Jessica Zelinka made the decision to return to the track after becoming a mom knowing she had the ability to both break her Canadian record, and win a medal at the London Olympics.
One down, one to go.
The 30-year-old from London, Ont., lowered her national record Thursday en route to winning the Canadian Olympic track and field trials for her seventh national title.
Zelinka posted 6599 points — the third best score in the world this year — to better her previous Canadian-record score of 6490 she set in finishing fifth in the gruelling seven-discipline heptathlon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I don’t think it’s quite sunken in,” Zelinka said, still out of breath moments after winning the final event — the 800 metres. “I’ve been feeling (the record was possible) for awhile ... I guess I wasn’t ready yet until now.”
Zelinka took a season off after Beijing to become a mom to daughter Anika, who’s now three. Since she lives and trains in Calgary, she checked into a hotel for the week to focus solely on the competition, because as her husband Nathaniel Miller said, “it’s impossible to be at home and not be a mom.”
She knew Wednesday night she was on pace for the Canadian record, after topping her Day 1 total from Beijing. Thursday morning, she woke up and gave herself permission to finally break that almost-four-year-old mark.
“It was kind of weird, I have this image of myself from Beijing, and then the image of myself as a mother coming back, and I’ve worked so hard, and have so much support to get me back to where I am now,” she said. “I thought, ‘You know what, Jess you’re ready, don’t resist it, you’re ready, just let it happen.“’
Brianne Theisen of Humboldt, Sask., who won her third NCAA heptathlon title earlier this month, was second with 6393 points, while Jen Cotten of London, Ont., was third with 5793 points.
Both Zelinka and Theisen cemented their spots for the London Games with their top-three finishes, having already achieved the qualifying standard.
Miller and daughter Anika waited near the finish line to each give Zelinka a kiss and hug.
“I’m just really, really proud because you see what she goes through to put on these kinds of performances,” Miller said.
Zelinka’s longtime coach Les Gramantik, sipping a celebratory beer after a long two days, said his athlete’s record performance wasn’t entirely unexpected.
“It’s a very nice performance,” Gramantik said. “The good thing for me right now is that there’s points that were left on the table. . . and a score of 6600-plus gives you a pretty good chance to get on the podium.”
Zelinka raced out to blistering start to the two-day event, winning the hurdles in 12.76 — the second fastest time by any Canadian this season behind Olympic bronze medallist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep.
She posted strong results in high jump, shot put, javelin, the 200 metres and the 800 metres, but struggled in the long jump.
Gramantik said the event just proved what he already knew. The coach said testing and training has shown Zelinka is in the best condition of her life.
“Her fitness is superb,” Gramantik said of Zelinka, who boasts among the most defined abdominal muscles in the sport. “She’s as good as an athlete can be, physically, physiologically superb, and her body composition is as good as you can find in a female athlete anywhere. I challenge anybody in the world to look physically fitter and better.”
Zelinka was asked if peaking for London will prove more difficult after laying down a Canadian-record performance at nationals.
“No, that’s easy, I’ve been training hard all last week, I haven’t been peaking so it’s not like I’ve been waiting looking at the clock like ‘Ugh, I’m getting out of shape,“’ she said. “I’m still building, I’m exhausted now, so there’s so much to gain from this afterwards, just cutting down the training and feeling refreshed.”
Zelinka, the 2007 Pan American Games champion and silver medallist at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, is also racing in the 100-metre hurdles at the trials. She hasn’t ruled out doing both the heptathlon and hurdles in London.
Later Thursday, Damian Warner of London, Ont., won the decathlon with a score of 8107. Jamie Adjetey-Nelson of Windsor, Ont., the leader going into the final event, pulled up during the 1,500 metres, and had to settle for second with 7472 points. Patrick Arbour of Ottawa won bronze with 7088 points.