Mon, September 23, 2013

No Olympic glory for Lopes-Schliep, Felicien

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Perdita Felicien packs up after her fourth-place finish in the 110-metre hurdles race at the Toronto International Track and Field Games on July 11, 2012. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency

TORONTO - This was supposed to be the great Olympic sendoff.

A night of warmth and good feelings.

A chance for Perdita Felicien and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep to break a sweat, race in memory of a great Canadian gone too soon, wave to the home crowd, say thanks to all for their support and then head off to the London Olympics.

Maybe come home with a medal.

This was an opportunity at the surprisingly popular Toronto International Track and Field games for two of Canada's most accomplished track athletes, a wondrous night at the quaint Varsity Stadium, with at least 2,000 people in the stands, two of them being Ben Johnson and his granddaughter, another being Olympic sprinter Asafa Powell, one last chance to take a bow in Canada and then an airplane to London.

But the bow that was taken came after so high a price was paid, after almost two weeks of emotional soul searching and unquestionable regret. Felicien, the former world champion, isn't going to London and neither is the defending bronze medallist, Lopes-Schliep, not for the Olympics anyhow. It wasn't politics that felled them. It wasn't like anything we've ever seen before. It was sporting and emotional disaster.

It was an Olympics lost in Calgary, an Olympic trial we all lost.

And the residue is so raw, so apparent this close to the 2012 Olympic Games that are so far away for the most opposite of athletes who happen to run the same event, the women's 100-metres hurdles.

Felicien has known disaster before. As poster-girl at the 2004 Games in Athens, she crashed hard and has been climbing back ever since. A false start in Calgary ended her Olympic dream. A false start that gave her no warning, no second opportunity.

Wednesday night at Varsity, after all that went on in Calgary, Felicien didn't fare that much better. She ended up in fourth place in the Randy Starkman Memorial 100-metre hurdles, named for the sports writer gone too soon, that wouldn't have got her to London either.

"The truth is, I wish them well (the sprinters who qualified)," said Felicien, with a big smile. "I'm not going to be at the Olympics so all I can do is sit on the couch and eat my popcorn and cheer them on and I will sincerely do that.

At the Olympic trials in Calgary, Lopes-Schliep couldn't stop hitting hurdles and the same thing happened again at Varsity. She ended up sixth in a race won by Olympic qualifier Nikita Holder and outwardly, at least, she took it all in stride.

Inwardly, that's another matter. Lopes-Schliep is actually going to London, just not for the Games. She leaves Thursday to run an event on the weekend. She just won't be there when the Opening Ceremony begins on July 27,

In truth, this has been an incredible year with an atrocious twist for Lopes-Schliep, who shockingly won bronze in Beijing four years ago. That wasn't expected, neither was her failure to qualify in Calgary. She ran track this year, had a baby girl, became a mom, kept training, had incredible support, had a national marketing campaign built around her and her little girl and then she hit a hurdle in Calgary. And that was it.

There are no second chances, no do-overs in the way Canadian track athletes qualify for the Olympics. It doesn't matter, in the case of Felicien, how many major races you've won, how many times you've stepped on international podiums, if you don't do it when it matters, there are no repechages in track and field.

Maybe this is something the Canadian Olympic Committee needs to look at in the future. Maybe this is something the Canadian Track and Field Association needs to consider going forward. Is a body of work more important than a single race? Should the perimeters be the same for all athletes or does one bad day -- one false start -- one error in judgment end your Olympic dream?

It's not an easy question to tackle. The Olympics are about nothing if not singular performances. On the track, you have to be your absolute best in the seconds that matter most, especially for sprinters and hurdlers. There are no best of sevens.

Felicien would like to see a system that recognizes career performance but even she knows that will lead to politics and who knows what else. "Unfortunately, it's one and done," she said. "I think you should consider the merits of what you've done in the past." She thinks that now. She might think differently had she won at the trials.

The women's hurdles is the one event in Canadian track where there is actually depth. In most events, we can barely find one Olympic qualifier. And because of it, and because of circumstance, two women who expected to wear Canadian colours in London have instead been reduced to little more than memories.