MONTREAL (Canadian University Press, special to the Gauntlet) — Jessica Zelinka had a smoked meat sandwich worth of success at last weekend’s Canadian Interuniversity Sport track and field national championships–she brought home five gold medals and a silver–but, fittingly, it was the very last victory of her CIS career that she cherished most.
“I didn’t think there would be a finish that could be so perfect,” Zelinka said after she anchored the Dinos’ 4×400 metre relay team to gold, clinching the school’s first overall women’s team championship in 16 years. “It’s like a fairy tale.”
Zelinka competed in 10 events at the meet, including the five that make up the pentathlon where she broke her own CIS-record points total.
Zelinka, a former University of Western Ontario Mustang, is currently ranked seventh in the world in the heptathlon. She captured gold in the 60m hurdles and the long jump, and established new personal bests in the shot put and high jump portions of the pentathlon. Along with her silver in the 4x200m, Zelinka was named female most valuable player of the meet, which came on the heels of her fourth CIS female athlete-of-the-year award in five years of university-level eligibility.
“I would have had to come back for another CIS nationals if we hadn’t won that team title,” Zelinka joked. “I’m not allowed to, but I would have found a way back. It’s such a great way to end my career in the CIS. Our team was so positive and they performed so well this week. It was so great to see everyone individually reaching their goals and then in the end coming together to get the title.”
Zelinka wasn’t the only star to shine for the Dinos at McGill’s Tomlinson Fieldhouse in Montreal. In all, 13 Dinos captured medals, including a pair won by siblings in the 600m.
Holly Ratzlaff scorched through the women’s event, shattering the track record by over two seconds with a gold medal-winning time of 1:29.51, and her brother Trent picked up a bronze in the men’s 600m.
“I’m really happy,” Ratzlaff said not long before she took part in the 4x200m race. “I didn’t know I was going to go that fast. My 400 was fast, so I was like, ‘Woah, I might die, so we’ll see what happens.'”
“My sister ran the 600 race and she won it, so I was like, ‘Aww! I want to do that too; I want to get a medal,'” said Trent, who is 19 months younger than Holly. “So I kind of tried to do what she did. I didn’t win obviously, but it was still good enough.”
Calgary won eight gold medals, three silver and four bronze in total. CIS men’s cross-country national champion Geoff Kerr was a double gold medalist, scoring victories in the 1,500m and 3,000m to cap an undefeated individual running season.
In both races, the CIS male track athlete of the year fought off a pair of athletes from the Universite de Sherbrooke–also rivals of his on the cross-country circuit–thanks to his superior finishing kick.
“It’s such a major change in distance–cross is 10k and this is 1,500,” said Kerr. “So, anything can happen coming down that far. It’s nice to do well in both.”
The men finished fourth in the overall standings behind Sherbrooke, Windsor and Western, helped by the 4x400m relay team’s silver.
Also scoring medals for the women were Canada West rookie of the year Amonn Nelson, who took home silver in the 300m, and Heather Sim, who won bronze in the 1,000m and 1,500m.
In the women’s 4x800m, it looked like Calgary was going to be in a fight for the podium going into the third leg, but Dino Rachel Romero lowered her personal best by a self-estimated three or four seconds in order to not only stretch away from the pack, but join Windsor and Toronto in a battle for first.
“My job is to set it up for our anchor,” she noted. “It was really good to have this personal best at the national championships because the energy was great and my parents were there.”
“The bronze belongs to Rachel,” added Sim, who ran the anchor leg. “She made up a lot of time, and I just tried to hang on.”
It was that kind of team effort that has Calgary assistant coach Les Gramantik confident that the Dinos program is back on track, just three years removed from not having a single male qualify for the national championships.
“I don’t want to say we won just because of Jessica–obviously, total points, you can add it up and she contributed nearly half of the total–but regardless, we have some young kids and the program is on solid grounds,” said Gramantik. “We had even more points than what we anticipated, so it’s an excellent performance.”
..with files from Dan Plouffe, CUP sport bureau chief