Fri, September 20, 2013

Absence of Perdita Felicien from Olympics may be Canada's biggest hurdle

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Jessica Zelinka reacts behind Perdita Felicien after she won the women's 100-metre hurdles final at the Canadian track and field Olympic trials in Calgary, in June. Zelinka qualified for the Olympics, keeping the much-hyped Felicien out of the 2012 Games. (QMI Agency)

LONDON - The lasting images of Perdita Felicien’s Olympic career will be the trampled first hurdle eight years ago in Athens and the shiny red shoes she tossed to the track in disgust.

The lasting image of Priscilla Lopes-Schliep was the thrilling charge to the wire to win bronze four years ago in Beijing.

While a new guard of sprint hurdlers prepares to contest the 100-metre event here Monday, Canadian track officials are left wondering what might have been if the Perdita and Priscilla show was in town.

Since both Felicien and Lopes-Schliep failed to qualify at the Canadian trials last month, an event with a legitimate medal hope has been downgraded to long shot.

Jessica Zelinka, winner of the Canadian trials, will be competing but surely will have a fatigue factor to shake after competing in the heptathlon on the weekend. She’ll be joined by promising youngsters Nikkita Holder and Phylicia George.

A medal from that group would be a stretch, though certainly Holder and George will gain valuable experience for the future.

Meanwhile, the absence of both accomplished sprinters has prompted Canadian officials to consider altering their Olympic selection process. Because Canada had qualified three spots here, the top three at the trials punched their ticket.

Athletics Canada’s chief high performance officer, Martin Goulet, said that one option under consideration is a “two-plus one” system that would send the top two finishers at the trials to the Games with the third at the governing body’s discretion.

“As we do for everything else, we’re going to look at our system after the Games,” Goulet said. “We’re going to review everything. We will look at this, of course we will. We will do our homework like we have to do. Were these scenarios discussed? Yes they were.”

Of course, any chance will be too late for the two proven stars.

For Felicien, who has always worn her heart on her sleeve and loved running for her country, there will not be another Olympic dream, a fact she acknowledged in a recent tear-at-your-heart entry in a blog on her website, Perditafelicien.com.

Almost incredibly, one of Canada’s greatest hurdlers and a former outdoor world champion will end her fourth Olympic cycle not having crossed the line in an Olympic final.

In 2000, she was young and just testing the Olympic waters. In Athens, she entered the final as the clear favourite after dominating in the early rounds. In Beijing she was injured and she missed out on London after being disqualified in her heat.

“I won’t ever be an Olympic champion and that sucks because I have worked my ass off to become one for decades,” Felicien wrote. “I’ve dreamed the biggest dream imaginable for myself, and I’ve had the sweetest honor humanly possible in pursueing (sic) it. Yes it’s broken my heart into a million pieces, but funny it has also been the glue that could put it back together again.”

Though her times had yet to reach the level she would have needed to medal here, Felicien has never missed making a Canadian team and was an enthusiastic leader wherever she went.

“I never saw myself not being on this Olympic team,” Felicien wrote. “Frankly in twelve years I’ve never not qualified for a major championship and the pride of representing my country.

“It feels unusual, surreal and it’s a great disappointment.”

Lopes-Schliep is no doubt feeling the same way. Since having her first child a little more than a year ago, she was rounding back into form and likely would have had a better shot than Felicien at gaining a medal here. But when she hit a hurdle hard in the Canadian championships, she never recovered and didn’t qualify.

And now a Canadian track team is facing the prospect of being shut out of the medals for the third time in the past four Games. Missing Perdita and Priscilla only adds to the pain.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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