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Lopes-Schliep became champion through sacrifice

Canadian Priscilla Lopes-Schliep became the best women's 100-metre hurlder on the planet in 2010, winning the prestigious Diamond League season title and earning the world's No. 1 ranking. But first, she had to sacrifice.
Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, second from left, won five Diamond League 100m hurdles races en route to capturing the 2010 season title. ((Michael Steele/Getty Images))

Smiling as she jogs a warmup lap at the Oshawa Civic Recreation Complex, the world's best 100-metre hurdler is passed by a middle-aged jogger out for his noon-time jaunt.

"I'm going to tell my wife I beat Priscilla," he jokes as he looks over his shoulder at Priscilla Lopes-Schliep.

The hurdler has returned to this facility near her home in Whitby, Ont., after a fire at Toronto's York University temporarily closed the track there. Dressed in black tights and black hoodie, her iPod blaring out tunes by Eminem, The Black Eyed Peas and Rihanna, she grins and yells back, "Say hello to your wife for me."

It's been a remarkable year for the personable 28-year-old. With an impressive string of victories in London, Zurich, Brussels, Lausanne and Berlin, she won the IAAF Diamond League season title and recorded the fastest time in the world (12.52 seconds) to earn the No. 1 ranking in the women's 100m hurdles, arguably the most competitive track and field event.

No wonder she's all smiles.

Each Diamond League victory earned Lopes-Schliep $10,000 US. The prize for capturing the overall title was worth another $40,000, plus a trophy rumoured to be worth roughly the same. And no doubt her Nike shoe contract contains incentives for world rankings.

With her husband, Bronsen Schliep, now practicing dentistry in Oshawa, the couple can slough off the student lifestyle they have kept to throughout their three-year marriage and look forward to a bright future.

At the moment they are living in a basement apartment in Lopes-Schliep's parents' house, though they have been looking at condominiums in Toronto.

"In the 2008 Olympics I got bronze, then last year I got silver at the worlds," Lopes-Schliep says after a tempo-endurance workout of 100m and 200m sprints. "This year I won the Diamond League and ran the fastest time in the world, so it's really exciting to see the hard work is paying off."

Back to work

Consistency is one of the trademarks of Lopes-Schliep, who also earned the bronze medal at the 2010 IAAF world indoor championships. About the only disappointment she had was finishing the year without beating her personal-best time of 12.49 seconds. That was all tempered, however, when she and Bronsen were able to take a dream three-week road trip together in their trusty '97 Chevrolet Blazer.

In Yellowstone Park, they joined other campers watching a wolf hunting an elk. They swam in icy water in Montana's Glacier National Park and went wine tasting in California's Napa Valley.

"Don't get me wrong, I like the big-city lights too, but I like being out there camping and seeing the stars," Lopes-Schliep says. "The last day we ended up seeing the sunrise in the Grand Canyon, then sunset at Arches National Park in Utah. Two beautiful places in one day. It was one of the most awesome days ever."

Now it's back to serious training with Anthony McCleary, who has coached her for 11 years, ever since high school. Until the temperature dropped into single digits, Lopes-Schliep trained outdoors, dressed in layer after layer of clothing — much to the amusement of her less hearty club mates.

"There are some days when I feel like staying home, bundling up in a blanket and watching a movie. But those are the days that, when I do come to the track, I have a really good workout," she says. "I am really pumped. I have never skipped out of practice.

"I know there is somebody out there who wants to be where I am at. We [hurdlers] are all so close. I go out and do what my coach tells me to do. If he gives me something, I am going to do it."

Healthy cupcakes

Lopes-Schliep is accustomed to sacrificing to reach her goals. It was only when she had finally captured the Diamond League with her Brussels victory that she allowed herself a favourite treat — cupcakes. They were brought to her hotel room by her father and her agent, Krys Mychasiw, in celebration of her birthday.

Since she was a child, Lopes-Schliep has suffered from lipodystrophy, a condition associated with diabetes that partially accounts for her muscular physique. All the women on her mother's side of the family have the condition, which forces her to be careful about what she eats.  Recently, she learned her triglycerides and cholesterol levels are high.

"I have to make even healthier decisions now. If it's a cupcake, it has to be a healthy cupcake. I have to be a lot more strict than I was in the past, if you can believe that," she says with a laugh.

"It's going to be tricky when I'm overseas, but I will make arrangements because it's my life we are talking about here. I do love sports too. I definitely have to be smart about what I am doing.

"My levels were kind of borderline last year. My doctor said 'you'll be OK, but you have to get on it.' I have to change from white rice to brown rice, and whole grain pasta. Instead of peanut butter, it's almond or cashew butter, which is nice too."

With her coach and agent, Lopes-Schliep will soon plot a brief indoor season with a few races in North America and perhaps a couple in Europe. The next major target is the 2011 IAAF world championships in Daegu, Korea, which start in late August 27.

Asked to name her major contenders, she rapidly fires off a list of eight or so athletes, a testament to the tremendous depth in women's hurdling.

"I'm hoping for another podium performance [in Daegu], but I'm more focused on running a good time. If I can go out there and run a [personal best] and get fourth, I'm going to be excited."

She pauses for a moment. "No, I  take it back. I want to be on that podium." 

With that, Lopes-Schleip returns to the exercise mats to do abdominal work. The time to rest is over. There is more sacrifice to be made.