Priscilla Lopes-Schliep has two things on her mind. Well, one's on her mind, the other's in her tummy.
The 28-year-old hurdling champ, who won the Diamond League title in September and took an Olympic bronze in Beijing in 2008, is pregnant with her first child, due September 23 of this year. That is less than a year before she attempts to defend her Olympic medal at the 2012 London Games. Hurdles preliminaries are on Aug. 6; semifinals and finals are Aug. 7.
First, the Whitby, Ont., native says she wants to deliver a healthy child. Second, she wants to win a gold medal in hurdles.
"The main thing is to make sure I'm healthy and the baby's healthy," Lopes-Schliep said, who carries an ultrasound picture of the fetus on her phone screen. "I've continued to train throughout my pregnancy and have no intention of losing my base fitness. That will make my comeback in 2012 that much easier."
She married dentist Bronson Schliep in 2007. They met when both were students at the University of Nebraska. He is a former college basketball star. Their living quarters now are in Toronto.
Lopes-Schliep told her agent, Kris Mychasiw, to buy tickets for her family for the 100-metre Olympic hurdles final in London on Aug. 7.
The pregnancy, if awkward in timing, has a positive side for Lopes-Schliep. She feared not being able to have children with Bronson, she said in a Canadian Press report, because she had one of her ovaries removed due to a painful cyst in 2007. The surgery took place shortly after a series of competitions in Brazil in May, but Priscilla was able to return to the track in July to qualify and later compete at the world championships that summer in Osaka, Japan. He was able to recover in time for the 2008 Olympic trials and a Games bronze.
Lopes-Schliep has a muscular appearance -- which is not due to steroid use. She has a genetic condition - other members of the family have it -- called lipodystrophy. She cannot retain the subcutaneous fat layer that typically is under a woman's skin. It means her legs look muscular, almost as though the skin were stretched over muscle and sinew.
That's powerful, an observer thinks, but as a child, she was mocked by other kids for her appearance and even asked her mother if she could have veins removed so she would not feel so self-conscious wearing shorts like other kids.
Nevertheless, she became a top athlete under local coaching -- a scholarship winner, and an Olympic and world championship medalist. Sunday, she'll walk the red carpet at the Juno Awards.
"It's something that was meant to be," said Lopes-Schliep of the pregnancy.
Longtime coach Anthony McCleary has reduced her training but fully expects her to be on top of her game for London. He said Lopes-Schliep's biggest problem will be how to leave the baby on the sidelines when she returns to fulltime training.
"Priscilla's work ethic and dedication will help her come back strong from pregnancy," McCleary said. "We have consulted doctors and specialists and have altered her workouts accordingly. At this time of course the main concern is the health of the child," he said.
"Priscilla is the most determined person I've ever met. On a call a few days ago she asked how many tickets she could have for the Olympic final in 2012," said her agent Mychasiw, who has been instructed by the athlete to make sure family and friends have tickets for the Aug. 7 Olympic final. "She has two things on her mind, a healthy baby and Olympic gold."
Pregnancy and sport are not mutually exclusive - although the federal funding formula for athletes in the 1980s called for suspension and then cessation of payments to female athletes because of pregnancies. That policy has since been changed.
Dr. Julia Alleyne, chief medical officer for the Canadian team for the London Olympics, cited a study by University of Western Ontario exercise physiologist Michelle Mottola that showed women in the military were able to get back to pre-pregnancy fitness levels 12 to 15 weeks after an uncomplicated delivery in a low-risk birth.
In the regime in which East German women were top medal winners, they actually employed pregnancy as part of a hormone-boosting strategy. Female athletes were advised to make use of the additional growth hormone the body would manufacture when they became pregnant. (Pregnancies were sometimes terminated, but some of the growth hormone's effects lasted.)
There have been successful post-pregnancy comebacks by athletes. British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe won the 2007 New York Marathon 10 months after the birth of her daughter. Belgian tennis ace Kim Clijsters won the 2009 U.S. Open 18 months after giving birth to a daughter.
"We have been keeping the news quiet until we were ready to share with everyone, we are very proud to announce that we are three months pregnant, it's so nice to now be able to let the world know," Lopes-Schliep said in a statement.
In 2010, Lopes-Schliep won the inaugural Diamond League title and posted the season's fastest time in women's hurdles. Pregnancy kept Lopes-Schliep off the indoor track circuit this past winter and she'll miss this summer's world championships in Daegu, South Korea.
"We're going to miss Priscilla in Daegu but are confident that she and her team will do their utmost to be ready for London," said Athletics Canada head coach Alex Gardiner. "Her talent will not disappear and her tenacity will not be diminished. I expect it will be the opposite. Priscilla knows all about the power of family and she'll thrive with the new addition."