's championships. It was almost 20 cm longer than her closest competitor and would have been good enough to have won top spot in the event in 14 of the previous 15 years.
Nettey has since achieved a personal-best leap of 5.79 metres in the long jump. Her goal at this year's June 4-5 championships is to break the long-standing B.C. high school record of 6.10 metres, set in 1980 by Yvonne Coelho of Vancouver independent school Little Flower Academy.
Nettey has also improved her triple-jump distance of 11.47 metres at last year's championships.
She jumped a personal-best 11.82 metres at a recent meet in Kamloops and is aiming to eclipse the provincial high school standard of 11.89 metres, established by Rachael Haegart of Victoria's Oak Bay secondary in 2001.
The prep 100-metres record would also seem to be within Nettey's grasp before she graduates. She was timed at 12.25 seconds in her second-place finish behind Little Flower Academy sensation Yvonne Mensah at last year's event.
Now attending the University of Illinois on a full-ride track and field scholarship, Mensah sprinted to a prep record of 11.64 seconds. Nettey has since improved her time to a personal-best 12.17 seconds.
"I was just having fun in track and field last year," Nettey says. "I never really approached my events seriously, but I'm working harder in training this year. I haven't really been motivated to do my best until this year. I'm not a self-motivated person. I need other people around me to be devoted to my events."
One of those people is Peter Radatz, Nettey's coach with Surrey's South Fraser Track and Field club. Radatz says Nettey needed "quite a kick in the ass" to achieve her best performances when she joined the club in 2000.
"The reason was that she wasn't exposed to much competition in school," says Berlin, Germany native Radatz. "Everything came too easy for her and she wasn't motivated to do better. When she first came to me I impressed on her that her performances were not good enough if she wanted to have a successful career over the long term.
"Thankfully, her attitude has changed considerably in recent years, to the point that she now motivates all the other athletes in the club."
Radatz thinks Nettey's best chance for future success is in the jumping events.
"There's a ton of really good sprinters out there and her times are not exceptional in the over-all scheme," he says.
"I'm encouraging her to focus on jumping because there's much less competition. She's strong for her age and her chances of survival in jumping are better than in sprinting."
Nettey is the older of two daughters of Ghana immigrants Eustace and Genevieve Nettey. Born in Brampton, Ont., she moved to Surrey with her parents and younger sister Christabel in 1990.
Christabel Nettey, 12, is also a track and field athlete. She's currently involved in the 100 metres, 200 metres, long jump, triple jump and high jump events as a Grade 7 student at Harold Bishop elementary and will move to Johnston Heights secondary next year.
"I'm looking forward to the sisters pushing each other on our team next year," Cameron says. "That will really be something to watch."