As the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Berlin rapidly approach, Canada's Priscilla Lopes-Schliep is showing the form that led her to a bronze medal performance at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
That 100-metre hurdles medal was Canada's sole podium finish at the Bird's Nest National Stadium in Beijing, and if she is feeling the pressure to repeat in Berlin from Aug. 15-23, Lopes-Schliep is handling it well.
"It is always in the back of your mind, being the only Olympic medallist for Canada," she allows. "But I take the pressure and kind of feed off it.
"In the hurdles, you never know who is going to do what on what day. So you have to go out there and give it your all and attack every hurdle like it's the last race you will ever have."
On Tuesday, July 28, the 26-year-old native of Whitby, Ont., finished second in her specialty at Monaco's Herculis Super Grand Prix Meet in a time of 12.54 seconds, just 0.02 off her season best, which she set in winning the Qatar Super Grand Prix meet in Doha. The field was stacked and possibly stronger than the one that will line up for the Berlin final, where preliminary rounds will likely eliminate some contenders.
Sally McLellan, the Olympic silver medallist from Australia, and one of Lopes-Schliep's closest friends, won the race in 12.50, while the 2008 IAAF world indoor champion, Lolo Jones of the United States, finished third. Jones, who has the fastest time in the world this year at 12.47 seconds, fell at the U.S. championships and did not make the American team for the worlds.
The reigning Olympic champion, Dawn Harper of the United States, managed only sixth.
"It looked like a world athletics final, with all the girls in the race," Lopes-Schliep said afterward, referring to the IAAF invitational meet that traditionally concludes the season. "You never know what is going to happen. I told Sally, 'You gave me a real good run for my money and finished strong, and way to go.'
"Lolo and I hit hands in the middle of the race. We are all pushing and cheering for each other. I mean we are all going out there to attack and to win, but everybody supports one another. Everybody has had their ups and downs. We will see how the worlds go and then the world athletics final."
Once again there is no clear-cut favourite in the women's hurdles, throwing the medal possibilities wide open.
Tensions with Felicien
Perhaps the only notable athlete missing from the Monaco field was Canadian champion Perdita Felicien. The tension between the two Canadians is palpable. They are two very different personalities. While Felicien can appear aloof, Lopes-Schliep is outgoing and friendly. For instance, following her interviews with journalists at the Canadian championships in Toronto, where Felicien edged her out for the title, she joked with the reporters, "I hope you are all wearing your sun screen, guys."
Losing to the 2003 IAAF world champion was a bitter result for Lopes-Schliep to handle as she had beaten Felicien four times straight prior to the national championships. When the pair returned to Europe, Lopes-Schliep beat Felicien in the next two races. Felicien finished ahead of her in London on July 24.
At the time of nationals, Lopes-Schliep admitted her hurdling technique was at fault. "Too much air" over the hurdles, as she put it. But there was another factor she now reveals.
"I came back from being in Europe before nationals and felt very tight," she explains. "I knew something wasn't quite right. I know my body and I knew I needed help. I have been working with Dr. Larry Bell. I am excited to work with him. He's a man of knowledge. He has really helped me with this."
Bell is an Orillia, Ont.-based chiropractor who has worked extensively with the Nigerian track and field team as well as individual sprinters including 2004 Olympic 100 m silver medallist Francis Obikwelu of Portugal. Lopes-Schliep has made the 90-minute drive to Bell's clinic a few times for treatment and reports all is now good.
Good health is something Lopes-Schliep doesn't take for granted. She was born with a genetic condition called lipodystrophy that accounts for her large musculature. All the women on her mother's side of the family have it. Diabetes also runs in the family. She has to take special care of her body.
Regular massage therapy is a must for world-class athletes, and most meets provide this. Lopes-Schliep said there was a two-hour wait for massage in Monaco, however, so she resorted to her own substitute — an ice bath.
"I will do it right here in my hotel room," she says, laughing. "You fill up the bathtub with cold water and ice and sit back and enjoy. The first two minutes are the hardest. Once you get past that you're good to go. If I haven't done it in a while it kind of gets you. But I have been doing it regularly now."
Next up for the Olympic bronze medallist is Stockholm's DN Galan on Friday. A year ago meet organizers put her in the B section. She ran faster than the all the athletes in the A section — from Lane 1, no less. This time, her credentials will no doubt earn her a better lane assignment. Then she will meet up with the Canadian team at a training camp outside Cologne, Germany. Her coach Anthony McCleary will join her and work with her on perfecting her technique heading into Berlin.
"I still feel I need to fix some things, because at the end of the race in Monaco I felt I had more gas in the tank," she says. "So definitely, I am excited about the worlds and to see what is going to happen. I thought I had a very good start tonight. I have got to work on the middle part of the race and the transition and see what happens."