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Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, seen here at the Oshawa Civic Centre's indoor track Thursday April 28, 2011, is four-months pregnant and continues to train for the 2012 summer olympics in London, England. (Tim Fraser for The Globe and Mail)

Tim Fraser/The Globe and Mail

Motherhood and athletic performance have had a long, uneasy history together.

Women were not allowed to participate in a marathon until the mid-1980s (they could not run an Olympic race of more than 200 metres until the 1960s) because the men who ran sport figured it might mess with the organs they needed for reproduction.

Until the 1990s, the Canadian government considered pregnancy a career-threatening injury for female athletes. Sport Canada would scythe a female athlete's stipend 40 per cent for a first pregnancy, 60 per cent for a second and 100 per cent for a third. It took an attempt by race walker Ann Peel to compete a month after giving birth, plus a series of Globe and Mail articles, to get the federal policy changed.

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Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, the hurdler from Whitby, Ont., is glad to be living in a more enlightened era. The 28-year-old winner of an Olympic bronze medal is due to have her first baby with dentist husband Bronsen Schliep in September. They met when she was at the University of Nebraska, where she was a track star and he was a basketball player.

She won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics despite a muscle injury. She was a medal winner in hurdles at the 2009 world outdoor championships and 2010 world indoor championships and took the inaugural Diamond League grand prix crown as the best hurdler in the world last season.

She believes she can deliver a healthy baby and pick up where she left off, in time to compete for a medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

"Over all, pregnancies have been good [for women athletes]" Lopes-Schliep said, citing the victorious comebacks of tennis star Kim Clijsters and marathon runner Liz McColgan, who won the New York City marathon after childbirth.

"Is it going to be easy?" Lopes-Schliep added. "No. Am I up to the challenge? Yes."

The pregnancy, within a year of the London Olympics, wasn't by design. She had a painful twisted right ovary surgically removed in 2007. Lopes-Schliep wasn't sure she'd conceive after the operation. But Bronsen stood by her and told her that as long as she wanted to be an athlete, he'd back her every effort.

She had joked with her husband that there would be little time for interviews after winning a medal in the London Olympics, because "we'd have to get to work on making a baby right away. … We're both 28, about the right age to have a baby."

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Pregnancy took root sooner than she thought.

"It just kind of happened … " she said.

"I didn't even know I was pregnant. We just refer to it as a blessing. I'm still doing a lot of plyometric workouts. I don't jump up and down over hurdles any more. I'm in the pool three times a week. I do some track and moderate weights. I try to keep active. The more you're in shape, the easier labour will be.

"I'm not ready to be done yet," she said.

She stays away from hurdle starts, because of the pressures that can build up in the torso. She walks over hurdles, rather than hopping over them.

Returning to the life of a competitive athlete will be aided by the fact Lopes-Schliep is a member of a large family. Her mother is one of 10 children and her father is one of six.

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"I know the baby will love to be in the arms of his dad or his uncle," she said. "Bronsen's more than excited."

Lopes-Schliep looks at herself in the mirror. Looking at her face on, or from the back, she appears not to have changed from the thick, muscular hurdler who dominated the world scene last summer. She has only a slight baby bump in profile. She stands 5 foot 4, weighs 147 pounds. She eats with gusto - even when she's not pregnant - heavy on the meat protein and milk.

The differences are more discernible to her than to others. Typically, she's got a tight physique, almost painful to look at, because she has familial lipodystrophy, a chronic condition where neither she nor members of her family retain a layer of subcutaneous fat under the skin. Veins and muscles pop. The first impression is that she's an athlete on steroids because her musculature is so defined. She once asked her mother if the veins could be removed so she could wear summer shorts like other kids without feeling self-conscious.

Lopes-Schliep is not well muscled because of steroids but because of her years of background work as a hurdler. And, no, her veins cannot be removed.

Will she retain some of the advantages of producing growth hormone? "Possibly" she said, "but that's got nothing to do with my pregnancy. I refer it more to the extra foods I'm taking in.

"I have a few more [competitive years]ahead of me as a top hurdler. I've been on the podium at the Olympics and at the worlds and I intend to be there again. I feel really good, really positive."

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Last year, she had the world best time for the 100-metre hurdles of 12.52 seconds, which she ran at the London Grand Prix meet.

If someone says she can't do something, says Anthony McCleary, who has been her personal coach in Pickering, Ont., since Lopes-Schliep was 16, "don't tell Priscilla, she'll try and do it anyway," he said, believing that his charge will be training until the September day she delivers.

She's taken aim at the Canadian women's hurdles record of 12.46 seconds, held by former world champion Perdita Felicien, who has the Canadian stage to herself this summer.

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