Canadian Hurdles Match-Up Doesn’t Disappoint at Festival of Excellence

Priscilla Lopes-Shliep is showing the world’s track community that her Olympic bronze medal last August may only be the prelude. On Thursday night under a dark sky on a wet track, the hurdler from Whitby, Ontario won the 100-metre hurdles in 12.86 seconds at Toronto’s Festival of Excellence. It didn’t appear that she knew she had won the race until the Varsity Centre scoreboard proved it, after which she smiled broadly and jumped in triumph.

That’s because right beside her at the finish line was the other star attraction of the race, her teammate. Step for step and leap for leap was Perdita Felicien (Pickering, Ont.), former world champion in the event. As the crowd cheered wildly beneath ponchos and umbrellas, Felicien crossed the finish line at virtually the same moment. Her time: 12.88 seconds. It was a significant achievement for Felicien (beating world No. 2 Damu Cherry), who is working back into top form after an injury last year prevented her from competing in Beijing.

“We are both competitors, both going after the same prize,” Felicien said on Wednesday. “On the track I respect her and she’s getting a lot of the attention and she deserves it. She’s running well and she won a bronze medal.” That medal, 12 years since the last Olympic track medal for Canada, was an inspiration to the entire national team, she added.

The two Ontario Olympians are quickly forming a potent one-two punch on the international stage in 100-metre hurdles. Lopes-Shliep owns the fastest time of the season at 12.52 seconds, after which she suggested she has a lot more in the tank. (The world outdoor record is 12.21, set in 1988.)

Thursday’s star attraction was double world record holder Usain Bolt. The crowd made that perfectly clear, erupting in cheer as he was introduced at the blocks in lane four. Bolt blasted past the field, but the weather prevented any marks close to his world record of 9.69 seconds. Bolt crossed in 10 seconds ahead of American Shawn Crawford (10.25), a double Olympic medallist in the 200 metres. The rain didn’t damper the enthusiasm of the large Canadian-Jamaican crowd.

Canadian sprinters Jared Connaughton (New Haven, P.E.I.) and Anson Henry (Pickering, Ont.) crossed in sixth and seventh spot respectively on the slick blue track.

Earlier, the men’s one-mile run was dominated by Canadians. Beijing Olympian Nate Brannen (Cambridge, Ont.) ran a very impressive race, distancing himself from all others down the stretch to win in 3:55.07. Fellow 2008 Olympian Taylor Milne (Callander, Ont.) took second at 3:56.54 in the 14-athlete field. A year-and-a-half ago, Brannen had back surgery and was told he might never run again.

Olympian Malindi Elmore (Kelowna, B.C.) had an excellent showing in the women’s one-mile run finishing about one second behind winner Sally Kipyego of Kenya, who is the top U.S. women’s collegiate cross-country runner. Tyler Christopher (Chilliwack, B.C.), the 2008 world indoor champion in 400 metres, finished in fifth spot in a race won by 2008 Olympic gold medallist Lashan Merritt.

The Festival of Excellence was the unveiling of the University of Toronto’s revamped Varsity Centre on Bloor Street West, and featured 50 Olympic athletes.