This story is part of an Olympic.ca series on running called Canada Runs.
Canadian track and field athletes are picking up the pace ahead of what is shaping up to be a very busy summer with heptathletes Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Jessica Zelinka leading the way on the women’s side.
Theisen-Eaton and Zelinka have provided Canada with unprecedented women’s heptathlon success in recent years and will look to continue that trend this summer heading into Toronto 2015 and World Championship competition, with an eye on Rio 2016. While striving for the same goal, the gold and silver medallists at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow find themselves in different stages of their careers.
A 2013 World silver medallist, Theisen-Eaton is hitting her stride at 26, more motivated than ever in the pursuit of her goals.
“I am really excited for the 2015 season to work my butt off so that in 2016 everything is fine-tuned and confident and ready to go,” she explained during a phone interview prior to the start of her training for the season last September.
Unlike most track athletes, those taking part in combined events must divide their attention towards multiple disciplines. Heptathlon, as it suggests, features seven: 100 metres hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 metres, long jump, javelin and 800 metres.
Theisen-Eaton trains in Oregon with her husband, Olympic decathlon champion and current world record holder Asthon Eaton, whom she met and competed with at the University of Oregon. The focus this year is centred on getting stronger in order to improve both sprinting and throwing elements, as well as overall explosiveness.
“2015 is a huge year. Most of the work for the Olympics is done the year before,” she explained.
Theisen-Eaton has come a long way since her Olympic debut almost three years ago in London where the star athlete didn’t get the result she was looking for.
“I went in around 10th and I ended up 10th so I felt like I didn’t do what I was supposed to,” she said.
Currently ranked second in the world, the Saskatchewan native feels that her time is now and isn’t shy when it comes to voicing her ambitions for the next Olympics where she’ll be gunning for gold in Rio.
“I’ll be 27. I’ll probably be at the peak of my season, if I can’t say by then that I’m going for the gold medal, it’s not good.”
Much like her Canadian teammate, Jessica Zelinka is looking to improve from her last Olympic outing. Her 7th place finish at the 2012 summer Olympics left her questioning her desire to continue and needing a change.
“I didn’t get the results I wanted. We did everything possible to put me in the best situation to be ready for London and I ended up going in with an injury and not jumping well,” shared Zelinka when interviewed at Claude-Robillard Centre in Montreal after a hurdles training session.
Zelinka, a Pan Am Games gold medallist and top 5 finisher at the Beijing summer Olympics in 2008, moved to Connecticut the following year to train on her own, focusing simply on hurdles and putting multi-event competitions aside.
“Training on my own has been very rewarding. Its made me realize that I really want to do this. To come to the track every day without a personal coach, but mostly training partners… I never realized how great training partners are to have just to see them and do the workouts together and have them lead a warm up so you don’t have to look at your paper every two seconds to try and memorize what you’re doing.”
“For me, the fact that I’m able to do this means that it’s still in my heart and that I still really want to do this for the right reasons, and I still have the drive.”
At 33 years of age, Zelinka is now back in full heptathlon training mode, but with a different approach aimed at reaching a specific state of mind.
“Going this year into Pan Ams and Worlds, and next year in Rio, I have to make a mental shift. I’m going to work on my well being, cutting back in volume (training) and just feeling good, have the quality training that I want to feel when I compete. I have to let go of control, have to trust that I’ve done the work and I don’t need to keep pushing like that.”
“I think in the past I’ve really focused on my fitness and found my confidence on how much workload I can do.”
“I’m in a different phase of my career, I just need to go with it, sharpen up and have confidence when I go compete with the best in the world.”
With Damian Warner, 25, also racking up hardware in the decathlon on the men’s side, Team Canada fans can hope for more podium appearances over the next two summers.