The morning after winning the Samsung Diamond League 100m Hurdles title in Brussels last August, Canada’s Priscilla Lopes-Schliep was awakened by her father John Lopes and agent Krys Mychasiw for a celebration at the meet hotel.
Rather than bring her champagne, or a bottle of wine, they presented her with several prized cupcakes, a treat the hurdler had willingly sworn off until the season ended. But there was another reason for the culinary extravagance - it was Lopes-Schliep’s 28th birthday.
Her self discipline was commendable and evidently worthwhile and she can now look back on a season in which she recorded six of the world’s top ten times including the world leading 12.52 in London on 13 August. Moreover, she also earned Samsung Diamond League victories in Zurich, Lausanne, Berlin and Brussels, claimed the bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships, and collected seven victories outdoors in all. In an event where dominance is extraordinary she was thoroughly deserving of her victory in the inaugural edition of the Samsung Diamond League series.
“As the season progressed it got better but I couldn't ask for a better ending to finish off the year number one and winning the Diamond League,” Lopes-Schliep says.
“At the beginning of the year I kept telling Anthony (McCleary), my coach, that I thought I could run faster so what's going on? He said ‘It's going to come, just be patient.’ At the time I didn't have a result. I didn't have a good start.
“After Canadian nationals I went back over to Europe. I finally came into my own and felt I could turn over and was in control of myself. Sometimes you are mentally ready to go but physically you’re not and sometimes it’s the opposite. This time the whole package was together and I was ready to go.”
The Canadian championships was, perhaps, the only blemish on her 2010 outdoor season. The woman she had usurped as the leading Canadian hurdler on the world stage, the 2003 World champion Perdita Felicien, beat her to win her ninth national title.
“She came ready to go that day. I also came ready to go,” Lopes-Schliep remembers. “Unfortunately I floated over one of the hurdles and that’s kind of the break. She came out and won that day and, all the best to her.
“When it came down to it at the end of the season I was able to put it all together. I really wanted to win nationals but if it came down to a choice between nationals and the Diamond League, I mean, the choice isn’t that hard for me to make.”
Lopes-Schliep laughs at that last statement. There was enormous media buildup to the confrontation with Felicien with the pair making several appearances together to promote both the national championships and their mutual sponsor Nike. They each had dozens of family and friends in the stands wearing respective ‘fan club’ tee shirts so winning was important. But her reward for winning the Diamond League was $40,000 US cash, and a diamond trophy designed by one of Europe’s pre eminent jewellers rumoured to be worth around the same.
Like several other eligible athletes Lopes-Schliep decided not to go to the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. The season was long enough, she decided, and it was time to spend some time with her husband Bronsen who works full time as a dentist in Oshawa, Ontario, close to their home in Whitby. At the moment the couple is living in the basement apartment in her parents’ home though they have been looking at condominiums in downtown Toronto 45 kilometres away.
They met at the University of Nebraska and spent much of their time apart while he completed dental studies and she focused on her athletics career. A three week dream ‘road trip’ during which they drove their trusted 1997 Chevrolet Blazer across the continental United States visiting friends and family and just taking in the sights, followed.
They went wine tasting in California’s Napa Valley, dabbled in a bit of gambling in Las Vegas (winning the vast total of $40), saw the sun rise over the Grand Canyon and swam in icy water in Montana’s Glacier National Park.
Lopes-Schliep is admittedly a huge fan of the popular television game show “The Price is Right” and another highlight for the couple was when they joined the studio audience for the taping of the show’s Halloween special. Lopes-Schliep dressed as a bumble bee but, sadly, wasn’t called to be contestant. With a laugh she reveals they took some 2900 photographs on their trip.
Ever since she won an Olympic bronze medal in Beijing the affable hurdler has been a popular visitor to local elementary schools. Along with the message of chasing dreams she also talks about how she was the victim of taunts as a child because of her muscular build. She and several women on her mother’s side of the family suffer from a condition known as lipodystrophy which causes degeneration of the body’s adipose tissue. It is also associated with diabetes.
Back in training, eying Daegu and national record
Rest and relaxation time is now over and Lopes-Schliep returned to training in early October with her focus set on the upcoming indoor season.
“That’s the plan: run indoors to get ready for outdoors. Not a big indoor year, just tune up year get ready for outdoors,” she says of her plans.
“I will treat the year the same as I did before Beijing. I have to prepare myself the same way. Everybody is going to be ready. I am not going to change anything because it’s working for me.”
“We have such a great field of girls. You never know what is going to happen, you have got to keep training hard. You can’t be on the line and look over because everybody is right there. I am hoping to break a personal best this upcoming year. I came close this year but I would really have loved to get a PB. It was a bummer I didn’t get a PB, but other than that I had an awesome season and I am really, really pleased.”
A year ago she ran her personal best of 12.49. The Canadian record of 12.46 has stood since 2004 set by her rival Felicien and under the right conditions she hopes to one day snatch it. But most important is maintaining her consistent podium record in Daegu next summer.
“I stay grounded and don’t get worked up,” the Diamond League winner declares, “because I know it can be taken away from you. I stay humble and work hard. Granted I am very confident in my abilities but I am the kind of person who is not gong to count my chickens before they hatch. I train hard and hope for positive outcomes. Nothing is given to you. You have to work for it.”
Paul Gains for the IAAF