Skip to main content

Hurdler Perdita Felicien, who now lives in Calgary, Alta., trains at the Glenmore Atheltic Park Monday, June 20, 2011.

Jeff McIntosh/Jeff McIntosh/Globe and Mail

The image of her moment of crisis - the infamous fall and injury at the first hurdle in the 2004 Olympic final in Athens - remains fresh, says Canadian hurdling star Perdita Felicien. It drives her.

Track and field observers keep asking about 2004. She says she has put it far behind her. But Felicien knows that until she stands at the Olympic start line for the 100-metre women's hurdles again, it will always be the moment most associated with her.

"It means a lot," Felicien says in an interview, "because '04 was a heartbreak. I used to be able to do the math to the day, to the hour. Now I can't, thank God.

Story continues below advertisement

"In my head, I knew I'd be back again. But in 2008 I was hurt and it was a devastation. This, for me, is getting back on that stage and that level. But I want this to be its own games, nothing to do with '04 or '08. For me, it's doing it for myself, to show what I can do."

Felicien, 32, will bid for a spot on the start line of the 100-metre hurdles race at the London Olympics - and it will be the most important of "do-overs". It's her last chance to erase everything that went wrong eight years ago. It's her opportunity to regain the Olympic dream and to write the ending she always wanted on her story.

At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, she'd qualified comfortably in two rounds leading up to the final, at 12.73 seconds and 12.49 seconds. Her Canadian record of 12.46 looked ready to fall. There was nothing and no one in the final she hadn't conquered. U.S. hurdling legend Gail Devers was out with an injury.

The gun went off, but Felicien never got past the first hurdle. Inexplicably, she and her custom-made shoes didn't clear the barrier. She tumbled, taking not only herself out of the race but the hopes of Russian Irina Shevchenko. Felicien took off the spikes and hurled them to the track in frustration.

Now, the Pickering, Ont., hurdler, who has won outdoor and indoor world championship, is bidding to hurdle in her third Olympics. (Felicien has actually been at four, counting media work she did in 2008). She's won four world championship medals, including golds indoor and outdoor. She's won 10 Canadian championships.

Success should define her. She deals with 2004 philosophically - even if no one seems to let it rest.

"I don't think it ever will [go away] I think it's part of the narrative, something that I have to accept and deal with and answer gracefully," Felicien says. "For me, with perspective over the years, the wound is not this wide, open, gaping thing anymore, when people want to talk about it. I've been able to move past it and talk about it, just like I talk about any other event.

Story continues below advertisement

"I feel bad that it's overshadowed my successes and other things that I do have on my resume, but that's just life...

"The other option is to sit at home or to do an event that nobody really focuses on. You've got to take the good with the bad. And as long as it's not anything that enters my own psyche -- that is, I get to London and it's [a distraction]that steals my focus -- I'm okay with it.

"That's what happened ... but that's not necessarily me."

Enough with dwelling on failure, she says. The path to success beckons.

"I'll look at that moment and cringe. I'll look at that moment and always be sad. I'll tell my grandkids about it, but I can't ever have that as the one thing in my life that defines me. I did lot of things before that and I have gone on to do a lot of things after Athens. And I'm hoping those things are talked about as well..."

Early in her career, Felicien says she gauged her success by championships and medals.

Story continues below advertisement

"As I've gotten older, I realize you can't do that, there's only three (medals) to go around, and there are hundreds of girls [trying for them] But this is my last Olympics and I want to leave a strong legacy," she says.

"The kids that I will have one day. I want to tell them [how good their Mom was] So it does drive me. I don't look at it as do or die, that would be too much stress, too much pressure. But I do look at it as 'this is your last hurrah and leave no stone unturned,'" she said.

She walks a high performance athlete's tightrope. She wants to excel but has learned that putting too much emphasis on results is counter productive.

"I have a voracious appetite to win, to get the gold and to be on the Olympic podium and to run an Olympic final that I'm proud of, that I can sink my teeth into.

'It's not enough to say 'I'm here.' It's doing the job while you're there. All the preparation happens before."

Felicien was born in Oshawa, Ont. Nearby Pickering, Ont., the home of her mother Cathy Moe, a Saint Lucia native, is Felicien's hometown. In high school, she moved from sprints and long jump to more technically oriented hurdles. She gained attention as the Ontario high school champion. She attended the University of Illinois and trained under Gary Winckler to become the NCAA champion and a world beater. Winckler retired two years ago but came back try one more time with Felicien.

Story continues below advertisement

For her last Olympics, Felicien opted for a change of training venue, living in Calgary, and training with former national coach Les Gramantik, who also is director of Athletics Canada's Speed and Power programs, the head coach of athletics, at the University of Calgary, and a consultant to the Canadian Sport Centre Calgary where Olympians are groomed. Gramantik oversees Felicien's strength training and her program - guided by Winckler - on a daily basis.

"It makes things a lot more consistent," she said. "People are more accountable. There's a lot more support around Calgary's Olympic winter sports centre - a lot more resources I can tap into: sport science, therapy, nutrition, and that's been good."

Felicien spends at least three hours a day on the track, then has physiotherapy, watches videos and trains mentally. She's all business. She doesn't listen to music on the track any more. She focuses. "I want to be in tune with the moment and with my body. That was a huge thing for me to do...

"It's a lifestyle sport: every single day that you're living, you're devoted to your craft. There's no days off, " she said.

"The workload in the fall is a lot harder, because you're running a lot harder, running a lot faster with little rest. By the time you get to April-June, the work is done. This is the hardest time of year and the Olympic cycle... Les is doing a lot of base training, getting me fit so I'm the best machine I can be right now."

Keeping that machine in good running order is imperative for Felicien, who has to fend off some of the best hurdlers in the world at home before she even gets to London.

Story continues below advertisement

"You know when you have an old car for a really long time and you need more oil changes and tune-ups. That's how I feel, there always more to do. More massage, more therapy, stay hydrated, stay one step ahead.

"You're not really changing very much. You focus on the things you can control because there are things you can't. You can't control the competition, you can't control what other people are doing, you can't control the weather. But you look at 'what can I do better.'

"In my sport, one per cent is huge. If I can get half a per cent, that's the difference between being first and being fourth."

Felicien had a reputation for being feisty and angry with herself when she didn't win. She says she has mellowed in the past few years.

"I think when you're 31 and you've been doing this event on this level for 11 years, you have no choice but to mellow. You can burn yourself out pretty quickly," she says.

" I don't think I was born that way, but I got perspective that you can only get with experience. That doesn't mean that my appetite or hunger have tempered at all. I still want this very much, but when I was really young, I was on my way toward burning myself out mentally. I wanted everything. I wanted to count myself based on medals. It's not what defines me any more."

Story continues below advertisement

The end of her hurdling career looms. Felicien may hang on for the Toronto-centred 2015 Pan American Games, but there will not be another Olympics for her.

"This is it for me. There's no review for 2016, I'll be too far gone for that. I was asked if I feel pressure. It's not pressure, but it is the last big one for me. I want to go into it having no regrets, leaving no stone unturned, do everything we can in the next few months to truly be there. When I cross the finish line, be it first, second, third, to be able to say 'that's all I had.'"

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter