Mon, September 23, 2013

Baby steps to London

By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency


Calgary heptathlete Jessica Zelinka is hoping to qualify for the London 2012 Summer Olympics next month at Foothills Athletic Park. (QMI AGENGY)

Even Jessica Zelinka had to laugh at her analogy.

Canada’s top heptathlete was asked what she’s learned over the years about handling seven events over two days, and she likened it to having a baby.

“The key is to focus in the moment at the time, not worrying about the next day or calculating the points that aren’t there yet. The main thing is to focus on one event, rest and move on to the next one,” Zelinka said. “It’s just like contractions — you don’t want to think about the next three hours. Doing that can be really draining.

“If you do that, it’s emotionally draining, and you don’t realize it until the end of the two days — you’re at the 800 thinking, ‘Why am I so exhausted?’ ”

Zelinka’s daughter, Anika, will turn three at the end of this month.

Zelinka plans to put her theory to its biggest test during the Olympic Summer Games in London, England, in August. But before that, the Calgarian will have her final tuneup during the Canadian championships and Olympic trials at Foothills Athletic Park, June 27-30.

Although her centre of attention for the year is London, where she hopes to improve upon a fifth-place finish at the 2008 Games in Beijing, Zelinka will have an improved focus during this year’s Canadian championships.

And not because she finished second to Ruky Abdulai a year ago at the national championships. also held in Calgary.

“I was disappointed, but not really,” said Zelinka, who finished 18 points back of Abdulai. “My sights are always set on the biggest championship each year, and worlds were coming (where I finished ninth). I didn’t want to lose confidence from that experience, so I took it for what it was. It was training, and I moved forward from that.”

This year, even though the event is in her backyard, Zelinka will be treating it like any major meet — sequestered from her family and staying in a hotel.

“I felt like I was going to training, just going to the track (during last year’s Canadian championships),” Zelinka said. “Going to a hotel will give me that time and space to prepare for it like it is a competition.”

Having spent a few months of intense training in anticipation of this season, Zelinka is in “the best shape of my life”, so now she will be dealing the right way with all the head games.

Her intentions are to go to London with the same frame of mind she had in Beijing.

“I just really enjoyed it so much — and the performances came from that,” Zelinka said. “I was able to relax and trust in what I had there being enough. It was special that way, like a gift to be on top of the world with personal bests.”

All that with the added benefit of more life experience, which comes from being the parent of a toddler.

“I know how to prioritize my energy — shutting it off and not worrying about things that aren’t worth worrying about. I’ve learned you can’t do everything, and when competing, just focus,” Zelinka said of being a mom.

“Coming back from having a baby is a bit surreal to be at competitions. It’s almost like I have a second chance. I never imagined having a child and then coming back, so it’s been really special.

“It almost brings more meaning to be competing and putting less pressure on myself. I’m just really happy to be there.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak