Felicien shifts base to Calgary

By Vicki Hall, Calgary Herald May 16, 2011

Perdita Felicien works with coach Les Gramantik

One of Canada’s top medal hopes for the 2012 London Summer Games moved to Calgary last week with little fanfare.

Quietly, track star Perdita Felicien settled in to her new training base with an eye to gracing the podium in her second trip to the Olympics as a competitor.

A chronic foot injury left the pride of Pickering, Ont., working a trackside reporter for the CBC-TV broadcast at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

This time around, the professional hurdler wants to make the news at the five-ring circus -not report on it.

“I had to make the best move for me,” Felicien, 30, says on a blustery afternoon Glenmore Athletic Park in southwest Calgary. “I’ve never trained in Canada before, so this is going to be different.”

Indeed. Felicien competes around the world on Canada’s behalf, but she has lived and trained south of the border for more than 10 years. She is coming to Calgary from East Lansing, Mich., and also trained in Atlanta in recent times.

In college, she trained at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign under the tutelage of coach Gary Winckler.

The two-time world champion has come full circle. Winckler is retired and lives in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, some eight hours by car from Calgary.

“After floating around for a little in the United States with a couple of coaches, she came to the realization that she should stabilize her environment and get back with a program designed by her old coach,” says Les Gramantik, the senior national program coach for Athletics Canada at the Calgary high performance centre. “Gary Winckler and I have worked for many, many years together and I’ve worked with Perdita. So the two of us can manage her preparation.”

“And Calgary is one of the best places for training.”

In Gramantik’s eyes, Felicien is one of Canada’s best medal hopes for London. Seven years have passed since she her inglorious crash into that first hurdle in the 100 metres in Athens, and Gramantik says she is strong in both body and mind.

“Perdita, in some of our workouts, is looking extremely good,” he says. “Almost in top form. In our last couple of workouts at a camp in Tucson, she looked absolutely awesome.”

Felicien captured silver at the 2010 World Indoor Championships in Doha, so age has yet to catch up with her.

Perhaps she moves too fast.

“Perdita has been competing for more than 10 years at a high level,” Gramantik says. “So the Achilles tendon might get a little tight. The hamstring might get a little wonky. We have great medical people around here who can work with that.”

If healthy, Gramantik sees no reason Felicien can’t achieve her goal of Olympic glory in London.

“She just had the misfortune in the Athens Games and the injury leading up to Beijing,” Gramantik says. “But she is one of the most decorated female athletes in Canadian track history. It’s all about the timing of these things.”

In Calgary, Felicien is training partners with Jessica Zelinka, who placed fifth at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. With their blazing speed and elegant gait, Felicien and Zelinka garnered stares this weekend from kids and parents alike on hand for the Calgary Spring Challenge at the Glenmore track.

“When you’re surrounded by great athletes, it makes you a better athlete,” Zelinka says. “Perdita is a professional athlete. She’s very focused when she’s training. And I feed off that.”

The two are also close friends, with Zelinka joking she has a new nanny in town to babysit her daughter Anika.

“Calgary is a great fit for me,” Felicien says. “It’s terrific to train with Jessica. I’ve known Les for a long time, so I’m comfortable with him. There are so many great facilities here for the Winter Olympians that I can take advantage of for things like testing.

“Everything is on track for London next summer.”

Felicien and Zelinka are scheduled to take part in the Canadian track championships June 22 to 25 in Calgary.