Canadian hurdler Perdita Felicien announces retirement
Gregory Strong , The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, October 24, 2013 10:37AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 24, 2013 4:17PM EDT
TORONTO -- Canadian hurdler Perdita Felicien retired from competition Thursday, ending a career marked by a number of glorious highs along with crushing disappointment at the Summer Olympics.
Felicien won a world outdoor title in 2003 and added a world indoor title a year later. She was a favourite to win gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics but instead provided one of the more shocking moments of the Games.
Felicien tripped over a hurdle and fell to the ground in the final of what would be her last appearance on the Olympic track.
"I think that's what this career has been -- it has been a cocktail of triumphs, a cocktail of defeats. It's a mishmash of everything," Felicien said. "But I will say that the one moment that I felt in 2003, if it meant I had to re-live 10,000 moments like Athens, I would."
Felicien proudly watched a replay of her historic effort in Paris on a big screen after making her retirement announcement in front of a few hundred children at a Toronto elementary school. She ran the 100-metre hurdles in 12.53 seconds that day in 2003 to become the first Canadian woman to win an athletics gold medal at the world outdoor championships.
"There was so much elation in that moment, it was so intoxicating," she said. "It was all the things that you have worked for, all the things that you had put together, the pieces of the puzzle came together in perfect synergy and I can't explain it more than that.
"And yes, Athens was dark and it was terrible and it was horrible. And it will always be the one for me that got away. But at the same time I think it's made me a more wholesome person. I don't take things for granted anymore."
The 33-year-old from Pickering, Ont., has a sparkling resume from her 13-year track career. Felicien retires as the Canadian record-holder in both the 100-metre hurdles (12.46 seconds) and 60-metre hurdles (7.75).
She's a 10-time national champion, two-time Olympian and two-time Pan Am Games silver medallist. Felicien competed in eight world championships over a 10-year span, taking gold at the 2004 indoor world championships in Budapest, and is a three-time NCAA champion.
She started thinking about retirement a few months ago when she wondered whether another four-year Olympic cycle was in the cards.
"Quite frankly the tiger that you need to have inside, instead of roaring, it started to purr," she said. "I knew that was a sign that I had to bow out gracefully."
After the heartbreak in Athens, her Olympic disappointment continued at the 2008 Beijing Games when she was unable to race due to a foot injury. She was gunning for Olympic redemption in the summer of 2012 but failed to qualify for the London-bound team after false-starting in the final at the trials.
"For me, the Olympic medal is the only thing that has eluded me," she said. "I don't cry myself to sleep at night over it. I tried valiantly for four Olympic cycles to go after it and it just never happened on the day. But to be amongst the top five, the top six for 10 years, I don't think anyone else has that credit to their name.
"So I sleep well at night knowing that I gave everything I had every single time that I was on the track and that's all that I could do."
Felicien, who worked as a track analyst at the 2008 Games, plans to start work as a videographer at a Hamilton television station next month. She recently earned a post-graduate certificate in broadcast journalism.
"When you're an athlete racing, you never think it's going to happen," she said of retirement. "But the day is here. I'm older now and a new life beckons."
Felicien is the second high-profile Canadian Olympian to call it quits this week. Triathlete Simon Whitfield officially announced his retirement on Wednesday.
Prior to making her announcement, Felicien tweeted about how she was feeling.
"Today feels just like race day," she said. "No appetite. Major butterflies. Nervous energy. Happy. :)"
Fair or not, the image of Felicien sitting in stunned disbelief after her fall on the Athens track -- her hand on her forehead as she leaned against a toppled hurdle -- was one of the lasting memories from that Olympiad.
Despite her many successes, she knows it will be a part of what people remember about her career.
"I know the narrative is always going to be 2004 and I've really made peace with that," she said. "If that's a narrative that people are going to use, it's on them. But I still think for me it's a story that I'm really going to use to help empower kids and show them that your darkest hour doesn't define you.
"So for me, I'm proud of what I've accomplished. No Olympic medals, which is the one thing I've always wanted. But I showed myself that on any given day I've been one of the best."