Perdita Felicien celebrates winning gold in the 100m Hurdles at the 2003 IAAF World Championships (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Paris, France

Felicien executes surprise coup d’état - 'a new order...and big pants to fill'

One of the beauties of sport is its ability to discover new heroes and heroines and tonight in a thrilling, dramatic final of the women's 100 metres hurdles, Canadian Perdita Felicien became the latest addition to a never-ending list.

In five days time she celebrates her 23rd birthday and she could not have given herself a greater present, a gold medal at the World Championships that she could hardly believe when it was placed around her neck.

"It has not sunk in yet," she said a few minutes later once she had climbed off the podium but remained on an incredible high.

"I would hope that within the next 24 hours I might start to realise what I have done but you never know. I am shocked, my goal was just to run the final and hopefully break the national record."

She did that with a time of 12.53 seconds and she did run too - the race of her life to beat Jamaican Brigitte Foster, the fastest woman in the field, who put in such a late surge that she ended up prostrate on the track having hit the surface face first.

"I have a few bruises. I will be okay but I trained so hard all year that I am really disappointed with silver," said Foster.

Gail Devers has been the Queen of 100 metres hurdling for so long. She failed to make the final and now the American has been usurped.

"You could say it is a new order and these are big pants for me to wear now," agreed Felicien.

Her hometown is Pickering in Ontario and she had to miss her opening day of classes in her new college term - she is studying Kinesiology at the university of Illinois - to be in Paris. But it was worth it.

"I hope they will not mind when I go back as world champion," she said.

She is a double US Collegiate champion and before the championships might not have been considered among the favourites for a gold that she won in prolific style - leading the whole way, which she knew she had to do.

"Before the race I thought that this is why I am here, this is where I want to be. But these other girls had really fast starts," she added.

"I have practised my starts, I did not want to be left behind and it seems to have paid off. It really was great to compete with relatively no pressure on me. At the NCAA's everybody always expects me to win, here nobody thought of it, so I felt much more relaxed."

"I knew I was ahead and I did everything possible to stay ahead until the line. I was just going for it hurdle after hurdle, but I still cannot believe it."

"Now next year there will be more pressure on me at the Olympic Games because of what has happened but that is a great pressure to have: that of being the World champion. I would like to think I could handle it."

Little doubt of that by the way she took charge of this race - and the manner in which she held on ahead of Foster who was second in 12.57 with Miesha McKelvy of the USA third in 12.67.

"The race was not even a blur for me," said McKelvy. "I cannot remember a thing. We all came here for gold, we can't all win gold, but I am excited with the medal I have won."

An unexpected champion and the end of an era too, as France's Patricia Girard, the Olympic bronze medallist from 1996, finished seventh in 12.83 at her last world championships.

"I did not run aswell as I wanted to do here in Paris," said Girard, 35. "I am happy for Perdita. She is very talented and she did not miss her chance."