It’s got the potential to be the best rivalry in Canadian track and field since the Donovan Bailey/Bruny Surin days and, in some ways, it really gets its start tomorrow night at the Festival of Excellence at Varsity Stadium.
|THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO|
|The beginnings of a rivalry at the 2004 national championships.|
Make no doubt about it, it’s the biggest race for the two hurdlers since Lopes-Schliep staked her claim as Canada’s No. 1 in the event with a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Until then, she had always been in Felicien’s shadow. But no more. She currently has the world leading time in the women’s 100 metre hurdles of 12.52 seconds. Only 3/100ths of a second separated the duo last weekend at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., with Lopes Schliep finishing third, one spot ahead of Felicien and 2/100ths behind winner world champion Michelle Perry of the U.S..
That’s the thing, either Canadian is going to have to be at her absolute best to win against a strong field that includes Americans Damu Cherry, who equaled Perry's winning time in Eugene but had to settle for second, and Virgina Powell.
Unless memory fails (and it would not be the first time), Canada has not had two competitors in the same event make the podium at the world or Olympic level since Bailey and Surin. That rivalry was very acrimonious at times, especially when they were arguing over who’d run the anchor in the relay leading to the 2000 Sydney Games.
Lopes-Schliep vs. Felicien doesn’t seem to nearly match the big-ego sprinters for rancor, but one does get the sense there’s an edge to it. They seemed pretty buddy-buddy around the time of the 2004 Athens Games, but not so much now.
For her part, Lopes-Schliep demurred this week when asked if they were friends.
“I mean we see each other on the track, it’s cordial and stuff,” said Lopes-Schliep. “I mean we’re competitors and everyone’s friendly. … I don’t know. … We see each other and it’s ‘Hi.’ That’s the way it is with most athletes. We all wish each other the best.”
Both agree the rivalry is good for Canadian track and field.
“I think any talk of a rivalry is good,” said Felicien. “From where I’m standing, I think it’s good. It keeps everyone on their toes. It keeps everybody fresh. I would love to have an Olympic medal. It’s the one major medal that has eluded me.
“But truly at the end of the day at this point of my career, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot. That’s the one thing that I want to get. But I can’t gauge what I want to do off of what anybody else has done. I think there’s enough to go around for everybody.”
Still, it might be a good thing they don’t have to run a relay together.