The University of Guelph has terminated its relationship with the head coach of its track-and-field program after finding that the Canadian sporting icon, who has delivered some of the country’s top runners to the Olympics, engaged in professional misconduct.
Head coach Dave Scott-Thomas put Guelph on the map, transforming a modest track and cross-country program into one of the greatest dynasties in Canadian university sports history. He won 35 coach of the year awards, an archived University of Guelph faculty web page says.
“The University of Guelph has terminated its relationship with Dave Scott-Thomas, the head coach of its track and field program," the university said on Tuesday in a brief statement. "Recently, the university received information from former and current track and field athletes regarding their experiences on the team. During the course of reviewing this information and in the last 24 hours, the university became privy to new information regarding past unprofessional conduct.”
The Ontario university declined to answer questions about Mr. Scott-Thomas’s conduct or what led to the termination. The Globe and Mail was unable to reach Mr. Scott-Thomas for comment. An auto-reply on his e-mail said he was on leave and requested privacy.
His dismissal caps a tumultuous two-month period in Guelph, where Mr. Scott-Thomas is legendary among the tight-knit community of elite runners.
In October, university administrators and coaches informed athletes that Mr. Scott-Thomas was on leave for health reasons.
“The day we found out that he left,” cross-country team captain Mark Patton said, “I came to practice fully expecting Dave to be there, business as usual. Up until that day, there was nothing that suggested he wasn’t going to continue with the rest of the season." He said the university has not contacted him about the matter, and he received no further information.
On Dec. 12, the university formally announced Mr. Scott-Thomas was on leave.
Mr. Scott-Thomas took over the program at Guelph in 1997, the same year he founded Speed River Track and Field Club, which also uses the university’s facilities as its headquarters. Speed River offers training for school-age children as well as postcollegiate athletes.
The club became a powerful recruitment tool for Mr. Scott-Thomas’s varsity team, and also a training facility for top-performing postcollegiate athletes. Here, Mr. Scott-Thomas coached some of Canada’s best runners, including seven Olympians, such as marathoners Reid Coolsaet and Krista DuChene.
This platform led to lucrative relationships with sponsors and a six-figure funding partnership with Athletics Canada, the governing body of track and field, which had designated Speed River and the University of Guelph a “high-performance centre of excellence.”
On Tuesday, Athletics Canada said it had ended its relationship with the club and the varsity program as a result of the university’s decision to dismiss Mr. Scott-Thomas. It also indicated it is conducting a review of its own relationship with Mr. Scott-Thomas, who has worked as a coach on national teams, including the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Mike Tate, who won the 2019 Canadian cross-country championships last month, is among the athletes now in limbo.
“I moved to Guelph essentially to train under Dave Scott-Thomas,” Mr. Tate said.
Originally from Antigonish, N.S., Mr. Tate came to Guelph from Southern Utah University, where he was a top collegiate distance runner. Mr. Tate said he will train under the Guelph team’s assistant coach, Kyle Boorsma.
Kate Ayers, a postcollegiate athlete who had remained at Speed River to pursue her goal of running at the Olympics, said she had a positive rapport with Mr. Scott-Thomas, but was aware of complaints.
“You think you know someone and they mean well, but when you hear that they may have hurt people, it’s upsetting,” she told The Globe.
Ms. Ayers, who has moved to Victoria to train, says the sport is in the midst of a reckoning. “People are creating a larger voice. Standing against inappropriate conduct,” she said. “We have to bring about change.”
Michael Doyle is a freelance writer and co-founder of The XC, a newsletter and podcast about the running community. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @mdfdoyle.
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