Mon, September 23, 2013

Lopes-Schliep, Felicien don't qualify

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Perdita Felicien and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep races during the women's 100 meter hurdles finals at the Canadian Track and Field Olympic Trials in Calgary, June 30, 2012. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

CALGARY - A sprint hurdles event is run in a straight line, but Saturday’s women’s 100-metre final at the Canadian Olympic track and field trials had more twists and turns than a mountain highway.

The 100 hurdles was the most anticipated event at the trials, given the incredible depth in the event, the fact that six of the finalists had already made the Olympic standard — a defending Olympic bronze medallist, a former world champion, a runner who could win a medal in another event at the London Olympics, a veteran runner hoping for late career breakthrough, and two up and coming stars.

And when it was over, there were tears, a sea of frustration and anger and one official appeal — with likely more coming.

The race ended with Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, the fastest Canadian woman this year and the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist; and Perdita Felicien, the 2003 world champion, not making the Olympic team.

It ended with Canadian heptathlon champion Jessica Zelinka of Calgary blowing away the field and winning the final in 12.68 seconds, a personal best, and then deciding about 30 minutes after the race ended that she would compete in both events at the London Olympics, the hurdles and the heptathlon — a decision that cost her friend, veteran hurdler Angela Whyte, of Edmonton, who finished fourth (12.90), a spot on the Olympic team. Zelinka, formerly of London, Ont., made the decision to run the 100 hurdles in London based on her incredible form this year and the fact that she narrowly missed out at the 2004 Athens Olympics, an experience, she said, “which crushed me.”

“It’s just a tough, tough decision. (But winning) is so exciting, an amazing feeling,” said Zelinka, 30, who broke her own Canadian record in the heptathlon on Thursday with a score of 6599 points, making her a definite medal contender in that event in London.

The 100-hurdles final was marred by two false starts, including one against Felicien, who then ran under protest and finished third, behind Zelinka and Markham runner Phylicia George, who posted a time of 12.72. Felicien’s appeal, based on what she considered the starter’s inability to take control over a noisy crowd at the Foothills Athletic Park, was overruled, and Nikkita Holder of Pickering, Ont., was placed third, with a time of 12.80. As it stands now, Zelinka, George and Holder will represent Canada in the 100 hurdles in London.

However, Whitby’s Lopes-Schliep, who struck a hurdle in the race, which slowed her down to a fifth place showing and a mediocre time (13.17) said that she would look into an appeal, suggesting that she deserves a spot on the team based on her best time (12.64) this year (the fastest of any Canadian) and her past performances.

“I know I’m potentially (an Olympic medal winner),” she said. “I’m a very serious contender.”

But the personable runner, who took all of 2011 off to have a baby, said she would move on if she doesn’t get named to the team.

“It happens,” said the 29-year-old runner, who vowed to come back for the 2016 Games. “God has a different plan for me and that’s what I take from it.”

Felicien, who holds the Canadian record of 12:46, also took her disappointment with grace.

“It’s a race of nerves, it’s a race of milliseconds and breaths and heartbeats,” she said. “One person laughs, one person coughs, one person’s clapping or cheering for somebody else at the wrong moment. It sets you off. But that’s no excuse. It’s my fault.”

If Felicien doesn’t get on to the team via appeal, at 31, her days as a national team hurdler may be nearing the end.

Perhaps the most the most tragic victim of Saturday’s race was Whyte, who, at 32, missed out at competing at what was surely her last Olympics. Zelinka’s decision to run the 100 hurdles in London, said her coach Les Gramantik, at the cost of her friend Whyte, was an emotional one to make. But in the end, he said, it was the right one.

“She’s done a very good job through the years to be very nice to people. Which is great,” he said. “But at some time you have to stand up for yourself.”

The question now is, can Zelinka actually win a medal in the 100-metre hurdles in London? Her 12.68 ranks her ninth in the world this year.

“She’s capable of doing well,” said Gramantik. “She’s not going to win a medal in the 100-metre hurdles. (But) maybe I’m wrong. I hope so. I was wrong twice. I was married twice.”