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Jennifer Botterill Headshot

At the Olympics, Not Everyone Can Be a Hero

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I have always been intrigued by the thrill and the emotion of sport. Since I was a kid, I was drawn to the excitement of the Olympics. Even at a young age, I remember watching the coverage and feeling such emotion. It was moving to see the elation of success. I also felt some of the heartache of the athletes that fell a bit short of their dreams.

Those feelings in the past are very much the same ones that I continue to experience today when I watch elite athletes perform. I do think that these emotions are elevated having been through some of the ups and downs of international competition.

As soon as I learned about the Olympic Track and Field trials taking place this past weekend, I knew that I wanted to follow along. There were such great stories connected to the athletes competing. I had been fortunate enough to meet both Perdita Felicien and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep at various events of recent years.

The simple act of typing their names gives me chills after what I witnessed. Both athletes, already Canadian heroes. Both athletes, having achieved success at the world level. Both athletes have put in countless hours of training and dedication to reach the Olympic Trial event. Both with dream of reaching the Olympic podium. Both overcame challenges. Priscilla has a nine-month-old baby and was back in fine form. Perdita overcame heartbreak in '04, and recovered from injuries in '08 and earlier this year.

I knew that the field for the 100m hurdles was more than impressive! It was fun to learn about six Canadian female hurdlers that could be competitive at the Olympic level. However, it was bound to be very intense since only three of them would qualify.

I must admit, my heart strings couldn't help but be pulled for the veteran stories. The well known names of Felicien and of Lopes-Schliep had my support.

They line up. I feel SO incredibly nervous for the athletes about to compete. What is it about the start line at track events?! (I think I remember being nervous even at my little high school track meets!) This is clearly on an entirely different level. The stage is set. Their Olympic dreams come down to this moment.

They are in their starting blocks.

Waiting for the start gun.

Prepared, focused, intense, anticipating...

False start!

Not only a false start...

But a false start for Perdita. WHAT?!?! NO!!!! Confusion, disbelief as a viewer is an understatement. A false start is an automatic disqualification.

She continues to line up for the next start. She will race and submit a protest.

Back to the starting blocks.

False start for Nikkita Holder, one of the top six competitors. Goodness!

The third start goes well and the athletes are off. Lopes-Schliep gets an excellent start but as the race progresses runs into trouble and hits a hurdle. This seems unreal, but sport can be more than unexpected. I truly felt the pain with her. Perdita finishes third, but doesn't come on the score board as such with her false start. She has to talk to the officials after the race to plead her case.

My heart does ache for these two athletes.

Then, I turned my perspective and to see the other side of the story. I start to look at the athletes that reached new standards of excellence. There were tremendous stories of athletes who had peak performances under pressure. Phylicia George, with her tall, lean, athletic physique, won the 100m final and qualified in second for the hurdles. Jubilation for her!

The superb performance of Jessica Zelinka. A mother of a two-year-old competing in the heptathlon is a story enough in itself. Let alone the fact that she set a new Canadian record in that demanding event, then proceeds two days later to win the talented deep field in the 100m hurdles.

An outstanding performance for Jessica. Yet what I found even more impressive was her display of grace and character immediately after the race. She was still slightly short of breath at the end of her personal best victory. She was questioned about if she would race in London in the hurdles. She took her time to reflect. As she began to answer, she admitted that she would speak to her coach.

She said it would be a very tough decision to combine this event with her heptathlon event. She mentioned that she was so happy with her time in the race. Then, as she pondered, she was overcome with emotion as she expressed appreciation for the quality of the field including Angela Whyte and Perdita Felicien. Tears were in her eyes as she felt for these talented veteran athletes who did not qualify for the Olympics. My eyes welled up with hers.

Here she was, in a moment of total success! She was overcome with joy, and at the same point, overcome with sadness and heart ache for her competitors, who more importantly, are good friends of hers.

Sport is always going to provide the ups and downs, the elation and the disappointment. Perhaps it's not just the viewers that experience both extremes of the the emotions. Jessica Zelinka is a fine example of a Canadian icon, who felt all of the emotions with us, even though she achieved her goal that day! The display of compassionate was humbling and inspiring.

Ah, the emotions we experience through sport. I look forward to what awaits us next.