A former University of Calgary Dino defied both odds and pain to take the gold at this year's Pan-American games.
Jessica Zelinka won her gold medal for the heptathlon at the Pan American games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil after running 400 of 800 metres on a torn tendon Wed., Jul. 25. The heptathlon is a track and field event that includes 200 and 800 metre races, long jump, high jump, shot put, javelin and 100 metre hurdles events.
"It was my first big international medal," said Zelinka. "To compete at the Pan-Am games for the first time and win was what I wanted to do. My coach and I decided to go out there and win. To go on the podium with the national anthem was an awesome experience. Nothing can really top that as an athlete."
Leading up to the games, Zelinka set a Canadian record in GÃ¶tzis, Austria at her third time participating in the Hypo Bank Invitational. Zelinka was leading the 800 metre--the last of her seven events--when she felt like someone kicked her foot.
"Most people would have laid down on the floor immediately and waited for the stretcher," said Zelinka's coach Les Gramantik. "The Plantar fascia supports your arch. Hers ruptured in two. You don't really want to do much after that, so I guess the simple fact that she finished the race was probably the amazing part of the whole thing."
If Zelinka hadn't pushed to the finish line, she would have finished last place, as each event worked out to about 900 points. Despite the severity of her injury, it should be healed in about four to eight weeks, just in time to start training for the 2008 season.
"The good thing is it's an injury that will heal 100 per cent," said Gramantik. "She will participate in the Olympics. We're not hoping, it's a fact. She will be in Beijing next year."
Though Zelinka's absence from a world championship counts as a missed opportunity to better establish herself as a world-class athlete, Gramantik noted she has been competing at the highest international level for the past several years.
"The biggest disadvantage in my opinion is the fact that there's a financial implication," said Gramantik. "She will probably not be ranked high enough at the end of the year because one score will be missing, so that will have some loss of finances which, for athletes like her that are not swimming in money, is a substantial loss. $10,000-15,000 out of your little earnings obviously hurts."
Despite this, Zelinka wasn't overly phased by the missed chance at some extra cash. She wasn't counting on the money and noted that you should always be ready for the unexpected.
Although Zelinka is disappointed to not be participating in the International Association of Athletics Federation world championships in Osaka, Japan, she said the injury came with good fortune as it was towards the end of the season and will allow her with lots of time to rest up and get refocused for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
"I could be a lot more disappointed right now if I hadn't finished the Pan-Ams," she said. "I feel great and happy that I at least got to the Pan-Ams and I got the Pan-Am gold. There will be more world championships. They come around every three years. Now I have time to rest."
With her time off, Zelinka plans to spend time in Alberta and B.C., visit some wineries and hang out with her boyfriend, another former U of C student who participated in the Pan-Am games in water polo.
A total of eight athletes represented the Dinos in Rio, including Chad Hankewich who won a bronze in the 100 metre.