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Perdita and Priscilla to renew rivalry

Canadian hurdlers Perdita Felicien and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep are bothfrom just outside of Toronto, have both enjoyed illustrious careers andare both in their prime.

TORONTO - The list of similarities is a long one.

Canadian hurdlers Perdita Felicien and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep are both from just outside of Toronto, have both enjoyed illustrious careers and are both in their prime.

They also have similar records of success against the other, with Felicien leading the head-to-head battle 16-14 entering this week's Canadian Championships.

Their rivalry has been a hot topic this week as Felicien — the defending champion — and Lopes-Schliep made the media rounds in the buildup to their showdown in the 100-metre hurdles.

It's something that Athletics Canada head coach Alex Gardiner says helps both of them.

"They can't look over their shoulder without seeing each other," Gardiner said. "It's important to be the Canadian champion, it's important to be the Canadian record-holder.

"I think when you have two world-class athletes, it just doesn't double the culture of excellence. I think it's exponential."

Felicien, 29, and Lopes-Schliep, 27, were all smiles at the event's kickoff news conference at a downtown Toronto clothing store Wednesday. They chatted, laughed together and even had a thumb-wrestling battle after taking questions from reporters.

"I think that people like to build the rivalry more than it is," Lopes-Schliep said. "So I just kind of go out there and just do what I do. I try not to get too caught up in the distraction."

Felicien said they get along very well despite the intensity on the track.

"We're going after the same No. 1 spot, the same gold medal," she said. "And on top of that we're from the same region, we're from the same country and we do the same event.

"So that makes things tense at times, but not a bad tense."

Felicien, the 2003 world champion, has dominated at the national level for years. She has been challenged recently by Lopes-Schliep, who won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a silver at last year's world championships.

"It's respectful," Gardiner said of the rivalry. "They really know what each other has done in the world. They've become closer over the last few years but when they're on the track, at a training camp, it's business."

The meet began Wednesday at the University of Toronto's Varsity Centre, with mostly qualifying action. The two-day championships section featuring semifinals and finals begins Friday.

Simon Bairu of Regina captured the first track title of the meet. The Canadian record-holder won the men's 10,000 metres in 28 minutes 49.25 seconds. Reid Coolsaet of Hamilton was second in 29:14.63; while Eric Gillis of Antigonish, N.S., was third in 29:35.82.

In other events, five-time national champion Dylan Armstrong of Kamloops, B.C., is the favourite in the men's shot put. He set the Canadian record of 21.58 metres earlier this season.

Jessica Zelinka leads the women's heptathlon after Day 1, in her comeback from taking a year off to have a baby. The London, Ont., native, who was fifth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has 3,640 points. Jen Cotton of Woodstock, Ont., has 3,321, while Susan Coltman of Peterborough, Ont., is third with 3,300.

Jamie Adjety-Nelson of Windsor, Ont., has the lead after the first day of the decathlon with 4,184 points. Massimo Bertocchi of Toronto is second with 4,120, while Damian Warner of London, Ont., is third with 4,044.

Josh Cassidy of Oakville, Ont., will look to add another title to his impressive haul this season with a victory in the 1,500-metre men's wheelchair race. Cassidy won the 2010 Canadian Marathon title and took the prestigious London Marathon title as well.

The Canadian Championships serve as the selection trials for both the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and the 2011 International Paralympic Committee's world championships in New Zealand.

Felicien, from Pickering, Ont., finished just ahead of Lopes-Schliep, from nearby Whitby, Ont., at last year's Canadian championships. The win came after doctors had told Felicien that she might not return to full speed after suffering a stress fracture in her foot.

It made for an emotional victory.

"I've won so many (national titles) — not to sound cocky — but I've always just tried to have a sense of humility and just keep it down," she said. "But last year was just the biggest relief for me, just to win that eighth title. Just because of the 18 months I took off."

Lopes-Schliep, meanwhile, appears to be in top form. She has posted solid results this season while Felicien has been inconsistent.

"If someone studies the event or the season, maybe they'd say Priscilla has a slight edge," Felicien said. "But when you get on the line, all those things go out the door.

"It's just about who's ready at that moment and who puts it together."

 
 
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