CALGARY - Two of Canada's greatest hurdlers saw their Olympic dreams come to a crushing end Saturday.
Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and Perdita Felicien both failed to qualify for Canada's team bound for London in a dramatic women's 100-metre hurdles final that saw heptathlete Jessica Zelinka emerge the winner.
"I've dusted off. I'm not going to let it get the better of me. Everything happens for a reason," said Lopes-Schliep, who was considered one of Canada's top hopes for a medal in London — her face is even on a Cheerios box as part of an Olympic promo.
The 2008 Olympic bronze medallist from Whitby, Ont., and the world's fifth-fastest hurdler this season, needed only a top-three finish at the Olympic track and field trials to make the squad. But she finished fifth after crashing into the seventh hurdle and nearly reeling into another lane, prompting a gasp from the fans packed into the stands at Foothills Athletics Park.
Felicien, a former world champion who had tasted Olympic heartbreak twice already, was disqualified for a false start.
"It's not difficult (to accept), because I've had a really long career, a really successful career I don't define myself by Olympic medals or Olympic moments," Felicien said. "They're wonderful, they're beautiful, that's the epitome of our sport. And that's where I want to be. I feel I deserve to be there, but who deserves what?"
Zelinka, from London, Ont., raced to a career-best 12.68 seconds. Phylicia George of Markham, Ont., won the silver medal in 12.72, while Nikkita Holder of Pickering, Ont., captured bronze in 12.80. The top three finishers had the Olympic standard, so barring any further appeals, they should be the trio named to Canada's team on Sunday.
Lopes-Schliep had the potential to be one of the biggest feel-good stories of the Games. The 29-year-old, whose likeness has been splashed across media and marketing campaigns in the months leading up to London, was the world No. 1-ranked hurdler in 2010 and claimed the prestigious Diamond League title that season before taking a year off to become a mom. Her daughter Nataliya was born in September.
"It's a hurdle race, and unfortunately I hit a hurdle really hard and I wasn't able to recover from it," Lopes-Schliep said. "It's disappointing. You want to go out there, you want to give your best. I felt really good. And unfortunately Hurdle 7 got the better of me.
"Darn Hurdle 7," Lopes-Schliep added, with a sad laugh.
Felicien raced under protest and crossed third, just ahead of Holder. The 31-year-old from Pickering, Ont., who crashed in the final of the 2004 Olympics and missed the 2008 Games with a foot injury, appealed her disqualification based on the noise of the crowd at the start, but it was denied about 45 minutes later by a technical committee.
"Unfortunately it's a race of nerves, it's a race of milli-seconds, and breaths and heartbeats, one person laughs, one person coughs, one person's clapping, or cheering for somebody else at the wrong moment, it sets you off," Felicien said. "It's like you're on a gun ready to be cocked and let go, and I got the short end of the stick today. No excuses, my fault."
The 30-year-old Zelinka capped a stunning week with her hurdles victory, which came two days after she won the heptathlon in a Canadian-record performance.
Zelinka, who was fifth in Beijing and then took a year off to become a mom — her daughter Anika is three — let out a shriek when she crossed the line.
"It's so exciting," Zelinka said. "To be able to do that and perform on demand like that, it's an amazing feeling. It would be ridiculous if I didn't want to replicate that in London."
Zelinka will compete in both heptathlon and hurdles in London, but her decision to double came after a talk with her coach. Plus a good cry. Accepting a spot in the hurdles meant leaving another hurdler at home.
"This is a horrible situation," she said through tears, before finally making her decision to double in London. "There was no good outcome really. I ran a super-good, world class time. I wanted to be in this position now that I'm here I don't know."
Her coach Les Gramantik urged her to do both events in London, saying she deserved it.
"At some point you have to look at, 'Did you earn it? Yes. Are you better than everybody?' Yes. It's not a Salvation Army here," Gramantik said. "Friendship or not, the reality is life goes on. She proved she's better than anyone else right now."
Asked how he feels Zelinka will fare in the hurdles in London, the coach said: "She's not going to win a medal in 100 metre hurdles. Well, maybe. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope. I was wrong twice. I was married twice."
Earlier in the day, Dylan Armstrong won the men's shot put title to cement his spot on the Olympic team for London.
Armstrong, who needed only a top-three finish to clinch an Olympic spot, threw 21.29 metres, despite a slick throwing circle that had the field of throwers complaining. At one point, the world silver medallist turned to another athlete and said "The throwing circle is brutal, man. It's a sheet of glass."
The distance was well off his Canadian-record toss of 22.21 he threw at last year's national championships in Calgary.
"Today was just about having fun and giving the people here a chance to look and see what we do," said Armstrong, one of Canada's top hopes for a medal in London. "I was really happy with the result, it was a bit challenging with the circle, it was definitely a lot slicker than last year. I think everybody had to make some technical adjustments today, but I'm definitely happy where I'm at right now."
Justin Rodhe, also of Kamloops, was second with 20.30, while Tim Nedow of Brockville, Ont., threw 20.21 for bronze.
Like Armstrong, Rodhe had achieved the Olympic qualifying standard and needed only a top-three finish at the trials to clinch a spot on the London-bound squad.
Rachel Seaman of Peterborough, Ont., and Inaki Gomez of Vancouver were among other athletes who clinched their spots Saturday, Seaman in the women's 10,000-metre racewalk, Inaki in the men's racewalk.
Alex Genest of Lac-aux-Sables, Que., won the men's 3,000-metre steeplechase to earn his berth in London, while hammer throwers Heather Steacy of Lethbridge, Alta., and Sultana Frizell of Perth, Ont., finished 1-2 to clinch their spots on the squad.