A child of diplomats, this Canadian product is ready for the world stage.
Italian born to British citizens, raised in Montreal, with aspirations of running at an American university, for a young man of 17, Charles Cooper already has the air of a runner destined for the international stage.
He started out as a swimmer, but in Grade 7 when his twin brother Duncan decided to try racing cross-country, Charles thought he would give it a go as well. Engaged by the tactics, surging up and down hills and through mud, Charles won the regional schools championship in his first year. He was approached by McGill Olympic Club’s junior development coach Robert Demers, who invited both brothers to join the club. Having Duncan around pushed Charles to be competitive early. “We had nearly identical PBs, so we were always trying to beat the other twin’s time,” says Cooper. “Nowadays, we have different goals and priorities so I’m running a lot more than him. There’s more friendliness on the track and less stress when we race each other.”
The club scene in Quebec, which is much more competitive than the high school circuit – a welcome challenge for Cooper. “It was entirely different,” says Cooper. “I finished 12th at my first cross-country provincial meet.” In his first 3k race on the track he finished in 10:31, a fairly underwhelming time for an aspiring high school star.
It took some work, but Charles was soon back on top. Three years later, he’d dropped his 3k time to 8:39. He attributes the improvement to more consistent training, and doing more than just club practices. “When I started, I ran two or three times a week, and I only did interval sessions,” says Cooper. “Now I run six to eight times, with much more structure and planning.”
In 2012, he won the provincial indoor, outdoor and crosscountry championships. In 2013, so far he’s won indoor and outdoor titles, and he was eighth in the 1,500m at the Canadian junior championships, which is, to be noted, one age group above his own. He won the 1,500m and 3,000m at the Canadian Youth Championships, but was not granted the titles officially due to his British citizenship. Still, he is a product of the Canadian system, and one of the best young talents in the country.
“Everybody feels sorry for me about not receiving my medal or standing on the podium with the other runners,” Cooper says of being kept from medalling due to his citizenship. “But, to be honest, it wasn’t that bad. I still knew that I had won the race and I still received congratulations from all the fans and other athletes.”
Still, there was some frustration. “The only aspect of their decision that bothered me is the way the rules were applied. They allowed me to place last year in the same events, and when I won a medal in 2011, they gave it to me,” Cooper says of his history at the Youth Championships. “The craziest part is that I was actually allowed to run in the 4 x 400m relay and keep my medal in that event. Obviously, I’m very grateful that I was allowed to run in that race, but the fact that they can apply the rules at their discretion is confusing.”
This fall, Charles is opting to go to Grade 12 at Lower Canada College in Montreal. High school students who opt to do Grade 12 in Quebec are not allowed to register at Quebec universities, but this choice makes for a quicker transition to university in the U.S. “I decided to do Grade 12 because it would open up many more opportunities to run outside the province in university,” Cooper says. “From an academic perspective, I think both options have their pros and cons, but if I want to run track taking Grade 12 will make that easier.”
Cooper plans to head to the NCAA, for the challenge of competing against some of the top college-age runners in the world. “I want to give myself the best chance possible to achieve my full potential,” Cooper says of his goal to run at a Division I American college. “I think that surrounding myself with likeminded students and devoted coaches will definitely help.”