Phylicia George, Jessica Zelinka headline 100-metre hurdles in Randy Starkman memorial race

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The third annual Toronto International Track and Field Games will see 40 Olympic athletes hit the field as the summer track season begins.

Elite track athletes from around the globe meet Tuesday night in the third annual Toronto International Track and Field Games, with Olympic hurdlers Phylicia George and Jessica Zelinka facing head-to-head again.

The duo represented Canada at the 2012 London Games in the 100-metre hurdles, where George finished sixth in 12.65, beating Zelinka by just four hundredths of a second.

“I really want to use this meet as a stepping stone for preparation for worlds and run well here,” said Zelinka, of Calgary. “It’s a good opportunity to come out on home soil and hopefully come away with a seasonal best time and possibly a win. I’m really excited.”

The meet is the beginning of a long road for both athletes that, if all goes well, will end on a podium in Rio at the 2016 Olympics. First, the pair will join 40 Olympic athletes from around the world, including Canadian bronze medal high-jumper Derek Drouin, at Varsity Centre at the University of Toronto, starting at 6 p.m. tonight.

“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.

George and Zelinka will stand side-by-side in the starting blocks for the Randy Starkman Memorial 100-metre hurdles, named in honour of the late Toronto Star reporter who covered amateur sports.

Nikita Holder won the inaugural event 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, who was born in Markham.

Zelinka recalled when her daughter Anika was born. Starkman sent her a copy of A Birthday for Frances, a favourite of his daughter, Ella.

“He meant a lot to a lot of athletes,” said Zelinka, who was also 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.

“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,” said George.

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