Meet three women vying to represent Canada in the Olympics

The 2012 Summer Olympics are almost here! Canada’s Olympic team has not yet been finalized, but these three athletes are worth meeting whether or not they get a chance to compete in London

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Priscilla Lopes-Schliep

Priscilla Lopes-Schliep

Age: 29

Event: 100-metre hurdles


In between winning a bronze medal in 100-metre hurdles at her second Olympics (Beijing 2008) and training to qualify for the Games in London, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, 29, accomplished what most returning Olympians don’t: She had a baby. But that didn’t take her off the track to her Olympic dream. “I trained all through my pregnancy to stay in the best shape I could and to help make the transition back as seamless as possible.”

Her daughter Nataliya (born in September 2011) is her newest inspiration for getting back in the Olympic race, which sometimes involves training for seven hours a day while a nanny looks after her baby. “Nataliya gives me that motivation to push even harder,” says Lopes-Schliep. “I know I can win for my family because I’ve been doing it the past couple of years. But this year with Nataliya, I want it to be extra-special. Not to mention that all of Canada will be watching me, too!”

Like any new parents, Toronto residents Lopes-Schliep and husband Bronsen Schliep (who is studying to become an orthodontist) are faced with the busy days of life with a baby-frequent diaper changes and interrupted sleep. Lopes-Schliep’s mom often comes into the city from the family’s hometown of Whitby, Ont.-where Lopes-Schliep went to high school-to help out with the night shift so her daughter can sneak in more shut-eye than the average new mom might get. But even though sleep patterns have changed, Lopes-Schliep says her ultimate goal has not: “I want to do my best to make my family and country proud.”

One of her biggest challenges had been determining the right moment to jump back into competition. “I left the sport in 2010 as the World Number One, and there’s an expectation that I will pick up where I left off,” she says. “I was cautious about when to open my season. I didn’t want to come out too soon and not be ready, as the entire world of athletics would be commenting on how they feel I will fare later in the year.” But she is obviously ready. At the prelimin¬aries for a race in Quebec in late February, Lopes-Schliep ran the best season opener of her career (she ended up in second place).

Lopes-Schliep is confident that she will stay in top form when it’s time to qualify for her third Games at her sport’s Olympic trials in Calgary in June. “I’ve been working with my coach Anthony McCleary for years, and am fortunate to have such a great group [called Project Athletes, comprised of other Olympians, including fellow hurdlers Phylicia George and Nikkita Holder] around me-they constantly motivate and push me to where I need to be.”

With five world-class female hurdlers on the Canadian track and field team-Lopes-Schliep, Perdita Felicien, Phylicia George, Nikkita Holder and Angela Whyte-but only three Olympic berths, the trials are sure to be something of a showdown. “The great thing about hurdles is that on any given day, anyone can win,” says Lopes-Schliep. “It’s not just running a straight line, but hurdling over 10 obstacles [each 0.84 metres high] along the way.” Whether it’s motherhood or Olympic competition, Lopes-Schliep has shown that, so far, she’s capable of clearing the obstacles and coming out on top. ‘


Tweet her: @gopriscilla


Photo courtesy of Claus Andersen

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Mary Spencer

Mary Spencer

Age: 27
Event: Boxing

When Mary Spencer first stepped into a boxing ring, she knew by gut instinct that she’d found her sport. Growing up the second youngest in a family of five kids, Spencer was the athletic one, playing an array of team sports, including soccer and volleyball. But when she tried boxing at age 17, she says it “just felt right.” As she’s matured, she has come to appreciate how much competing in an individual versus a team sport motivates her: “You take more responsibility and have more control over the outcome.” But is there a fear factor? Not for Spencer. While she’s had a few black eyes and bloody noses, it hasn’t scared her off the sport. “I don’t remember ever being afraid of being punched.”

