Mon, September 23, 2013

Zelinka breaks own record

By RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency


Jessica Zelinka jumps in the women's heptathlon long jump event at the Canadian Track and Field Olympic Trials in Calgary, Alberta June 28, 2012. (REUTERS/Todd Korol)

CALGARY - The plan for Jessica Zelinka is to be at her best at the Olympics in London.

 

Improving on her performance at the Canadian championships would mean a great chance for the heptathlete to medal.

Zelinka beat her own Canadian record Thursday by scoring 6,599 points in the seven-event competition in Calgary.

“I don’t think it’s quite sunken in,” said the London, Ont., product who has lived in Calgary for the last decade. “Coming into this meet, I didn’t count out the possibility of breaking my record. I’ve been feeling for a while — at least the last year, for sure — that I could break my Beijing record, but I guess I wasn’t ready until now.

“After Day 1, I was ahead of my personal best and I guess I gave myself permission, ‘It’s all right to break your record,’ ”

Zelinka, whose previous mark of 6,490 earned her a fifth-place finish four years ago at the Summer Games in China, was ahead of her pace after the first day, but had a disappointing long jump of 5.98 seconds to open Thursday’s action.

She responded with a personal best in the javelin — 46.6 metres — and finished the day with a time of 2:08.95 in the 800-metres.

“It’s a very nice performance,” her coach Les Gramantik said after enjoying a celebratory beer. “It’s not unexpected because she’s been training well.

“The good thing for me is there’s some more points left on the table. I think 6,600-plus gives her a very good chance to be on the podium.”

Brianne Theisen of Humboldt, Sask., finished second with 6,393 points, and qualified for her first Olympics.

Theisen, 23, needed to finish in the top three during the trials to book a trip to London.

“I can’t even describe the feeling. It’s unbelievable,” Theisen said. “I thought, over the last month, ‘What’s it’s going to feel like?’ And no matter how much I tried to think about what it would feel like, it doesn’t feel as good as this.

“Finishing that 800, I wasn’t smiling down the home stretch, but I was smiling inside.”

Jennifer Cotten of Barrie, Ont., placed third with 5,793 points.

Zelinka, who celebrated the birth of her daughter, Anika, three years ago, now will head to England as a legitimate medal hopeful, having posted the third-best score in the world this year.

She actually placed second to Ruky Abulai in the heptathlon at last year’s Canadian championships. This year, she wanted to push for a final preparation for the Olympics.

“Usually, I go through the motions (at Canadians) and get through it. This time, I wanted to make it a positive experience,” Zelinka said. “Last year, although it got me to qualify for worlds — it was so unsatisfying.

“It feels good to rise to the occasion.”

Besides, as her coach said, there are more points to be had. She just needs to be at the same mark in the events she did well and improve on a couple.

“When I go to London, I just need to stay within that range and know I can come out with a 6,600-plus score and know that can be in the top three,” Zelinka said.

As amazing as it sounds, Zelinka is also considering racing in the 100-metre hurdles Saturday in Calgary.

She’s one of the six women in Canada who have reached the standard needed to qualify for the Olympics — in fact, her time of 12.76 seconds is the second best posted by anyone in the nation this year — so a finish in the top three would earn a ticket into that event, as well.

“I’ve got to see how my legs respond,” Zelinka said. “If I run 13.30 and come third, I can’t see that being a good choice for London.

“We’ll see. I’ve got to do a cool down first and rest (Friday). We’ll see.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak