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Felicien vows to learn from crash

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Athens — "So, I'm sitting in the Russian's lane, looking up at the Jumbotron and watching the race, and I say to myself: 'Look at that. Remember how it tastes. Remember how it feels.'."

Perdita Felicien was sitting at a news conference 21 hours after a thin little hurdle had turned into a Great Wall, one that had detoured the Canadian's Olympic dream to Beijing in 2008.

Felicien limped into the room on a deeply bruised left heel, injured when she landed hard after hitting the first hurdle in the 100-metre Olympic final late Tuesday. She tumbled into the sixth lane, wiping out Irina Shevchenko of Russia in the process.

The heel hurts, and Felicien was given painkillers, but she is not taking them yet, she says.

"Maybe that's why I'm not taking the meds," she explained. "I want to feel this a little longer, and when I get complacent, I want to remember these feelings."

The 23-year-old from Pickering, Ont., the world hurdling champion, was poised to become the first Canadian woman in more than 60 years to win an Olympic gold medal on the track.

Instead, she crashed. As a result, Felicien will exit Athens with no hardware but armed with a valuable lesson and enough motivation to get her through the next four years on the international track and field circuit and perhaps a shot at Olympic redemption four years down the road in Beijing.

Motivation had been a problem for her, she said, after winning both the world indoor and outdoor titles to secure the No..1 ranking in her event heading into the Olympics.

She didn't take the Olympics casually, Felicien said. She said she was as ready as she could be for the race and would not have changed anything in her preparation.

But she admitted something was missing — perhaps the hunger she had before success embraced her so readily in the past year.

"There's a lesson to be learned," she said. "The hardest thing in the last year was to fight complacency. Before Paris [the site of the 2003 world athletics championships] I wanted it so much."

Olympic glory was tauntingly available on Tuesday. She was the woman to beat. Most of her toughest competition either didn't qualify or was injured. All she had to do was the simple, rhythmic run she had executed thousands of times and do it faster than a respectable, but not stellar, field.

"I gambled ..... and sometimes I lose," she said, still unable to define precisely what caused her to smash into the bar, except that she may have tried to push the tempo to get to the first hurdle with everyone else.

Fatalistically, Felicien said victory was not meant to be. "There's something I'm being taught," she said. "It's painful and it hurts, but I can't learn it any other way."

After the race, she said didn't want to go home. She wanted to be alone, yet was glad to find 800 metres runner Diane Cummins of Victoria waiting up for her at the Olympic Village. She hugged Felicien and commiserated with her.

"I've had a few cries, but I haven't had my good cry yet, the really extreme one that gets it out of your system," she said.

Felicien is big on self-talk, recognizing that even though she felt 100 per cent on race night, there was no guarantee she'd win gold or any colour of medal.

"I'm not traumatized," she said. "I can't let this break me. I guess there's a normal mourning process, because it meant so much to me. But now I've got to think forward to Beijing.

"I wasn't scared to win gold here. Now, if I do win [in 2008], it will be by an uphill battle. Part of me thinks that if I win gold and it's been a hard fight to keep going, maybe it will be like Hicham El Guerrouj. It will take me eight years and delayed gratification will be so much sweeter."

El Guerrouj is the Moroccan 1,500 metres star, who had seven different world titles but never an Olympic gold until Tuesday night.

Felicien said her road was rough, but she "wouldn't change a pebble on it" now. She also expressed an apology to Shevchenko, first through a Russian teammate, then publicly yesterday. "If I were her, I'd be extremely upset at me."

The Canadian also apologized for her angry display of frustration after the race as she walked beside the track and toward the finish area. She removed her glittering red Nike shoes, specially made for her for Athens, and hurled one, then the other, to the ground.

"Sorry, guys," she said to her sponsor.

E-mails and messages of support have poured in, Felicien said, including a long message from sport psychologist Dr. Terry Orlick, who told her not to define herself through that one disastrous night.

"Last night jarred me and jarred me hard," she said. "..... But lesson learned: I no longer have to fight off this complacency."

While her catastrophic tumble into the first hurdle killed her chances at a gold medal, the fall undoubtedly damaged her value in the marketplace as well.

Renaldo Nehemiah, the former world champion and world record hurdler, who is Felicien's agent at Octagon management, said that the advertising landscape for the Canadian athlete "is different" now that he doesn't have a gold medalist to sell.

"Perdita can do certain things that will let people know who should have been the one to win gold," Nehemiah said. "She's not putting a gold medal on her mantel, but she can let everyone know she's the best.

"She is still a world champion. She still has qualities that mean so much. She brought credibility back to the athletics program that was lost several years ago. To have an entire country riding on your back is testament to her."

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