The Toronto International Track and Field Games could have been a touching sendoff for Canada’s Olympic team headed for London.
Instead, much of the attention was focused squarely on two veteran athletes who are being left at home — Olympic bronze medallist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and world champion Perdita Felicien.
Nikkita Holder of Pickering, Ont., raced to victory in the 100-metre hurdles at Varsity Stadium, while Lopes-Schliep was fourth and Felicien fifth.
Afterwards, the two suggested changes should be made to how Athletics Canada selects its Olympic squad.
“It’s hard to say because Canada’s hurdles has so much depth, but it kind of sucks that that’s what ends it for me, after going to nationals with the fastest time,” Lopes-Schlieip said. “But you’ve got to stay positive, I can’t change what’s happened in the past, I can only look forward to the future. I have to keep that attitude because if I don’t, I won’t be me.”
Holder, a member of Canada’s London-bound squad, beat a world-class field to win Wednesday in 12.83 seconds in the hurdles race named in memory of Toronto Star amateur sports reporter Randy Starkman who died earlier this year. Angela Whyte of Edmonton was second in 12.90. Phylicia George of Markham, Ont., also a member of the Olympic team, was third, beating Lopes-Schliep of Whitby, Ont., in a photo finish. Both ran 12.95. Felicien was fifth in 12.97.
Lopes-Schliep and Felicien, who were swarmed by children to pose for pictures and signed autographs after the race, needed only to finish top-three at the trials in Calgary to make the team for London. Neither did in one of the most shocking results in Canadian Olympic qualifying in any sport.
Lopes-Schliep won Canada’s lone track and field medal — a bronze — four years ago in Beijing, and was No. 1 ranked in the world in 2010 before taking a year off to have a baby. In a shocking result at the Olympic trials, Lopes-Schliep — normally a model of consistency — hit a hurdle and nearly stumbled out of her lane, failing to make the team.
Felicien false started and was disqualified. She ran under protest and was third across the line, but a post-race appeal was denied.
“I think they should re-visit it, and consider it not being the merits of one day and one race, but it being what you’ve done in the past and what you’re capable of doing, and how your season has looked,” Felicien said on the selection criteria. “I think why Athletics Canada has stayed away from that is it can become political, it can become a popularity contest. . . but I think a country of our size in track and field, we probably don’t have the luxury of keeping it on one day.”
Lopes-Schliep had been one of Canada’s top hopes for a medal in London, and the subject of major marketing campaigns in the leadup to the Games.
“I don’t think it hit me until maybe a few days ago,” she said.
Her initial reaction after the race?
“Noooooo!” Lopes-Schliep said laughing. “Ever since Beijing, it was: are you going to go for 2012, and I was like, yup. But God has a different plan for me, I don’t know what it is, but it’s got to be something good. (The Olympics is) a big meet, but it’s only one meet.”
Lopes-Schliep was leaving Thursday for meets in London and Lucerne, Switzerland.
Felicien will also continue racing this season, but hasn’t decided whether she’ll cap her career after the summer. She said she may race indoors next season, and then see where her heart is.
Holder’s fiance Justyn Warner, meanwhile, will head to London with another victory on home soil, winning the men’s 100 metres.
But moments after crossing at the finish line at Varsity Stadium, the 25-year-old from Markham, Ont., hinted at some controversy in the way Canada’s 4x100-metre relay team is being compiled for the Games.
“The relay, there’s too much politics behind it,” Warner said. “They pick who they want, people who shouldn’t be on the team. . . But I know we can be on the podium, I believe in the group of guys.”
Warner ran 10.15 seconds to match his career-best time Wednesday, less than two weeks after winning the Canadian title in Calgary, one spot ahead of his younger brother Ian.
Warner and seven other sprinters — Aaron Brown, Jared Connaughton, Akeem Haynes, Segun Makinde, Gavin Smellie, Oluseyi Smith, and Warner’s brother Ian — are scheduled to attend an Olympic preparation relay camp this weekend in Ottawa.
“They want us to put the relay as our top priority, it’s not mine, my focus is the 100, I’d rather a medal in the 100 than a medal in the 4x100,” Warner said. “But I’ve been realistic, I think we can medal in the 4x100. The 100, it’s a tough event, it is what it is, we’ll see what happens the next couple of weeks. . .”
Brown, who ran 10.18 earlier this season, wasn’t named to the Olympic team following the trials and is appealing the decision. He’s been asked to run a 200-metre race this weekend to prove fitness. The absence of Tremaine Harris from the eight-member relay pool also garnered some criticism at the Canadian Olympic trials after the 20-year-old raced to victory in the 200 metres.
Athletics Canada’s head coach Alex Gardiner has said a pool of sprinters has been working together at several relay team camps to perfect baton exchanges for the past couple of seasons in preparation for London.
Despite his win Wednesday, Warner was frustrated with his time — he’s now run 10.15 three times.
“I’m consistent, that’s a big key, I’ll get that drop when it comes, I just have to be patient with it. But seeing 10.15 over and over again, and I keep trying my best,” Warner said. “But I’m consistent and I’m going to take the positives out of it.”
The Toronto meet, held under sunny skies in front of about 2,000 fans, was the perfect sendoff for London, Warner said.
“It’s awesome, I love this, this whole thing that they’re doing for Canada, it gives an opportunity to run at home, I love running at home, I love running in front of the crowd, great turnout, and it keeps getting better every year,” Warner said.
He can’t wait to get to London.
“I’m excited to run against all those guys, I’ve seen them all before at Diamond Leagues, Asafa (Powell), (Usain) Bolt, . . . I’m ready to run,” Warner said.
Powell, the former world-record holder from Jamaica and a favourite for gold in London, was in the crowd at Varsity Stadium.
In other events, Geoff Harris of Halifax won the men’s 800 metres, Melissa Bishop of Eganville, Ont., won the women’s 800, Jenna Martin of Bridgewater, N.S., captured the women’s 400 title, Curtis Moss of Burnaby, B.C., won the javelin, and Sultana Frizell of Perth, Ont., claimed the women’s hammer throw.
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