Laurier Primeau is the Head Track and Field Coach at Trinity Western University since 2011.
Also, the World Athletics Center has added a Canadian base to its growing International presence for the 2014-15 season along with Primeau and world-renown sports chiropractor Dr Gerry Ramogida.
Previously, from 2002 to 2009, Laurier was responsible for jumps, combined events and relay at two World Junior Championships and three Pan American Junior Championships. He was also the head coach of Canada’s Paralympic Team at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
As an athlete, he was a member of Team Canada from 1990 to 1998 competing in the 400m hurdles event and 4x400m relay.
Interview with Laurier Primeau, WAC Canada, and Head Coach at TWU
Q1) I first met you on the west coast in ’91 or ’92 as a competitor, and you were training under Mike Murray. This was the first time I ever heard of the short to long approach (I didn’t meet Charlie until 2001, and Dennis Barrett & Richard Crevier used long to short). Did his program influence a lot of what you are doing today? Is it true Mike did his own physio & massage on his own athletes, since that is what Mike did for a living?
Laurier Primeau: Yes, before you and I actually trained in the same group together, I was under the tutelage of Mike Murray, as was Kevin Tyler at the time. He, of course, retired as an athlete and moved into coaching, and I finished out my career (and my lifetime bests) with Kevin as my coach. When I ran with Mike I knew that we were approaching the 400 differently from other groups around us, but I wasn’t privy to it being articulated as ‘short to long’ until years later. Maybe I wasn’t listening when I should have been. Looking back on the training journals, we had a big emphasis on speed (true speed – maximal velocity work up to about 60 meters), and very few specific or special endurance runs that exceeded 300 meters in a single repetition. I remember the contrast I experienced from the group I had previously been in because the sessions seemed to take forever, and it didn’t feel like we were doing more volume. It turns out that this was exactly the case, and for good reason – the quality of each repetition was higher, and the rests were longer in order to accommodate the higher speeds at which we were running. That said, Mike’s general preparation phase was amass with volume; it was only when we got into more specific training that qualitative work became the emphasis, and training elements were more blended.
Mike gave some therapy, which was way more than what anyone else was receiving at the time. But he was already spending 20 hours per week at the track, and he had three young children – we could easily have eaten into all his family time with our therapeutic requirements. So we didn’t ‘go without’, but we also didn’t have a table track-side at every session. That was unheard of in western Canada in 1991.
Q2) We were lucky to be teammates (along with Steve Walters and Shane Neimi) and train under Kevin Tyler from 97-99, years before Tyler Christopher and his UKA appointment. You made the 1998 Commonwealth 400mH team, despite our struggles with facilities (no indoor facility). What did you learn from that experience? I don’t recall we had a huge budget for warm weather camps, and we were all working jobs! Plus, this was my first time witnessing an on-site physio (soft tissue therapist) before and during workouts!
Laurier Primeau: When an athlete is trying to set him or herself up to maximize potential, I think there is a lesson to be learned from real estate professionals. Their moniker ‘location, location, location,’ translated into track and field terms is ‘coaching, coaching, coaching’. Everything else is secondary – not unimportant – but secondary. Fully-funded training camps, indoor tracks, and state-of-the-art equipment are all things that are nice to have, but they should never trump the pragmatic and objective evaluation of the coaching environment. When I began to work under Kevin I understood that an indoor track didn’t exist in Vancouver, but that a smart, scientific, thoughtful approach to training with a coach who would be able to observe every repetition of every run had far greater value than a temperature-controlled room. I think the partnership that Sultana Frizell and Derek Evely have formed is testimony to that – she had 20 outdoor sessions this year in which the temperature in Kamloops was under minus 20 Celsius, and six under minus 30! And she broke the Canadian record and was the Commonwealth Champion. To be fair, the number of days that it snows in Vancouver is so low that outdoor facilities could be used year-round if necessary, and we did get to training camps in San Diego and Georgia.
Q3) What are the challenges now with TWU? I assume you have access to the Richmond Oval (site of the former 2010 speedskating) How many years can you plan in advance for student-athletes?
Laurier Primeau: There are challenges with every program that I’ve ever been involved with, and Trinity is no different – tuition costs are high, our track facilities are off-campus, and if you’re looking for a university with fraternity house party environment, then we’re not the school for you. But it’s far more productive for me to look at how I can leverage the advantages – I have an extremely supportive athletic admin team that I report to, there is a segment of the population for whom our Christian environment and the values we espouse fall inline nicely with the lifestyle they want to live, and we have a fund-raising arm of the Athletic Department called the Spartan Foundation which is constantly looking at ways to enhance the resources at our disposal. We also have an outdoor season, and we take the position that we are trying to put athletes on national and provincial teams – when we find an athlete who shares in this we work hard to recruit that person to TWU.
We use the oval a couple times per week, and we ensure exclusive use for 4-hour blocks during the day. We primarily stay off the 200 meter flat oval piece and keep our sessions on the 120 meter straight (field events excepted). This is personal preference – the corners are tight and our emphasis is on injury prevention, so I’d rather get creative in utilizing the straight than risk injury on the bends.
On the topic of planning, there is a good deal of individualization even at the university level, and we work on the premise of ‘fair, but not equal’. Our best athletes get the most specificity, the greatest access to therapy and training camps, and are more likely to have a multi-year plan. However, we try to simultaneously recognize that there are contributors to our team from all athletes – some of them will make excellent coaches, therapists, or teachers. Others are valuable training partners who demonstrate leadership by approaching each practice with a professional mindset.
