Her one coach shouts encouragement. “That’s a good run. That’s an excellent run,” praises Les Gramantik. Her other coach, Gary Winckler, watches from track-side and concurs.
This is what Perdita Felicien needs because time is running out. Come Saturday at the Canadian Olympic track and field trials, the former world champion either finishes in the top three of the women’s 100-metre hurdles or she misses out on qualifying for the London Games.
Her rivals make the 100 hurdles an unpredictable event and a significant challenge, the toughest of the entire trials. Leading the way is 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, followed by sprinters Phylicia George, Angela Whyte, Nikkita Holder and heptathlete Jessica Zelinka. Any combination of those three could keep Felicien from London and what is likely her last shot at an Olympic medal.
And that’s why Winckler is on the scene, joining Gramantik in helping fine-tune Felicien for Saturday’s final at Foothills Athletic Park. Winckler was Felicien’s coach when she attended the University of Illinois and earned all-America status and later won the 2003 world title.
And it was Winckler who recommended last year that Felicien move to Calgary and train with Gramantik.
The two coaches have worked together in the past at training camps in Arizona and St. Kitts. Weeks ago it was decided they would team up in Calgary to assist Felicien in her final push for London.
“Her training sessions have gotten better. She’s getting back that feeling,” said Winckler, who noted how Felicien lost six weeks of training time this winter with tendinitis in both her Achilles. “She’s in a good place mentally.”
That may seem an odd assessment given how Felicien finished sixth at the Donovan Bailey Invitational in Edmonton this month. But there were reasons to be optimistic. Felicien got out of the blocks poorly anticipating a false start. When she got to the second hurdle, she was still waiting for a second gun to sound and restart the race. When none came, she dug in her spikes and blasted her way to the finish, making up a goodly amount of ground.
“In a solid field like that, you can’t give that up [at the start], a centimetre, a step, nothing,” Felicien said.
“It was a good wake-up call. Better it happened there. They’re not giving out Olympic medals in Edmonton or naming the Olympic team in Edmonton, as far as I know.”
Winckler and Gramantik agreed Felicien’s run in Edmonton was her most technically sound to this point and that the beauty of the 100 hurdles here is that it’s not about the time (all six of the top competitors have equalled or bettered the Olympic qualifying standard); it’s about racing, being in the top three. In that regard, Felicien has a wealth of big-race experience.
“I’ve been in a situation like this so many times,“ she acknowledged.
“I’m trying to recreate that I’ll be on this very same track, maybe in the very same lane [Saturday]; it’s not that different. The other seven lanes, I can’t control. I can control my thoughts, execute my race.”
The Olympics have been a sore spot for Felicien. In 2004, as the gold medal favourite, she did the unthinkable and tripped over the first hurdle before falling to the track. In 2008, she was unable to compete because of a foot injury. At 31, London looks to be her final go at the Olympics and while that could adversely add to the pressure, instead it has helped Felicien enjoy her preparations. She understands she has only a few “major championships” left in her career and intends to revel in them.
“It’s been a long road being injured and trying to find the rhythm [needed for hurdling]. When you lose it, it takes a while to get it back,” she explained. “Finally, this is it. I want to enjoy the moment. It’s about having that fire for Calgary. I’ve been searching for that. I feel I’ve finally got that fire in my belly.”
The Canadian Olympic trials begin Wednesday and will close Saturday with the women’s 100-metre hurdles.
Athletics Canada will then select its 2012 Olympic team the following day.