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Canada's Jessica Zelinka reacts after winning gold in the Heptathlon during the Commonwealth Games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus) (Anja Niedringhaus)
Canada's Jessica Zelinka reacts after winning gold in the Heptathlon during the Commonwealth Games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus) (Anja Niedringhaus)

Canadian track and field championships set to open Add to ...

Hurdler Perdita Felicien wants a 10th national title, heptathlete Jessica Zelinka is gunning for a record and sprinter Sam Effah wants to wow his hometown crowd at this week's Canadian track and field championship.

That's all music to the ears of Alex Gardiner, the head of Athletics Canada's Olympic program.

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The 2012 Summer Olympics in London are just over a year away and Gardiner is watching to see if the country's top medal hopefuls are embracing every chance they get to compete.

“We want to see hunger. Every event,” Gardiner said Tuesday.

The championships, featuring almost 600 athletes, open Wednesday and conclude Saturday at the refurbished Foothills Athletic Park adjacent to McMahon Stadium.

Felicien, Zelinka, Effah and shot putter Dylan Armstrong are the headliners of this year's national championship.

The five-day competition determines which athletes represent Canada at the world championships Aug. 27 to Sept. 4 in Daegu, South Korea, the Pan American Games and Parapanamerican Games in Guadalajara, Mexico later this year, and next month's World University Games in Shenzhen, China.

Athletes have to meet a qualifying time or distance in their respective events and finish in the top two or three at nationals to earn a trip to South Korea.

This year's national championship is also a dress rehearsal for next year's, which will also be in Calgary and will serve as the Olympic trials.

Felicien, from Pickering, Ont., has won multiple world championship medals in women's hurdles, including a silver last year.

She's now making Calgary her training base to take advantage of the human performance lab at the University of Calgary and to train alongside Zelinka.

The 30-year-old Felicien won't have Priscilla Lopes-Schliep challenging her in Calgary because the Olympic bronze medallist is taking time off to have a baby. But Edmonton's Angela Whyte and Phylicia George of Markham, Ont., will make Felicien work for her 10th Canadian title Saturday.

“It means I'm old, or it actually means I'm good and have some staying power and longevity so I'm going to go with the latter,” Felicien said at a downtown news conference promoting the national championship.

“Physically, everything is good, perfect. Technically on the track, I've got a lot of work to do, but I've still got two months before the world championships. With the Canadian championships, it's really going to allow me to get into that championship mindset.”

The men's sprints are the glamour events of track and field. Effah ran a 10.06 in the 100 metres a year ago, which was the fourth-fastest ever by Canadian sprinter. The Calgarian is looking to break the 10-second barrier this season.

“I've been training towards it,” Effah said. “My goal leading up to the world championships and World University Games it to break it before, or then, or some time before London 2012.”

Effah, Justyn Warner of Markham, Charlottetown's Jared Connaughton and Toronto's Gavin Smellie should make for an exciting men's 100-metre final Friday, but Gardiner thinks the 200-final the following day will be even more exciting with some of those sprinters as well as Edmonton's Bryan Barnett.

“The men's 100 will be good, but the 200 will be even better,” Gardiner vowed. “That will be a rocker.”

Zelinka, from London, Ont., was fifth at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and won a silver medal at last year's Commonwealth Games Delhi, India.

This is Zelinka's second season of full-time competition and training since giving birth to daughter Anika two years ago.

She feels ready top take on the Canadian championship record in the heptathlon, which is the 6,058 points set by Catherine Bond-Mills in 1993.

“It's kind of one of those records that's right in front of your face.” Zelinka said. “It's just over 6,000, but at the national championships sometimes I have been dealing with injuries and whatnot and just trying to get through to qualify.

“Now I'm feeling I'm in a great position to destroy that record hopefully.”

The women's heptathlon starts Wednesday and concludes with the 800 metres Thursday.

Where there is no contest at the national championship is in men's shot put. Armstrong, of Kamloops, B.C., was fourth in Beijing and won gold at the Commonwealth Games. He had a string of international wins earlier this year and was ranked No. 1 in the world at one point.

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