Q4) How many of them will continue with Athletics full time upon graduation? Is this period, ages 22-26, the greatest challenge in making the jump to Elite & Olympic level? (Naturally, there are some Outliers that make it from HS or College, at least in the USA)
Laurier Primeau: In many cases it will be up to them! We have a number of athletes who are talented enough to pursue this sport outside the context of a collegiate career. We had six athletes represent their respective nations this year – for a team that hasn’t been in existence long enough to graduate an athlete that began here as a freshman, we think that’s a pretty good statistic. Nathan George and James Linde (NACAC team), Regan Yee (World Junior team), Alison Jackson (World University Cross Country team), Hazel Ross (Scottish team to the Loughborough International), and Emma Nuttall (Scottish team to the Commonwealth Games), have laid a foundation of excellence that has bolstered our team’s prospects going forward. By the time this interview comes out the press release on our latest signee may be public, so be sure to check out our site (https://www.twu.ca/athletics/
Q5) I wrote an article about how Canada, despite a population of 30+MM performing so poorly in the last 2 Olympics. It’s clear we don’t have the program for medal success, as compared to the winter Olympics. Is expert coaching, great physio, and proper facilities/weather the key to success? One has to look at the success of our current athletes and they are trained in the USA (Droiun HJ, Brown 200m, Cummins 800m in her later years, etc)
Laurier Primeau: I think it’s easy to be quick to judge these programs. Our sport is truly global in a way that the winter sports are not, and as such there is simply more competition – this accounts for at least some of the lesser results we might see on the summer Olympic side. Further, we have a quadrennial funding system but our sport requires more than four years to bear the fruit of change. So whether the new system of athlete-based and coach-based support will be meritorious is difficult to assess in a short term context. I don’t think one can argue that good coaching, good therapy, and appropriate facilities serve as the backbone for good performance. I think it is also true, and I say this as a CIS coach, that the NCAA does as good a job as any system in the world at extending the development continuum from high school to age 22 – 23. That does not mean that every NCAA school is excellent – nor does it mean that the CIS system is not appropriate for many athletes – but is there anywhere else that churns out Olympic medalists at the rate the NCAA does? What we in Canada could be really good at is ensuring a competent environment for NCAA athletes to return home to. I think in the past we have begrudged the system that many Canadians have done well by, and I would suggest that embracing it and being the light at the end of the collegiate tunnel would be a prudent tact.
Q6) For those who cannot relocate full time to the USA, can you elaborate how a split program would work? (3 weeks in the USA?) Would you incorporate the racing season into it (i.e. Mt-SAC in April)
Laurier Primeau: When I first sat down with John Godina, Stu McMillan, Andreas Behm and Dan Pfaff to discuss the idea of establishing a Canadian base for the World Athletics Center, it stemmed from a few realities (not the least of which is the fact that our training groups were already spending the better part of 5 weeks there):
- some Canadians can not secure visas to live full time in the USA
- some Canadians, while trying to bridge the performance gap to get the next funding level, need to work a few hours per week, and without a green card can not do this in the USA
- Vancouver is a 2.5 hour flight to Phoenix and there are many direct options to choose from. You can be at the track in Phoenix, doing a warm up and accessing therapy on the same day that you left Vancouver
- with the addition of the 120 meter straight at the Olympic Oval and the integration of Dr. Ramogida’s fascial health services, Vancouver is in an excellent position to provide the appropriate inputs for high-level training
- there is alignment in coaching philosophies at both centers, so movement between them is synergistic.
On these bases, we resolved that opening a Canadian branch made sense. The intention is not to arbitrarily move between the two locations, but to make strategic decisions grounded in an athlete-first model. The loose plan, however, would be to initiate the general preparation in Vancouver. September and October are pretty nice here, and everything can be accomplished without going indoors. Toward November / December it is probably sensible to get into the warmer climes of Phoenix. Vancouver is an excellent location from which to base oneself for an indoor season, as the University of Washington hosts excellent competitions every second weekend, and it’s a 2 hour drive if the border line up is short, so January and February might be spent back in BC. March to late May are really good months to be in Phoenix, not only from the perspective of weather, but also for competition access. Once the collegiate meets go into conference championships it’s time to come back to Vancouver to prep for Nationals, the NTL, Europe, and the subsequent international championships of the given year.
Q7) You’ve seen the challenges of a Central Coaching High Performance Center whilst at Scotland, or even the challenges we have in Canada with a HPC. I think it’s obvious you have to treat Track athletes, especially in the speed power strength events, like a professional sport, and not rely on Gov’t programs? When I say professional, I mean having access to the best coaches, sport science (biomechanists), strength & conditioning, nutritionist, soft tissue specialists, etc.
Laurier Primeau: I’ve learned that the best systems have the best people, and that athlete development is contingent not only on knowledge, but also on excellent relational skills. Unfortunately having only one of these characteristics is not sustainable – understanding biomechanical and training principles without being able to connect with the athlete doesn’t work. But neither does the scenario in which a coach identifies with the athlete and relates well to their emotional struggles yet lacks the comprehension of holistic training ingredients. Good people, in my opinion, have the versatility to work in either a government-funded or a private system – the question is – do you have good people?
Q8) I recently had a tour of Fortius whilst in Vancouver with Gerry Ramogida. It’s a pretty awesome facility (straightaway track), both for training and recovery & regeneration. Can you elaborate more on this? What is different here than what we had 15-20 years ago?
What’s really cool about Fortius, besides the fact that they have endeavored to create a one-stop shop of integrated health and sporting professionals (and the fact that there is a Starbucks in the lobby), is the inclusion of two floors of residential living in the building. Our athletes could get out of bed, grab an espresso, and get treatment from Gerry, all before breakfast!
Jimson: Thanks for taking the time to answer this. We look forward to seeing results!