By RON FANFAIR
They sat next to one another at a press conference two days before their showdown at the national track and field championships at Varsity stadium. Last Saturday, they lined up side by side for the most highly anticipated race of the meet, the 100-metres hurdles final.
Two-time world champion Perdita Felicien and Olympic bronze medalist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep started fast in lanes five and six respectively, but a determined Felicien put the pedal to the metal midway through the 10-hurdle race to smoothly pull away and clinch her first win in four meetings this season with her Durham-area neighbour.
Though this was just a qualifying event for next month’s world championships in Berlin, Felicien could be excused for the exuberance she displayed after the race. She missed the Beijing Olympics because of a serious foot injury and has been gradually working her way back this year to recapture the sizzling form that enabled her to become the first Canadian to win a gold medal at the world championships six years ago.
She crossed the finish line in 12.80 secs. to capture her eighth national title. Lopes-Schliep, who won the event last year while Felicien was recovering from injury, clocked 12.95 secs. and Edmonton’s Angela Whyte was third in 13.05 secs.
“You know me, I don’t really showboat and I don’t carry on unless its world championships or something really big like that,” said an elated Felicien. “I kind of try to be humble on these kinds of stages. But this is way too sweet for me and a victory like this only feels good when you have gone through the roads that I have gone through in the last year and a half.”
Felicien, who spent most of last year at her Ajax home recovering from a stress fracture in her foot that threatened her career, and Lopes-Schliep embraced after the hotly contested race, unlike two weeks ago when they avoided one another when Lopes-Schliep won the Festival of Excellence event.
“It was her limelight then,” said Felicien, who holds the Canadian record of 12.46 secs. and along with 800-metre runner Gary Reed, were the only Canadians to win track and field medals at the 2007 world championships. “She was the winner.”
Both hurdlers had the support of dozens of friends and relatives last weekend.
Felicien’s St. Lucian-born mother, Cathy Moe, watched her daughter race live for the first time in eight years while Lopes-Schliep’s husband, Bronson Schliep, and her in-laws Marvin and Raelene, flew in from central Nebraska for the meet. Felicien’s support group, that included relatives she joked she never knew existed, were dressed in bright orange and turquoise T-shirts while the Lopes-Schliep clan was in red.
Scarborough-born Lopes-Schliep, who rose to prominence last year with her bronze-medal run in Beijing, said she was not disappointed with Saturday’s result.
“Not at all,” she said. “Every day is a different day. You have to work hard. It’s how you work through the ups and downs. It’s only going to give me more drive to push through and represent Canada in Berlin.
Lopes-Schliep, a cousin of national soccer player, Dwayne DeRosario, has clocked the world’s fastest time this year in the event – 12.52 secs. – at the Qatar Super Grand Prix in Doha in May. Felicien finished fifth in that event in 12.80 secs.
York University alumni Karl Jennings won the 110-metre hurdles in 13.84 secs. while Brian Barnett became the first male sprinter to capture the 100- and 200-metre sprint double since Nicholas Macrozonaris achieved the feat six years ago.
“This was my goal at the beginning of the year and I came and did it so I am pretty happy with myself,” said the Edmonton runner and silver medalist at the 2006 world junior championships in Beijing who clocked 10.28 and 20.71 secs. in the sprint events.
Barnett said he will not compete in both events in Berlin.
“I am going to focus on one or the other,” he added.
British-born Toyin Olupona, who graduated this year from the University of Tennessee and intends to pursue law and politics, clocked 11.56 secs. to win the women’s 100-metre final while Adrienne Power of Halifax breasted the tape first in the 200-metre final in 23.22 secs.
Pickering’s Tabia Charles successfully defended her triple jump title on a wet track a day after finishing second in the long jump final.
She made her first two jumps – 12.62 and 12.89 – and faulted on her next two before taking a pass on her remaining jumps.
“I am happy with where I am at in this event,” said the University of Miami graduate and aspiring model/fashion designer who holds the Canadian record of 13.94 metres. “This is an event I have put on the backburner because I have not had a jump coach for a while.”
Her jump coach, Gregory Portnoy, who took some time off from the sport to attend to personal business in Russia, was satisfied with her performance.
“The most important thing for us today was not to get injured,” he said.
Athletics Canada head coach and technical director Alex Gardiner watched the four-day championships which were held in Toronto for the first time in nearly four decades.
“We are selecting a team for Berlin and we are tracking performances for our younger athletes who will be moving through to 2012 and 2016,” he said. “Berlin is the first year of the next quadrennial. It’s a benchmark year for us. So what we see here and in Berlin is going to set the stage for our preparation for the London Olympics.”
The 2012 Olympics will be held in London while Chicago, Madrid, Rio and Tokyo are bidding to host the 2016 Games. The winner will be announced in Copenhagen, Denmark on October 2.