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COLUMNISTS

Tue, August 24, 2004

Perdita on track for the gold


The way things have been going for Canada at these Games, you should know better than to pour your heart into this.

But really, how can Perdita Felicien lose in today's 100-metre hurdles final at the striking new Olympic Stadium?

Everything that could have possibly gone right for the world champion has since she arrived here in Athens eight days ago.

Now all that separates the 23-year-old star from Canada's second gold medal in the birthplace of the modern Olympics is 10 hurdles and 100 yards of burnt-orange track.

Felicien breezed into the gold-medal test yesterday with an efficient semi-final win under minimal urging. The clocking of 12.49 seconds was the second fastest of her career, suggesting she may be ready to fire a truly memorable race today.

"She feels there's still more left, which is good," Felicien's coach, Gary Winckler, said.

The biggest source of optimism for the Pickering native and world's No. 1-ranked hurdler, however, may be the way the field of serious contenders has collapsed at Felicien's feet.

Only one other woman in the top 10 has qualified for the final -- No. 7 Lacena Golding-Clarke of Jamaica.

No. 3 Gail Devers went down with injury in Sunday's opening heat. Then last night, No. 4 Brigitte Foster of Jamaica was a late scratch after suffering a calf injury in her warmup.

There's more. No. 2 Glory Alozie of Spain finished sixth in her heat and failed to advance. And No. 5 Delloreen Ennis-London, another legitimate medal candidate, was fifth in hers.

Ennis-London, Foster and Devers are the women Felicien most often has mentioned as her chief threats, so you get the picture.

Of course, Felicien could clip a hurdle or catch the come-up-short virus that has hit many of Canada's other top medal hopes. Nonetheless, Winckler isn't buying the theory that the competition is all gone.

"People can say the race is falling apart, but my feeling coming into this thing was that Devers and Foster were not going to be the big players they were a year ago," Winckler said.

In any event, Felicien, whose 12.46 mark stands as the fastest in the world this year, expects to lay it all on the line.

"I think I really felt (yesterday) there was a lot more room there for me," Felicien said.

"I like to feel like I'm running downhill and I didn't feel that exactly, so hopefully (today)."

All seven of her co-finalists -- including fellow Canadian Angela Whyte of Edmonton -- recorded personal bests yesterday, suggesting Felicien isn't the only one heading to the final on a high.

The most impressive of those was Joanna Hayes of the U.S., the world's No. 12 hurdler, who captured her heat in 12.48 and is talking a good game.

"(Felicien's) rhythm is there, she has very efficient races and that's why she's such a threat," Hayes said. "She's definitely going to be the one to beat.

"But I think it's going to be a great race. A lot of people can take that gold medal."

With the final not scheduled until 10:30 p.m. Athens time, it will be a long day for Felicien. Winckler plans to go over tapes of her races with Felicien in the morning then encourage her to have a nap in the early afternoon.

"I don't like it, but you just have to adapt," Felicien said. "By the time eight o'clock rolls around, you get a little lethargic usually. Your mind plays tricks on you the more hours you have."

At 7:30 p.m., Felicien will leave the Olympic village for the 14.5-km bus ride to the stadium.

Waiting at the end of the journey could be a gold medal and lasting fame in her homeland.

It is hers for the taking.


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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