Editor’s note: We’ve updated this story at its end to include comments from world-class athletes Sasha Gollish and Andrea Seccafien, both of whom were coached by Ristuccia.
Ross Ristuccia, the head coach of both the men’s and women’s cross-country programs at the University of Toronto, was fired earlier this week. The news comes as a surprise to many, as Ristuccia is the reigning U Sports women’s cross-country coach of the year. Last fall, Ristuccia coached the Varsity Blues to a national title, ending the Guelph Gryphons’ 12-year winning streak in the process. This was Ristuccia’s second time being honoured as coach of the year, having taken home the award after leading the women to gold in 2002.
Ristuccia is heavily involved in the Toronto running community. He coached multiple-time national team member and 2017 U Sports cross-country champion, Sasha Gollish, as well as 2016 Olympian Andrea Seccafien. He had also coached Megan Brown to a 2009 CIS (now U Sports) cross-country individual gold medal. Unsurprisingly, the news elicited sadness and confusion from athletes at the University of Toronto. Cameron Linscott, a sophomore with the Blues and 2015 OFSAA champion, took to www.trackie.com’s message board to express his and his teammates’ sentiments about the news.
“As it currently stands,” wrote Linscott, “members of the University of Toronto’s Track and XC team have been made aware that Ross will no longer be a part of our team’s coaching staff moving forward. We as athletes were devastated to hear this news and have made our desire to retain Ross as one of our coaches quite clear. We view his coaching expertise and the relationships he has built with athletes on our team to be invaluable and an integral part to our team’s success.”
Congratulations to Ross Ristuccia on winning the U SPORTS Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year Award! pic.twitter.com/11f6TTWdwB
— U SPORTS Cross Country (@USPORTS_XC) November 13, 2017
Sacha Smart, the 2016 U Sports 1,000m champion with the Blues, echoes Linscott’s sadness. “Ross is an even-keeled guy,” says Smart. “He always kept his temper, and when he spoke up people listened. This ordeal is sad.”
The Toronto Varsity Blues cross-country program is now in the hands of coaches Terry Radchenko, Jose Carvalho and Jill Mallon. Radchenko is the acting coach of 2016 Olympian Gabriella Stafford and her younger sister and 2018 U Sports 1,000m and 1,500m runner-up, Lucia Stafford. Mallon is currently in Switzerland coaching Team Canada at World University (FISU) cross-country championship.
Sasha Gollish replied via email to a request for comment with the following:
“I was shocked and saddened by the news that Ross was no longer with the varsity program. Tonight is the annual U of T Varsity Blues banquet where I am nominated for two major awards; my success is contributed almost completely to Ross’ coaching; no other person at that university has spent more time with me. He not only made me into a great runner but also shaped me as a human. Throughout the turmoil of the last week Ross has been at every practice, continuing to guide myself and others through workouts and recovery runs. I think that is a testament to the nature of the man, he loves coaching and he’s fantastic at it. No matter what happens I know that Ross will be there to coach me.”
Andrea Seccafien also replied with some insight into the situation:
“Ross’ contract with the U of T will not be renewed because, the head coach, Carl Georgevski, had decided to “go in a different direction” with his coaching staff. There has been tension and animosity among the middle-distance coaching staff since Jill Mallon asked for her full-time job back last year, which almost left Terry Radchenko without a job, until Athletics Canada stepped in for funding. I assume Ross was let go to give Jill more power and athletes, but the whole situation is pretty insulting to Ross, considering he was a volunteer coach who has done a lot for the program.”