Jessica Zelinka carries Canada’s hope for a track medal on her shoulders into final day of heptahlon at London Games

Jim Morris

Jessica Zelinka's strong shoulders will be carrying some extra weight heading into Saturday's heptathlon final at the London Olympics.

Zelinka was in podium contention after finishing third in Friday's first-day of competition in the seven-discipline event. The 30-year-old from London, Ont., also might be Canada's lone remaining hope for a track medal following Dylan Armstrong finishing fifth in the shot put.

Zelinka ran a personal best 23.32 seconds in the 200 metres to finish with 3,903 points. Britain's Jessica Ennis leads the competition with 4,158 points while Austra Skujyte of Lithuania has 3,974.

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Brianne Thiesen of Humboldt, Sask., is 15th with 3,763 points.

Zelinka can't afford to relax. Just four points separate her from sixth place.

Competing before a soldout crowd of 80,000 on the first day of track and field at the Games, Zelinka started with a personal-best time of 12.65 seconds in the 100-metre hurdles. She struggled in the high jump, missing three attempts at 1.71 metres after making 1.68 metres. That dropped her to 30th in the field of 37.

She battled back with a season-best throw of 14.81 metres in the shot put, then sliced 13/100ths of a second off her best time ever in the 200 metres.

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"The hurdles was incredible, just the space I was in," Zelinka told Postmedia.

"The high jump, I was searching for that space again and I was searching too much. I really needed a good high jump today, but the heptathlon doesn't end after two events.''

Zelinka said her relationship with the high jump is like having a bad boyfriend.

"I still haven't figured out this stupid event," she said. "At this point, I've been pretending I love it: 'Oh, I love you high jump, we're friends, we're friends.

"But now I don't need to be its friend any more. Screw it. It's screwed me over one too many times. If you're going to have a weak event, mine was out of the way and I had five more to do."

The hepthalon ends with the javelin, long jump and 800 metres.

There's been a lot of changes in Zelinka's life since she finished a respectable fifth at the 2008 Beijing Games. She's been married and has a three-year-old daughter Anika. She also has a better understanding of what the Olympics are and what it takes to be successful at the Games.

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"I'm too emotional to make this only business," she said prior to Friday. "It's going to feel really surreal, especially because I have a family now. I can go in with confidence of having many years of experience, lots of ups, lots of downs.

"I go to London without the expectation of grandeur that I did to Beijing, but I know what it means to me, especially coming back after having had Anika and with all the support I have. The feeling is almost stronger and more powerful. I know these emotions are going to help me compete because I thrive on those feelings."

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