Friday, June 29, 2012

2012 Canadian Track and Field Trials feature profile - part 2: Jessica Zelinka

With the 2012 Canadian Track and Field Trials for the Olympics and Paralympics being held this weekend at Foothills Athletic park, the Calgary City News blog would like to feature local talent. Please peruse parts one, two, three and four.

These Calgary athletes are competing on a national stage, many with high potential to win medals on the International stage at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England. The recent renovations at Foothills Athletic Park make Calgary the ideal place to host the 2012 Canadian Track & Field Trials and other world class track and field events.

Track Trials - part 2: Jessica Zelinka

Three-year-old Anika can’t wait for the 2012 Olympic Games. She’s going to London Bridge.

She’s going to the Olympic stadium, too, because Mommy (Canada’s heptathlon champion and record holder, Jessica Zelinka) will be there for two days taking aim at another Canadian record.

But for Anika it’s all about London Bridge.

Zelinka laughs. “She’s excited about it, I’ve explained to her that she can see me running on the track, but I won’t be able to see her for two days. She says, “That’s okay Mommy. We’re going to London Bridge.”

For Zelinka, of course, London is about the heptathlon, but she is equally excited. “I took up track because I loved it,” she says. It keeps her interested and engaged and having fun. “And for London that’s my ultimate goal. I want to have the time of my life competing over those two days and it’s just going to be so enjoyable.”

If her experience in Beijing is an indicator, London should be just that. A first-time Olympian in the Beijing Olympics, Zelinka finished fifth against the world’s best with a score of 6490 points and a new Canadian record. She also racked up personal bests in four of the seven events.

But more than that, she says, “It was the way I competed that made it so magical. My coach (Les Gramantik) and I just trusted the program and trusted those two days that we had and just let it happen. It was a kind of freedom just to allow myself to do that. It wasn’t draining or stressful. It was almost like a gift.”

And everything seems to be falling into place again. Competing in the Mt. Sac Relays in late April, Zelinka scored personal bests in both the 100-metre hurdles and the 200-metre sprint.

“Things are going really well,” she says. “I think I can score 6700 points.”

Enough for a podium finish?

“It’s going to be really competitive, you know? For Beijing, I thought 6500 would get me the podium. I scored 6490 and finished fifth. But I do know what I’m in control of and if I score 6700 and don’t get the podium, I’ll be pretty happy anyway.”

For Zelinka, it has always been less about the winning and more about continuing to improve. “That’s what I’ve always loved about track - the surprise factor of getting those personal bests. Thinking ‘Wow! I never knew I could do that.’”

Her love affair with track dates back to Grade 4 and her first track and field day. It was like Athletics Canada’s Run-Jump-Throw program in a way.

“We got to try all the events like ball throw, high jump, long jump, sprints, relays. It was my funnest day ever. It was like, ‘Can we do this every day?’”

As a youngster she tried figure skating, ran cross-country and played volleyball, but by Grade 10, she began to concentrate on track and field. Her aunt, a track coach, told her, “You know what? This is something you could be good at.”

Zelinka began to dream of competing for Canada one day. She systematically worked on her events -- 100-metre hurdles, 200-metre dash, long jump, high jump, javelin, shot put and the 800-metre run.

“To be the best in heptathlon, you have to strive to be the best in everything,” she says.

To that end, in high school she deliberately competed in different events each year. “Each year you can only pick three events (for city and provincial competition),” she explains. “So for example, one year, though the 200 was my best event and I might have won it, I picked javelin because I just wanted to improve my events and be well-rounded.”

And she wanted to have fun.

For Zelinka that’s the key. Her advice for aspiring Olympians and other youngsters is clear: “If you’re having fun that’s all that matters. If you’re not having fun, figure out why and change it. Or do something else.”

Will Anika follow in Mommy’s footsteps? It’s too soon to tell yet, Zelinka says, but then adds with a grin, “She practices long jump in the living room sometimes.”

And the budding athlete is occasionally allowed to go to the track where she clearly has her eye on the future. As she explains to Mommy, “I’m going to run and you can videotape it and we can show it to Auntie Andrea.”

The 2032 Olympics are only 20 years away.

***Submitted by 65-year-old master sprinter Betty Dargie.

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