Friendship vs Competition: What’s the Priority?

As I’ve said before, I have Olympic fever.  And my fever spiked this weekend during the Women’s 100m Hurdles final at the Canadian Olympic Trials in Calgary on Saturday.

For those who didn’t see the race, take a peek here– the drama and controversy that unfolded marked a pivotal moment in Canadian Athletics.  Six of the eight women racing had already made the Olympic ‘A’ standard, meaning the field was jam-packed with superstars- however, only the Top 3 finishers would earn a spot on the Olympic team.  In the end, media-favorite Perdita Felicien false-started (automatic disqualification) but raced under protest, while crowd-favorite Priscilla Lopes-Schliep tripped on a hurdle and finished 5th.  Jessica Zelinka had the race of her life and finished 1st in 12.68.  Here’s where it gets tricky.

Jessica Zelinka is a heptathlete.  She competed on Canada’s Olympic team in Beijing in 2008 and finished in an impressive 5th place.  While the 100m hurdles is one of the seven events in the Women’s Heptathlon, Jessica is not a 100m hurdles specialist (prior to this 12.68, her Personal Best was 12.76).  And yet only 48hrs after winning the Olympic Trials heptathlon and securing her position on Canada’s Olympic team, she won the 100m hurdles and earned her right to represent Canada in the 100m hurdles AND the heptathlon.  The controversy lies within the whispers that say Jessica should forfeit her 100m hurdles berth, allowing 4th-place finisher Angela Whyte (who is a 100m hurdles specialist and a two-time Olympian) to race in London instead.  The whispers say that Jessica should focus solely on the heptathlon.  The whispers say that Angela would have a better shot in London.  The whispers say that it should’ve been Perdita and Priscilla anyways.  I think the whispers are wrong.

At Olympic Trials, competition trumps friendship.  There, I said it.  Going into this race, all eight women were chasing the top three spots that would punch their tickets to London.  Angela wanted it.  Jessica wanted it.  And Jessica got it.  This was not a ‘training race’ for Jessica’s heptathlon career- rather, this was a race meant to give her a chance to compete as a hurdler AND a heptathlete in London.  She’s going to get that chance.

She has dedicated the last 4 years of her life, and many years before that, to the pursuit of her Olympic dreams.  In the sport of Track & Field, each individual must showcase their abilities; it is the fastest/strongest/fittest who wins.  It’s not a ‘pass-the-puck-for-the-betterment-of-the-team’ sport.  It’s a ‘be-the-best-YOU-can-be’ sport.  Be the fastest.  Be the strongest.  Be the fittest.  Be the best.  And Jessica proved that she is.

During her post-race interview (at 10:20 of this 13-min race video), you can see Jessica’s emotion at being in this position.  I think she made the right choice, and I will be cheering her on.

Jessica Zelinka and I are both University of Calgary Dino’s Track & Field alumni. Although admittedly, we’re slightly different calibre!

4 thoughts on “Friendship vs Competition: What’s the Priority?

  1. jcubos

    1) I think Jessica has tremendous mental strength. Seeing her compete live twice in 3 weeks and the amount of combined focus and relaxation she displays, it’s no wonder why she’s one of the best in the world.

    2) I think it was in Canada’s best interest that she compete in the hurdles at the Olympics. Angela Whyte has a phenomenal personality, but like you said, competition trumps friendship at that level. That said, Jessica displayed pure class in her post race interview. It’s only a difficult decision for someone who cares.

    3) I just wish the race had run smoothly. Not for fairness sake as what transpired was fair. But more so, to see who truly is on top. That said, Jessica beat them both in Vancouver only less than a month prior. Peak or no peak.

  2. Angela

    Well written Ash. I agree with you 100%. She ran fast and she earned it. Period. Though I still wonder about having an “Olympic Trials”. I am on the fence with the way things are in that it’s at the “trials” where you qualify rather than taking into consideration the racing year before hand. There are SO many factors in this equation and my purpose in posting is not to get into a deliberation on that topic. As a track and field participant for many years I have nothing but huge love for these athletes. I can’t wait to see Jessica represent us again. She is such an amazing athlete.

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