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Olympics2012Name of the game: Armstrong, Zelinka carry Canadian hopes

Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012 | 08:06 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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The Two Jessicas: Canada's Jessica Zelinka, left, and Jessica Ennis from the host country, will be front and centre as the heptathlon medalllists are determined in a two-day competition that begins Friday. (Samuel Kabani/AFP/Getty Images)
The Two Jessicas: Canada's Jessica Zelinka, left, and Jessica Ennis from the host country, will be front and centre as the heptathlon medalllists are determined in a two-day competition that begins Friday. (Samuel Kabani/AFP/Getty Images)

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The heartbeat quickens on the eve of the track and field at any Olympic Games, writes Scott Russell, and shot putter Dylan Armstrong and heptathlete Jessica Zelinka, Canada's best medal hopes, begin their quest on Friday.

Donovan Bailey doesn't mince words.

"I always say once track gets going the Olympics really begin," Bailey chuckled while soaking up some of the rare sunshine in Trafalgar Square.

For a long time he was the World's Fastest Man, and the double gold medallist from the 1996 Atlanta Games is used to the spotlight. He was only half-joking as he made reference to the mystical allure of athletics at any Olympiad. The main stadium is the centrepiece venue and the men's 100 metres is the marquee event.

Bailey is right. The heartbeat quickens on the eve of track and field.

The names of the athletes alone are indicative of what's in store. Usain Bolt of Jamaica has been known to make lightning strike more than once. He won three sprint gold medals in Beijing and has ambitions to sweep the 100, 200 and 4x100 hardware again in London.

The American speedster Carmelita Jeter, (pronounced JET-er) is just that ... a two legged jet. The world champion at 100 is the leader of a stellar roster of running women from USA. Along with her teammate Allyson Felix, who possesses "ca- like" quickness in multiple sprint distances, they'll give their rivals, the Jamaicans, a run for their money at every turn.

But perhaps the best match of name-event is that of Canada's sultan of shot put, Dylan Armstrong.

Indeed, this mammoth man possesses power in his upper limbs which is virtually unmatched. He's the reigning Diamond League champion and world championship silver medallist. The Kamloops, B.C., native has also captured a bevy of international titles including those at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico and the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010.

It makes him a favourite to bring home Canada's first athletics medal this time in London. And recall, Armstrong missed the podium in Beijing four years ago by a single centimetre, the smallest measurement they'll make in the field events at the Games.

It's strange how minute differences can motivate the largest of men.

Armstrong is all about isolation and routine. Unlike the rest of the Canadian athletics team, this giant-sized, 340 pound mammoth spent the last days of the Olympic training camp in Albufeira, Portugal and observed a ritualistic pattern in order to prepare for the Games.

He ate, he trained, he cooled off in the ocean, and he slept.

That's it.

"This guy gets up every morning with a smile on his face," said head coach Alex Gardiner. "He loves being in the throwing circle. He's confident because he's done it over and over again. He talks about his sport with so much love and care."

Should Armstrong live up to his name and win a medal in London it would be the first podium finish in an Olympic throwing event in Canadian history.

"He wants to do something for his sport and his country," Gardiner added. "Those words never sound corny coming out of Dylan's mouth."

One of Canada's few medal hopes in the field of Athletics will come in the women's heptathlon. Two athletes with the same first name will go head-to-head under the glare of the Olympic stadium's lights.

Jessica Ennis is the poster girl for Team Britain and a favourite to win the gold medal. Meantime, Jessica Zelinka of Canada is the mother of a three-year-old daughter. She's in the best physical and psychological shape of her life as she tries to improve upon a fifth place finish at the 2008 Olympics.

"Heptathlon is translated from German as the seven struggles," Les Gramantik pointed out. He's the personal coach of Zelinka and has been throughout her rise to prominence. Gramantik believes the intense scrutiny this heptathlon will heap on his athlete will not be an issue.

"Pressure is a privilege," he concluded. "A lot of people would love to feel pressure but they're not here. There are five or six women capable of the podium in heptathlon. I'm planning on putting Zelinka there.

"Our veterans are expected to battle," Gardiner chimed in. "They should take direction from the Canadian rowing eights and Brent Hayden of swimming. But on the day .... they will be expected to battle."

And at the Olympics, no matter what your name is, when it comes to Athletics, it's the name of the game.

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