Funding cut disappoints Canadian Olympian Jessica Zelinka
Heptathlete says she doesn't fit Own the Podium's profile of high-priority athlete for 2016 targeted funding
Canadian Olympian Jessica Zelinka says she won’t receive additional funding from Own the Podium as she begins her quest to compete at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Zelinka revealed the news in a recent interview with athleticsillustrated.com, which posted a story on Dec. 23.
"The additional funding I was receiving leading into [the 2012 London Olympics] helped a great deal but … I’ve been told I am no longer eligible for that support," said Zelinka, who finished seventh in heptathlon and seventh in the 100-metre hurdles in London.
Attempts by CBCSports.ca to reach Own the Podium and Athletics Canada for comment were unsuccessful.
Heptathlon involves hurdles, high jump, long jump, javelin, shot put, 200m run and the 800.
Own the Podium, which began in 2005 to help Canadian athletes top the medal count at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, distributes about $70 million in federal government funding.
Zelinka, who hails from London, Ont., but now lives in Stamford, Conn., with her husband and daughter, said Own the Podium has decided she doesn’t fit the profile of a high-priority athlete for 2016 targeted funding.
"I guess they think I’ll be too old at 34 in 2016," she said. "I think that veteran athletes add value to the national programs beyond performances. A medal, or even just strong performances … can have very positive effects on the team as a whole, not to mention raise the bar that the younger athletes are aiming for."
Canada won 18 medals in London, matching its output at the previous Olympics in Beijing, China. However, the distribution was much different with one gold, five silvers and 12 bronze medals won in London compared to the three-nine-six output, respectively, in Beijing.
Shy of goal
By total medals, Canada placed 13th in the world, just shy of the Own the Podium campaign's goal of a top 12 finish.
Zelinka’s reported cut funding is surprising after she won three Athletics Canada awards: outstanding athlete of the year, most outstanding athlete in track events, and combined events athlete of the year.
Prior to competing in London, Zelinka turned in a record-setting performance at the Canadian Olympic trials, earning 6,599 points.
Shortly after moving from Calgary in September, Zelinka was given a strike for a missed drug test. She said she was caught up in the stresses of a move, late plans to participate in the Olympic parade in Toronto and the added demands of being a mother.
Top athletes in Canada must provide a daily schedule of their whereabouts in three-month blocks to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.
Zelinka’s appeal was later denied.
After deciding to move with her husband, she approached Athletics Canada seeking guidance in arranging a new training environment, but Zelinka said she received many unclear answers about her funding support and a commitment to her as a potential 2016 Olympic Games hopeful.
In 2013, Zelinka will take a "mental break" from competing in heptathlon and focus on the challenges of the 100m hurdles.