Will Perdita Felicien miss Beijing Olympics?

Canadian hurdler Perdita Felicien may be a doubtful starter at the Beijing Olympics because of a foot injury.

Canada's Perdita Felicien may be a doubtful starter at the Beijing Olympics, reportedly because of a stress fracture in her foot she suffered this winter.

Recovery from the injury seems to have been more difficult than expected.

At a time when the world's leading athletes are opening their competitive season in preparation for the Summer Games, Felicien has been a notable absentee.

The 2003 world champion has been a regular visitor to physiotherapy clinics in Vancouver and Toronto over the past four months.

Felicien, from Pickering, Ont., has been one of the most accessible athletes throughout her career, in times of elation as well as despair.

Who can forget her appearance before a national television audience following her Athens Olympics catastrophe when she fell after hitting the first hurdle? 

This season, she has refused interview requests, and the telephone at her apartment in Champaign, Ill., has been disconnected.

Even for an athlete who has designs on an Olympic medal, this is a little early to shut down the media.

Coach 'can’t talk about it'

A call to her longtime coach Gary Winckler of the University of Illinois adds to the mystery.

"I really can't talk about it," Winckler said Monday. "You need to talk to her agent.

"She is still in Toronto. I did [expect her back in Illinois], but you need to talk to her agent because I am really not in the loop."

Winckler guided her to her first world championship in Paris five years ago and then the 2004 IAAF world indoor gold medal the following March.

Felicien was a heavy favourite to win the gold medal in Athens before she hit the first hurdle and crashed to the track.

A year ago, she was a surprise silver medal winner at the 2007 IAAF world outdoor championships in Osaka, Japan.

Winkler was alongside her throughout all the success and failure.

If anyone should be in the loop, it should be him.

Renaldo Nehemiah is Felicien's manager.

The former world record holder in the 110m hurdles, Nehemiah played football in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers and knows about planning for a successful campaign.

Asked if he could say when we might expect Felicien to open her 2008 outdoor season, he was reticent.

"Not at the moment," he said.

Nehemiah appeared anxious to cast a positive light on the situation.

"No, her Olympic trials are in July," he said. "I am not concerned.

"The Games are in August, so there are two benchmarks. Everything in between is irrelevant.

"We are not worrying about other races. An athlete of her calibre wants to make the team and be Olympics ready."

Might have changed coaches

Nehemiah suggested Felicien might have returned to her old club coach in Toronto.

Curtis Sahadath coached her through high school until she attended the University of Illinois on a track and field scholarship.

Nehemiah says he received a call from Felicien two weeks ago, at which time he was informed she had been advised to back off her training because there was still soreness in the foot.

It was felt that racing with the soreness could cause a mechanical imbalance in her running gait.

"Psychologically, we didn't want her racing without her thinking only about racing," he explained. "So the team she works with up there said, 'Let's get you off of it, then reassess it.'

"Her primary focus right now is to prepare for the Canadian Olympic trials. Then, after that, take the competitive season from there.

"To try to do a shortcut when she missed training and the necessary groundwork, we don't want that. She is going about her preparations as anyone would do — that's get the base together, so she is not lacking when it comes time to be ready."

There are less than nine weeks until the Canadian championships and Olympic trials and 15 weeks until the Beijing Olympics.

That's a sobering thought for an athlete who is fully fit, let alone one who is injured.

Olympic champ talks to Perdita

Toronto resident Mark McKoy, the Olympic champion in the 110m hurdles at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, said he wouldn’t like to be in such a position.

"I would be concerned, [even] if I wasn't injured," he said. "This is the Olympics.

"It's always cause for concern when you can't train 100 per cent. Even when you are not injured, there's always things that stop you from being able to train — like getting sick. 

"You don't want anything to stop the Olympic year. It's one thing to have a hamstring injury or soreness or to be sick.

"But to be completely off your feet? She's probably stressed to the hilt."

McKoy said he has spoken with the 27-year-old athlete and offered her advice.

"I told her, 'If it's not to be, just keep plugging. I failed more times than I succeeded.' I told her to keep her head up and '…get all the treatment you need and fix it.'"