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No perfect solution for selecting Olympic track team

Nikkita Holder won the women's 100-metre hurdles race at the Toronto International Track and Field Games at Varsity Stadium on Wednesday night in what some will take as an affirmation of a decision by Athletics Canada to let one race decide the three women who will carry Canada's hopes at the London Olympics.

But there was still something amiss; a sense of wistfulness to a race that was named in memory of the late Randy Starkman, the Toronto Star's amateur-sports reporter.

Holder, who finished third in the Olympic trials in Calgary last month and qualified after Perdita Felicien was disqualified, finished first in 12.83 seconds, ahead of Angela Whyte (12.90) and Holder's Olympic teammate, Phylicia George and that, too, seemed not out of sorts. But it was Priscilla Lopes-Schliep's fourth-place finish (12.95) and Felicien's fifth-place result (12.97) that were most carefully noted.

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This was a carry-over from the Canadian trials, when Felicien false-started and Lopes-Schliep hit a hurdle, veered into another lane, and finished sixth. Jessica Zelinka, who'd qualified for London as a Canadian heptathlete, surprised the field and will lead Canada's three-person team.

It was a setback for Canada's medal hopes, since Scarborough's Lopes-Schliep had put down consistently strong times in building toward London, despite giving birth to her first daughter in October and Felicien, the 31-year-old Pickering native who has moved to Calgary, was making a charge at likely her last Olympics with a great deal to prove.

Zelinka will have two days between the heptathlon and hurdles, and in the immediate aftermath of her hurdles win in Calgary, her coach, Les Gramantik, told Allan Maki that: "She doesn't have a chance to win a medal in the hurdles." He soft-pedalled the message with a quick "but I've been wrong before." Still ...

Outwardly, Lopes-Schliep and Felicien have moved beyond. Both have future international competitions lined up, even though Lopes-Schliep admitted that being shut out of the Olympics "probably only hit me a few days ago."

Felicien, for her part, did wonder again about a process that overlooks "pedigree … what you've done in the past and are capable of doing." She questions whether Canada has enough depth across the board to base an Olympic team on one race, and for many of us she is correct.

But then, what is the perfect manner for choosing an Olympic team? Leave it to the whim of a coach? Form a committee? Nobody much likes committees. Except lawyers, as has been proved in past selection processes.

Justyn Warner – who is Holder's fiancée – won the men's 100-metre event in 10.15 seconds in Calgary, and turned in that time again winning Wednesday night's race ahead of fellow Canadian Seyi Smith, who came in at 10.27. Gavin Smellie was third in 10.35. He should be an automatic choice for the men's 4 x 100-metre relay team, which will have a preparation camp this weekend in Ottawa.

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"I don't even want to talk about that," said Warner, who was watched by Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell, one of the estimated 2,000 fans in attendance at Varsity Stadium. "There's too much politics behind it. They pick who they want and people who shouldn't be on the team end up being on it. We'll see what happens. There's no doubt we can go to the podium; he [coach Glenroy Gilbert] just has to pick the right guys. I know we can be on the podium; I believe in that group of guys."

Warner, whose brother Ian is part of a group of candidates for the team as are Smith and Smellie, fancies himself as something of the lone wolf among the group of athletes in the running for the team. "They want us to the put the relay as our top priority, but it's not mine. I'd rather win a medal in the 100-metres than 4 by 1. To be realistic … we could medal in the 4 by 1."

Warner is not intimidated by the depth of the men's 100-metre field in London. Rather, he is intrigued by the manner in which Yohan Blake has had an edge over Usain Bolt, including at the Jamaican Olympic trials.

Also intriguing? The unforgiving one-strike-and-you're-out false start rule. "Good question," he said with a laugh when asked what he made of it, agreeing that Bolt might be sand-bagging. "He'll run when he needs to run," Warner said. "Both those guys are phenomenal athletes … the 100 is going to be just phenomenal. I want to get to the final, because anything can happen with that rule."

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