Even early on, Spencer, who lives and trains in Windsor, Ont., set her sights on going far. “I knew I was capable of being the best in the world.” But this is the first time she has had the chance to compete in the Olympics: The 2012 Games in London will mark the debut of women’s boxing as an Olympic sport.

It couldn’t have come at a better time for Spencer, now 27. “Everything has lined up in 2012, and I’m performing at my best. I now have 10 years of experience training full-time and, statistically, female boxers are in their prime in their late 20s and early 30s.”

She’s also competing in a different weight category than she is used to. In 2009, Spencer, who is five feet 11 inches, was thriving at 141 lb. (64 kg). However, when the Olympic committee announced the three weight categories for women’s boxing-51, 60 and 75 kilograms-she had to pull off a new kind of victory. “It would be impossible for me to get down to 60 kilograms [132 lb.] in a healthy way, so I needed to compete in the 75-kilogram [165 lb.] category.”

Excited by the new challenge, Spencer, along with her boxing and her strength and conditioning coaches, devised a plan for proper weight gain. To put on muscle, she bumped up her strength workouts from three to five times a week, and included more protein in her diet. By 2010, she was winning as a 75-kilogram fighter, including gold at last fall’s Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.

No matter what the weight category, Spencer is proud to represent her home country. “I love wearing the maple leaf.” And she takes inspiration from other athletes, too, including Canadian Olympic cyclist and speed skater Clara Hughes. “She’s a phenomenal athlete and role model for me. She does a lot of charity work even though she doesn’t need to do that-she does it because that’s who she is.”

Even when Spencer is not in Windsor, the boxing ring feels like home for her. “When I’m warming up for a fight or going through the crowd, I might be nervous, but as soon as I step through the ropes into the boxing ring, I feel comfortable. I know what I need to do. I belong there.”


Tweet her: @canadianboxer


Photo courtesy of Dave Fischer Photography

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Martha McCabe

Martha McCabe

Age: 22
Event: 200-metre breaststroke

Coming from a family that was big into sports, Martha McCabe landed on the Olympic path long before she took up competitive swimming at age 12. Back when she was just five or six, McCabe-along with her two older sisters and an older brother-teamed up with other kids to hold their own version of the Olympics at the McCabe cottage in Lakefield, Ont., about 90 minutes from the family home in Toronto. But as the baby of the family, she struggled to keep pace in the “McCabe Olympics,” which included events such as running and building sandcastles.

Turns out, chasing after older siblings set the stage for McCabe’s elite athleticism as she follows her hopes to qualify for her first Olympics. “It’s the reason I am exactly who I am,” she says. “I always wanted to do everything with them, and being the smallest and least capable, I had to push myself much harder to catch up.”

These days, McCabe, 22-a human kinetics student at the University of British Columbia-lives and trains in Vancouver, competing nationally and internationally in the 200-metre breaststroke. She says that event was “natural” for her to pick up, which isn’t always the case for young swimmers. “It’s the weirdest of all the strokes because it has less of a basic rhythm. With breaststroke, you could mess up the timing of your pull and your kick so easily.” So what attracts her to such a tricky technique? “I didn’t choose breaststroke; it chose me,” she says with confidence. “When I first started swimming, if we were told to swim to the other end of the pool, I would always do breaststroke because it came easier to me.”


Parents Nancy and Joe travel to most of McCabe’s international meets, and nowhere was their presence more significant than at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai last July. There, McCabe captured bronze-her first international medal-with her parents and two sisters cheering from the stands. “When I saw that I’d won, the first thing I did was look over to my family. And the Olympics have always been a family dream.”

It certainly is a family affair: McCabe’s cousin Conlin McCabe is currently training with the men’s eight team in rowing, which has already qualified to be at the London Olympics. Many McCabe family members plan to be cheering both of them on.

As for her own shot at the Olympic podium, McCabe has taken it one race at a time, starting with the Olympic trials this spring. “Ultimately, I’m looking to get myself on the podium. I know it’s possible.”


Tweet her: @MarthMcC


Photo courtesy of Swimming Canada


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