Canada gearing up for big year in women’s heptathlon

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Canada gearing up for big year in women’s heptathlon

This story is part of an Olympic.ca series on running called Canada Runs.

Canadian track and field athletes are picking up the pace ahead of what is to be a very busy summer with Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Jessica Zelinka leading the way on the women’s side.

Theisen-Eaton and Zelinka have provided Canada with unprecedented women’s heptathlon success in recent years and will look to continue that trend this summer heading into Toronto 2015 and World Championship competition, while keeping an eye on Rio 2016.


Although striving for the same goal, the gold and silver medallists at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow find themselves in different stages of their careers.

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A 2013 World silver medallist, Theisen-Eaton is hitting her stride at 26, more motivated than ever in the pursuit of her goals.

“I am really excited for the 2015 season to work my butt off so that in 2016 everything is fine-tuned and confident and ready to go,” she explained during a phone interview prior to the start of her training for the season last September.

Britain Commonwealth Games

Canada’s Brianne Theisen-Eaton applauds during the Women’s Heptathlon jumping competition at Hampden Park Stadium during the Commonwealth Games 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland, Tuesday July 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Unlike most track athletes, those taking part in combined events must divide their attention towards multiple disciplines. Heptathlon features seven: 100 metres hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 metres, long jump, javelin and 800 metres.

Theisen-Eaton trains in Oregon with her husband, men’s decathlon and heptathlon world record holder Asthon Eaton, whom she competed with at the University Oregon. The focus this year is centred on getting stronger in order to improve both sprinting and throwing elements, as well as overall explosiveness.

“2015 is a huge year. Most of the work for the Olympic year is done the year before,” she explained.

Canada’s Brianne Theisen Eaton makes an attempt in the long jump of the women’s pentathlon during the Athletics Indoor World Championships in Sopot, Poland, Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Canada’s Brianne Theisen-Eaton competes in the shot put event of the women’s heptathlon at Hampden Park at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Canada’s Brianne Theisen-Eaton jumps during the Women’s Heptathlon jumping competition at Hampden Park Stadium during the Commonwealth Games 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland, Tuesday July 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Canada’s Brianne Theisen-Eaton applauds during the Women’s Heptathlon jumping competition at Hampden Park Stadium during the Commonwealth Games 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland, Tuesday July 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Canada’s Brianne Theisen Eaton competes in the long jump in the heptathlon at the World Athletics Championships in the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Canada’s Brianne Theisen Eaton makes an attempt in the shot put of the women’s pentathlon during the Athletics Indoor World Championships in Sopot, Poland, Friday, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Her first Olympic experience at London 2012 didn’t turn out the way she hoped.

“I went in around 10th and I ended up 10th so I felt like I didn’t do what I was supposed to,” she said.

Now ranked second in the world, the Saskatchewan native feels that her time is now and isn’t shy when it comes to voicing her ambitions for the next Olympics where she’ll be looking for gold in Rio.

“I’ll be 27. I’ll probably be at the peak of my season if I can’t say by then that I’m going for the gold medal, it’s not good.”

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Much like her Canadian teammate, Jessica Zelinka is looking to improve from her last Olympic outing. Her 7th place finish at the 2012 summer Olympics left her questioning her desire to continue and needing a change.

“I didn’t get the results I wanted. We did everything possible to put me in the best situation to be ready for London and I ended up going in with an injury and not jumping well,” shared Zelinka when interviewed at Centre Claude-Robillard in Montreal after a hurdles training session.

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

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

Zelinka, a Pan Am Games gold medallist and top 5 finisher at the Beijing summer Olympics in 2008, moved to Connecticut the following year to train on her own, focusing solely on hurdles and putting multi-event competitions aside.

“Training on my own has been very rewarding. Its made me realize that I really want to do this. To come to the track every day without a personal coach, but mostly training partners… I never realized how great training partners are to have just to see them and do the workouts together and have them lead a warm up so you don’t have to look at your paper every two seconds to try and memorize what you’re doing.”

“For me, the fact that I’m able to do this means that it’s still in my heart and that I still really want to do this for the right reasons, for me, and I still have the drive.”

Jessica Zelinka of London, Ont., competes in the high jump during the heptathlon event at the Canadian Track and Field Championships in Calgary on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Jessica Zelinka of London, Ont., competes in the high jump during the heptathlon event at the Canadian Track and Field Championships in Calgary on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

At 33 years of age, Zelinka is now back in full heptathlon training mode, but with a different approach. According to Zelinka, the main hurdle leading up to international competitions doesn’t lie in her physical condition, but rather in her general state of mind.

“Going this year into Pan Ams and Worlds and next year in Rio, I have to make a mental shift. I’m going to work on my well being, cutting back in volume (training) and just feeling good, have the quality training that I want to feel when I compete. I have to let go of control, have the trust that I’ve done the work and I don’t need to keep pushing like that.”

“I think in the past I’ve really focused on my fitness and found my confidence on how much workload I can do.”

“I’m in a different phase of my career, I just need to go with it, sharpen up and have confidence when I go compete with the best in the world.”

Jessica Zelinka of London, Ont., competes in the high jump during the heptathlon event at the Canadian Track and Field Championships in Calgary on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Jessica Zelinka of London, Ont., competes in the high jump during the heptathlon event at the Canadian Track and Field Championships in Calgary on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean KilpatrickW

With Damian Warner, 25, also racking up hardware in the decathlon on the men’s side, Team Canada fans can hope for more podium appearances over the next two summers.

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