Priscilla Lopes-Schliep is out to score one for Canada, for herself, her family and for motherhood at the London Olympics this summer.
The Whitby, Ont., native is proving to the track-and-field world that the birth of her baby girl last September will certainly not impede her progress toward the London Games. Lopes-Schliep, who is married to former University of Nebraska basketball player Bronsen Schliep, welcomed Nataliya to the world and returned to the track for workouts in October.
Now, nine months after becoming a mom for the first time, the Canadian star is establishing herself as a solid medal contender in the 100 metre hurdles in London — and hopefully will improve on her bronze medal-winning performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I believe if everything progresses according to plan, she’ll be in contention for a medal at the Olympics,” Olympic track and field team head coach Alex Gardiner said on Wednesday from Paris.
Lopes-Schliep is relying on a close support group to get her through the months leading up to London, including her husband and family, particularly now that she’s competing in the prestigious Diamond League Series in Europe. One of her new sponsors is Pampers and she has teamed up with the baby care brand to launch O Canada, Baby — the first version of the national anthem to be performed entirely by babies. (Mothers can log on to the Pampers Canada Facebook page for details).
“Balancing family and career is never easy, but my message for Canadian moms is that you can do it with focus and the right support system in place,” Lopes-Schliep said. “As I gear up for the Games, my circle of support is so important and it feels great to know that Canadian families are cheering on Team Canada through this great initiative.”
Lopes-Schlep’s progress this season has been impressive. She recorded a time of 12.64 last month at the Jamaica International Invitational in Kingston to finish second — the fourth fastest time by a woman in the world this season (she is racing Thursday in the Bislett Games in Oslo, part of the Diamond League Series) and only .15 of a second off her personal best.
Gardiner said he is only slightly surprised by Lopes-Schliep’s ability to round back into form after giving birth.
“There are a bunch of elements at play here,” he said. “Her return to training has been very well-managed by her coach (Anthony McCleary), her medical team and our medical team at Athletics Canada. Anthony knows how to put a program together to get athletes ready to race for the big races. Still, if you would have asked me if she’d be running a 12.64 this early, I would say that would be remarkable, and it is very remarkable.”
It’s been a banner season for Canadian track athletes in the women’s 100 metre hurdles, with no fewer than five women recording times in the world top 30, including Lopes-Schliep (Phylicia George of Scarborough, 12.79; East York native Nikkita Holder, 12.84; 2007 Pan American Games bronze medallist Angela Whyte of Edmonton, 12.95; and 2003 world champion Perdita Felicien of Pickering, 12.95).
All five have achieved the Olympic qualifying standard and the top three from the Canadian championships later this month in Calgary will qualify for London. Gardiner believes that the three will be in contention to qualify for the Olympic final.
As far as competing at a Games less than a year after giving birth, Lopes-Schliep can take solace in the fact that a number of women have risen to greatness at the Olympics after becoming a mother — including the great Dutch runner Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four gold medals at the 1948 London Games as a mom and the great American runner Wilma Rudolph, who won three golds at the 1960 Rome Olympics after giving birth a couple of years earlier.
In fact, the world record holder in the 100 hurdles is Yordanka Donkova of Bulgaria (12.21), who won a bronze at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics a year after having a daughter.
Gardiner said Lopes-Schliep has just more than two months to carve the 10ths and 100ths of a second off her best time and challenge for a medal, and he’s confident she can do it.