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Zelinka to race hurdles this weekend before making her return to heptathlon

Canada's Jessica Zelinka competes in the during the Summer Olympics in London on August 7, 2012. Zelinka has a new home and a new coach, and is returning to the heptathlon this season after a taking a year off from the gruelling event and competing only in hurdles. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Jessica Zelinka trains at the track alone every day, with a big binder as her companion.

The 32-year-old has a new home and a new coach, and is returning to the heptathlon this season after a taking a year off from the gruelling event and competing only in hurdles.

Zelinka moved to Montreal in the fall, hiring Cliff Rovelto of Kansas State University as her coach.

They've seen each other only three times so far, leaving Zelinka to follow her carefully planned daily workouts from her thick binder. But it's an arrangement that works, she said.

"I'm always at the track on my own, doing my thing, looking at my binder for references," she said. "It has all the warmups and drills and cooldowns and circuits.

"Every day, every single thing I do that day (is written out). I just need to do it, it's a no-brainer."

The London, Ont., native will run the 60-metre hurdles at the AC Indoor Open on Saturday at Montreal's Centre Claude-Robillard then continue preparations for her return to the heptathlon.

Zelinka and her family — husband Nathaniel Miller and daughter Anika, who turns five in May — spent last season living in Connecticut. Miller, a retired Olympian in water polo, accepted a job there coaching. But training south of the border was tough on Zelinka, who was writing her own training programs, sometimes making it up as she went along.

"At that point I had nothing, I was doing it on my own. And I was always changing (training), even sometimes after a warmup I'd change it, or midway through a workout, I'd think 'Oh I can do more' so I'd do more," Zelinka said. "And it was not good, I didn't know what I was doing. And I knew I didn't know what I was doing, I wasn't pretending. But it's what I had to do."

Zelinka and Miller were keen to move back to Canada and when a job with the Canadian Olympic Committee opened up in Montreal, Miller's hometown, they jumped at the opportunity.

Rovelto, a multi-events and jumps specialist, will travel to Italy for Zelinka's season-opening heptathlon in early May. The event will be her first heptathlon in more than a year as the Canadian record holder competed in only hurdles last season to take a break from the seven-event discipline.

"Getting back into it, it is exciting, and on a new program too," Zelinka said. "That's what's kept me engaged being on my own is everything is very new and exciting for me, because it's a whole new program, there's so much to work on and focus on, and I can see the progression."

Zelinka had hoped to compete in the world indoor championships last week in Sopot, Poland, and ran what she thought was the qualifying standard at a meet in New Mexico, choosing that event because Rovelto was there. She was later informed by Athletics Canada that her time didn't count because it was run at altitude, where sprint times are faster on average due to the thinner air.

Standards run at altitude in Canada, on the other hand, are accepted for indoor meets, Zelinka noted. She plans to argue this discrepancy with Athletics Canada, in hopes of a rule change.

"Indoors for me, it's not such a big deal, but I've been feeling good, I've been racing well, and one of my times was one of the best in the world, and it was an opportunity I'd been looking forward to and was excited about," she said.

Zelinka has her sights this season set on the Commonwealth Games in July in Glasgow, where she hopes to do both the hurdles and the heptathlon.

Zelinka, who holds the Canadian record in the heptathlon — 6599 points — was seventh in both those events at the 2012 London Olympics.

She'll face some stiff competition this season from Brianne Theisen-Eaton of Humboldt, Sask., who scored 6530 to win silver at last summer's world championships in Moscow.

Zelinka advanced as far as the semifinals in the 100-metre hurdles at the worlds in Russia, calling her result a big success considering the less-than-ideal season of training she'd had living in Connecticut.

"For me to make it to worlds again, semifinals, I was happy," she said. "It was a down year, and it got me excited for training for the heptathlon again."

Almost 600 athletes will compete in the AC Indoor Open. The meet runs Friday through Sunday and marks the first national indoor championship for youth and junior athletes, and the first national gathering for Canadian senior athletes indoors in about 20 years.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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