Perdita Felicien would be perfectly happy to fly under the radar in her march to her third Olympic Games and then pull off a shocking surprise to win the gold medal that has eluded her. She’s won everything else in the 100-metre hurdles: world outdoor and indoor titles, 10 Canadian championships.
Currently, the 30-year-old from Pickering, Ont., is outside the spotlight, whether she likes it or not, having finished sixth in the two Diamond League events she’s run this year. Despite placing first in meets in Poland and France in June, it’s a season she calls “mediocre by my own high standards. I should really be in the 12.6’s [times] by now, quite honestly.” She’s not, although she set a meet record of 12.79 seconds at the Harry Jerome Classic in Vancouver on July 1. Still, Felicien said, it “wasn’t poetry in motion.”
She’s been struggling with the last four barriers in her races, and after she finished up Wednesday at the Toronto International Track and Field Games at Varsity Stadium – where she placed second in 12.88 seconds to Phylicia George of Markham, Ont. – she intends to do something about it.
Felicien will skip a couple of events in Europe in the next couple of weeks to get ready for the Diamond League gathering Aug. 5 in London, site of the 2012 Summer Games. “I know what it takes at this level and I know I’m not there right now,” she said. “And it will take a few weeks of really rigorous training to get there.”
Felicien got off on the wrong foot earlier this year, with an Achilles tendon injury that took her off the track for 5 ½ weeks. The injury didn’t allow her to attack her training the way she would have liked, so when she started racing in Europe, she wasn’t sharp. She was still trying to regain her fitness levels. Now, Felicien says, there are no hurdles (so to speak). She’s not injured and she’s healthy, all she needs to do is train. “I’m not saying it will be easy, but I’m not worried at all.”
At the top of her mind right now are the IAAF world championships in Daegu, South Korea, from Aug. 27 to Sept. 4. She says she’s not thinking about the London Olympics, yet. “You’ve got to fry one fish to get to another,” Felicien said. “If I don’t clear the hurdles properly and get on the podium in Daegu, nobody is going to feel good about that.”
But in spite of what she says, the London Olympics are behind everything she does: pulling up stakes in the United States to move to Calgary to train, with her former coach, Gary Winckler, coming out of retirement to write her programs. “We’re throwing everything at this to make it work because it hasn’t gone my way twice,” Felicien said, referring to falling at the first hurdle at the 2004 Athens Olympics as the favourite, and then breaking a bone in her foot before the 2008 Beijing Games. “It’s the one medal that I really want,” she said. “For some reason, things have just not gone my way.”
Felicien said she was naive back in 2004, having just burst onto the international scene, and didn’t get the “heaviness” of going into the Olympics as the gold-medal favourite. Now, she admits, it would be a lot harder to handle. “But I’ve never done this for the acclaim,” she said. “I’ve never really believed the hype. Going into London, if I do a few less interviews and if I’m not on the front cover of the newspaper, then that’s okay with me.”
In spite of everything, Felicien says she’s a medal threat every time she lines up in a race. “I still have a shot.”