Sports Legends: Historic Hurdler

Perdita Felicien recalls her noteworthy win in the 2004 Prefontaine Classic

Perdita Felicien on the track celebrates her 100m Hurdles second-place finish holding a Canadian flag above her head. Perdita Felicien’s time of 12.46 seconds in the 2004 Prefontaine Classic set a Canadian record that still stands. Felicien calls the win a euphoric moment and memory. (Image by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Perdita Felicien recalls her noteworthy win in the 2004 Prefontaine Classic

During a stellar track career, hurdler Perdita Felicien, ’04 AHS, ran in the Summer Olympics (twice), won a World Championship and captured three NCAA titles.

But ask the U of I Athletics Hall of Famer to name her all-time favorite race, and the response might be a surprise.

“The Prefontaine Classic in 2004,” Felicien says. “It’s such an historical and prestigious meet. It’s one of the big ones. Sets the tone for the rest of the season.”

On June 19, 2004, Felicien beat a star-studded field in the 100-meter hurdles. Her time of 12.46 seconds set a Canadian record, one that still stands. The race was Felicien’s first win at the Prefontaine Classic, named for the late University of Oregon Ducks star and legendary long-distance runner, Steve “Pre” Prefontaine. She added another victory there later in her career.

“I was just clicking that day,” she says. “It was so easy, and I had more left in the tank. I love that memory.”

Felicien can picture every step. “When I crossed the finish line, I did a major jump when I saw the time.”

Normally, Felicien isn’t much of a celebrator. “I tend to be more respectful and spare other people’s feelings and not seem cocky,” she says. But Felicien realized that she had set her nation’s record.

“Of course, in Canada, it’s on the front page of the newspapers. A euphoric moment. One of those you want to put in a bottle and open it up every now and then.”

Canadian Perdita Felicien clears a hurdle during the women's 100m hurdles semi-finals at the 10th IAAF World Athletics Championships in Helsinki Finland in 2005.

The 2016 U of I Athletics Hall of Fame inductee was a 10-time All-American and three-time Athlete of the Year Award winner at Illinois. (Image by Jeff Haynes/AFP via Getty Images)

By that stage of her track career, Felicien had completed her college eligibility. She graduated a month earlier. But she was still living in Champaign and training with then–Illini coach, Gary Winckler.

The 2016 Hall of Fame inductee appreciates the time she spent at Illinois, where she was a 10-time All-American and three-time Dike Eddleman, ’49 AHS, Award winner as Athlete of the Year.

“None of that would have been possible without the support of everybody in Champaign,” Felicien says.

There are no more races for Felicien today. She hasn’t hurdled since she retired from the sport in 2012. The 42-year-old is keeping plenty busy, however. She hosts a reality show, All-Around Champion. She also is a regular on Canadian coverage of the Olympic Games.

Felicien lives in Toronto with her husband, Morgan, and their daughter, Nova. In mid-April, they were at a local park when 4-year-old Nova took off and ran a mile, her parents lagging behind. Could be another track star in the family.