Perdita vs. Priscilla: Rivalry on track

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

Some talking head yesterday compared the Perdita Felicien-Priscilla Lopes-Schliep rivalry in the 100-metre hurdles to the Catriona Le May Doan-Susan Auch speed skating rivalry of years past.

An apt comparison.

But there is one major difference.

Le May Doan and Auch would, from time to time, look at each other.

Felicien and Lopes-Schliep? Well, people are starting to wonder if there is some kind of Medusa thing going on between the two. That is, if they made eye contact, they'd both turn to stone.

Which is strange, because Felicien and Lopes-Schliep have a lot in common, besides being world-class hurdlers.

They're Toronto-area girls, personable, chatty, positive ... all that good stuff.

And yet, it's a major chore to get one to speak at length about the other.

Unquestionably the marquee event at this weekend's Canadian track and field championships at Varsity Stadium (the first time the event has returned to Toronto since 1968), is the women's 100-metre hurdle finals, featuring Felicien and Lopes-Schliep.

Chances are they'll finish 1-2 and, if the weather is decent, both could break Felicien's Canadian record of 12.46, set back in 2004.

Lopes-Schliep is the favourite to win her second straight Canadian title, even though Felicien won seven before that. Lopes-Schliep had a huge 2008, picking up the slack in the absence of the injured Felicien at last summer's Beijing Olympics by winning the bronze medal, and she has carried that momentum into this season, posting the fastest time in the world this year (12.52).

Felicien, the 2003 world champion, is rounding back into form after a foot injury forced her to miss Beijing.

Conceivably, they could both win medals at the world championships in Berlin later this summer.

Like Le May Doan and Auch, part of their success stems from having a tough rival at home. But the rivalry is completely superficial.

They don't train together, share information and certainly don't hang out.

But neither sees that as a problem, or controversial. And maybe they're right.

In years past, Canadian amateur athletes had the reputation of being great sports, gracious in defeat, the first to shake the winner's hand. It was all about personal bests and supporting your teammates and blah, blah, blah.

Felicien and Lopes-Schliep, while certainly not enemies (so they claim) want to beat the crap out of each other (on the track) and the rest of the world.

And you know what? Perhaps that's better than two also-rans hugging and exchanging daffodils.

"Here's the thing about me," Felicien said yesterday. "I can be peppy, I can be friendly, I can be cordial, I can have lunch with anybody. But when I get on the track ... I really see red, I just can't stand anybody. The competition is the enemy. That's just how I approach it."

Lopes-Schliep is just another hurdler to beat, even though she happens also to be Canadian. It's purely a professional rivalry. There's no warmth, but no pettiness either (at least not yet).

"I want to keep it healthy and keep it civil because we're Canadian and I think it's a great thing for our sport," said Felicien, 28. "Kids are watching us and we're being examples for them, so we have to keep it positive."

Felicien said that while she was off last season with the foot injury, she studied tapes of many of the world's top female hurdlers, breaking down their technique. Including Lopes-Schliep? No.

On the other hand, Lopes-Schliep doesn't study tapes of Felicien either.

"I don't hate anybody," said Lopes-Schliep, when asked about her relationship with Felicien. "It's all about focussing on what you have to do."

With that, Lopes-Schliep and Felicien departed yesterday's media conference.

In different directions of course.


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