“We will always remember him,” Zelinka said at the International Track & Field Games after winning the 100-metre event held in honour of the late Toronto Star amateur sports reporter.
Jessica Zelinka set out to prepare for the world championships and got off to a flying start by winning the Randy Starkman Memorial 100-metre hurdles race on Tuesday night.
“I just wanted to get out there and race without thinking and be very aggressive right to the finish line,” said Zelinka, who finished in a time of 13.06 seconds.
The race, in its second year, is held at the International Track & Field Games in honour of the late Toronto Star reporter who covered amateur sports. Starkman died in 2012, sending shockwaves through the athletics community.
“We will always remember him – he was our voice, he was the athletes’ voice, and we really miss him,” said Zelinka.
The meet is the beginning of a long road for Zelinka that if all goes well will end on a podium in Rio de Janeiro at the 2016 Olympics.
“I really want to use this meet as a stepping stone for preparation for worlds and run well here,” Zelinka, of Calgary, said before the race at Varsity Stadium.
Zelinka and fellow hurdles star Phylicia George of Markham represented Canada in the 100-metre event at the 2012 London Olympics, where George finished sixth in 12.65, beating Zelinka by just 4/100ths of a second.
“I’m still kind of tuning up. The big show this year is going to be world championships. It’s not a matter of peaking at this meet,” George, who finished in 13.75 seconds, said before the race.
“Athletes of that calibre can race anywhere in the world any time they want. It speaks volumes to the credibility that we’re building here, and to the level of competition,” said Mat Gentes, a spokesman for Athletics Canada.
Pickering’s Nikkita Holder won the inaugural Starkman Memorial race last year. Holder and Olympic sprinter Justyn Warner are expecting their first child in December.
“All of the hurdlers, we’ve all had our experiences with Randy. I think it’s a really great tribute to him,” said George.
Zelinka recalled that when her daughter Anika was born, Starkman sent her a copy of A Birthday for Frances, a favourite book of his daughter, Ella.
“He meant a lot to a lot of athletes,” said Zelinka, who also placed seventh in the heptathlon at the London Olympics.
Already the two hurdlers are looking forward to August, when the world track championships will be held in Moscow. Both have temporarily shed their other track pursuits to focus on the hurdles.