Uncommon talent at Commonwealth Games

By Sean Nyilassy

As we come down from the Olympic buzz, there are a few other events to keep us going until our blood boils with playoff hockey in April. Along with the Paralympics and various World Championships taking place, the XVIII Commonwealth Games run Mar. 15-26 in Melbourne, Australia.

The games showcase some of the world’s best talent and many Olympians compete. Though she’s never been to the Olympics, Dino Jessica Zelinka qualified for the Commonwealth Games in the women’s heptathlon. She arrived in Melbourne over a month ago to train there and get used to the different climate. Also, a team of four gymnasts who train at the top-secret facility stowed away in the basement of Kinesiology B arrived more recently to compete in various gymnastics events. The squad included Kyle Shewfelt, Nathan Gafuik, Grant Golding and Adam Wong.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Commonwealth Games are the language-discriminating games of the modern world. All of the participants and officials can proudly speak English without worrying about confusing anybody else because each participating nation is an English-speaking country. The games have taken place every four years since 1930 with the exception of two games that were cancelled because of World War II.

In previous international competitions, Zelinka placed 11th in the heptathlon on two occasions. Once in May, 2005 in Gotzis, Australia when she set a personal best with 6,137 points and again in August, 2005 with 6,097 points at the International Amateur Athletic Foundation World Championship in Helsinki, Finland.

As a Dino, Zelinka has been very successful. She was named Canadian Interuniversity Sport Female Track Athlete of the Year on three occasions and University of Calgary Female Athlete of the Year in 2003.

Her event, the heptathlon, began Tue., Mar. 21 with the 100-metre hurdle event, one of Zelinka’s specialties. All of her preparation time must have paid off as she had the second-fastest reaction time, helping her to a personal best. Just how good was a personal best? Good enough for first place in the event in a time of 13.08 seconds, 0.21 seconds faster than the nearest competitor.

This performance put Zelinka in first with 1,112 points, with a pair of Brits, Kelly Sotherton and Jessica Ennis, in second and third with 1,081 and 1,077 points respectively.

The next competition of the day was the high jump. While Zelinka did manage to break her season’s best jump, her 1.76-metre hop put her in sixth place, allowing Ennis, who won the event, to take the combined lead. Sotherton followed suit, placing second and bumping Zelinka back to third in the overall standings.

With a little bit of catch-up to play, Zelinka stepped up to the shot-put arc ready to unleash the fury. She did just that, hurling the weight 14.18 metres–44 centimetres farther than the second-place finisher. Unfortunately, Sotherton was that second-place finisher, pushing her combined points total to 2,899. Zelinka did manage to gain a lot of ground on Ennis however, getting within three points with 2,846.

Tuesday’s final event was the 200-metre dash. Zelinka–with the fourth-fastest reaction time of 12 competitors–was again quick off the line. Though she set another personal best, her 24.03-second time put her in fourth, 0.61 seconds off the pace. Sotherton and Ennis managed second and third place respectively, keeping their leads over Zelinka in the standings over night.

Wednesday’s competitions began with the long jump. Zelinka’s 5.78-metre jump was only good enough for eighth place. While this did not affect her overall standing much, Kylie Wheeler of Australia, who won the event, managed to bump her out of the medals into fourth place. Sotherton again placed second to hold onto her combined lead.

The following event was the javelin throw. None of the top four ladies made a strong showing, with Zelinka’s seventh-place finish besting the others. Although Sotherton was still comfortably in the lead, Wheeler made her way to within one point of Ennis.

As the final event approached, Zelinka had quite a fight ahead of her to make the podium. She sat 84 points out of second place and 83 points out of third–a lot of ground to cover in one event. Zelinka took her mark to begin the 800-metre run and made her mark with a personal-best 2:10.75.

Her time was just 0.14 seconds off the winning pace and good enough for third in the event. Unfortunately, Wheeler was second in the event, meaning Zelinka would not catch her overall. Ennis was back in fifth, but close enough behind that Zelinka, despite gaining some ground, would not catch her in the combined standings.

Sotherton won the event with 6,396 points. In second and third were Wheeler and Ennis with 6,298 and 6,269 points respectively. Zelinka grabbed the first spot out of the medals 56 points back with 6,213, her personal best in the heptathlon.

As Zelinka continues to train and improve, look out for her to make up that extra spot–hopefully even more–to contend for a medal at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

As for the gymnastics men, their events began with the team artistic gymnastics competition Thu., Mar. 16. They performed like rez students competing to see who could spend the most time in the Den. In other words, they put forth an exemplary effort and succeeded.

Their team scores were good enough to win the floor, vault and parallel and horizontal bars events. The Aussies, who placed second in each of those events, followed them very closely. While the Canadians did give the Aussies some glory, placing second to them in the pommel horse and ring events, their 269.75-combined-point total won them the gold. The Aussies were within inches, just 0.9 points behind.

Wong, a mechanical engineering student, and Gafuik had the second- and third-highest individual point totals. Shewfelt and Wong had the top two scores in the floor exercise while Shewfelt and Gafuik tied for the top score in the horizontal bars and were first and tied for second respectively in the vault. Golding had the top score in the parallel bars event, tied for third-best score on the pommel horse and was third on the rings.

With their team gold medals in hand, the men moved on to their individual events. Shewfelt–who competed in both the 2004 Athens and 2000 Sydney Olympics, winning gold in the floor exercise in Athens, and won two golds at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games–registered in the floor, vault and horizontal bars events. Despite a disappointing seventh in the horizontal bars, Shewfelt won the vault event and earned silver in the floor exercise.

Wong went on to compete in the floor, all-round and rings competitions. He won the floor exercise event and placed fourth and fifth in the all-round and rings events respectively. In the all-round competition, he won the vault, tied for second in the parallel bars and third in the floor exercise.

Golding–who competed in the 2004 Athens Olympics and 2002 Manchester and 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games–tried his hand in the parallel bars, pommel horse and rings. His performance in the parallel bars was as golden as his name while he earned bronze in the pommel horse and fourth in the rings.

Gafuik competed in the vault, all-round and parallel and horizontal bars events. He won silver in the vault and all-round competitions, placing sixth in both bar events. In the all-round competition, he won the pommel horse event, placed second in the floor exercise and third in the horizontal bars.

The moral of this story: watch out when you’re on campus; gymnasts with medals might pop out of the basement and do flips every once in a while.

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