If this is Jessica Zelinka’s Olympic swan song, it didn’t come with a happy ending.
And moments after finishing seventh in what was likely her final heptathlon at the Games, she broke down in tears in the interview area.
“I don’t know what to make of it,” Zelinka said. “Because five of the seven [events] were exactly what I wanted to do. Five out of seven isn’t bad. But in heptathlon the jumps are not forgiving. At all.”
The 30-year-old from London, Ont., had entered the final event – the 800 metres – sitting in eighth and needing the race of her life to get anywhere close to the podium in Saturday’s competition at Olympic Stadium.
Despite a valiant sprint to the finish and the second best time of 2:09.15, it wasn’t nearly enough.
She revealed afterwards that she had realized going in she was too far from the top contenders to medal.
“I ran hard knowing I wasn’t going to get a medal regardless,” Zelinka said. “I just wanted to run hard.”
Zelinka finished the event with 6,480 points, falling two spots from her fifth place showing in Beijing and 148 points back of a bronze medal.
It wasn’t that far off of her personal best, but this was a very difficult field and new personal bests were the norm.
To the delight of the home crowd, Great Britain’s Jessica Ennis won gold in the event by a landslide, setting a new national record at 6,955. Germany’s Lilli Schwarzkopf took silver and Russia’s Tatyana Chernova the bronze.
Six of the top nine finishers posted a PB in the event.
Zelinka had targeted a 6,600-point finish coming in, which would have eclipsed her previous best of 6,599 set at the Canadian trials this summer but still left her in fifth.
Her biggest issues were the jumps, as both her high and long jumps were far lower than expected.
“It was over after that,” Zelinka said. “It’s just too many points. You can’t regain that by beating people by two metres in shot put or taking 10 seconds off the 800. You just can’t make up those points.
“I don’t know why I didn’t put even a half decent jump together for either of them.”
Zelinka’s Olympics aren’t quite over as she’ll race in the 100-metre hurdles later in the week. Given she has never competed in the individual event at a major international competition and is beat up from the pentathlon, her expectations aren’t high.
“I’m just going to go out there and run,” she said. “And not have to worry. It’s so [expletive] easy compared to the heptathlon. Even if I’m totally beat up, which I am, I’m just running for 12 seconds.”
The other Canadian in the event, Brianne Theisen of Humboldt, Sask., finished 11th in her first Games.
Only 23, she hopes to take enough away from what she called an overwhelming experience to help her land on the podium in 2016.
“I was telling Jessica, I wasn’t prepared for this,” Theisen said. “Physically I was, but mentally, there’s no way to prepare for this. I’m young, I have a lot to learn and I need to get out and do some more international heptathlons and get a feel for this group and how these things work.”
Theisen will now spend next week watching her future husband, Ashton Eaton, compete in the decathlon for the United States. The current world record holder is considered the favourite in the event.
“I’ll be sitting in the stands for the whole 16-hour day or whatever it’s going to be,” she said. “I’m really excited.”