Future of heptathlon looks bright after Nina Schultz breaks junior record
Nina Schultz, of New Westminster, B.C., set a new Canadian junior record in January with 4,042 points in the indoor pentathlon. (Scott Weaver/K-State Athletics)
Long before Brianne Theisen-Eaton became an Olympic heptathlete, the Saskatchewan teen mastered the hurdles on a makeshift track in the gravel alley behind her house in Humboldt.
Long before Nina Schultz received a track scholarship to Kansas State, she honed the art of high jump by soaring over a string tied to two trees in her front yard in New Westminster, B.C.
The landing pit? A pile of couch pillows.
“My neighbours loved it,” Schultz said. “They would always come out and watch. Sometimes, they even cheered for us.”
Turns out, those neighbours might have been cheering for the next Canadian destined for greatness in the heptathlon. Recently turned 18, Schultz set a new Canadian junior record in January with 4,042 points in the indoor pentathlon.
The search is on for the next Theisen-Eaton and Schultz doesn’t shy away from comparisons to the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist and world indoor champion.
“Brianne is obviously a great athlete, so it’s a lot to live up to,” Schultz said. “Obviously, she just retired, so I’m hoping that I can eventually fill her spot, fill her shoes and live up to her expectations and do well in Canada’s multi program.”
Schultz oozes potential, especially given her bloodlines. Her grandfather, Duan Qiyan, is a former national team track coach in China. Her grandmother, Zheng Fengrong, held the high jump world record for a time back in 1957 at 1.77 metres — and she did that scissor style.
“She never lets me forget it,” Schultz said. “My personal best is only three centimetres higher and I flop so it’s a lot easier. She always nags me about that, so I hopefully can get a lot higher.”
The heptathlon — which includes the 100-metre hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-metre dash, long jump, javelin and 800-metre run — is considered the ultimate test of overall athletic ability and mental toughness for female athletes. Most elite participants tend to peak in their late-20s or early 30s. Success as a teenager is rare.
Schultz credits her grandparents for giving her a head start.
“I think one of the big factors is having my family involved in my early track career,” she said. “Obviously, they were very experienced so my grandpa made a very good coach. Right from the beginning, I had very good training and technique.”
Schultz’s grandmother missed out on competing at the Olympics because China boycotted from 1952-84 over the International Olympic Committee’s recognition of Taiwan as an independent nation. She later carried the Olympic flag to open the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
Schultz hopes to one day give Zheng the joy of watching her granddaughter compete at the Olympics, perhaps as early as 2020 in Tokyo. So far, she’s on the right track.
MR. COOL GROWS UP
The Toronto Star dubbed Manny Osborne-Paradis Canada’s Mr. Cool at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The happy-go-lucky party boy on the Canadian alpine team seemed eternally young at the time without a care in the world.
Now 32, Osborne-Paradis is all grown up, married and the proud daddy of two-month-old baby girl Sloane Grace.
Sloane arrived on the weekend of the 2016 Lake Louise World Cup, which just happened to be cancelled for the first time in 29 years due to lack of snow.
“It was kind of a good thing for me that Lake Louise didn’t happen, because I wouldn’t have been there,” Osborne-Paradis said. “Bittersweet. Bitter in that the race didn’t happen, but sweet in that I wouldn’t have been there anyways.”
Two days after Sloane was born, Osborne-Paradis flew to France to resume his day job of charging down slick mountainsides at 140 km/h.
Racing on new skis this year from Head, Osborne-Paradis posted a season-best World Cup finish of sixth on the weekend in Garmisch, Germany — only 0.83 seconds back of winner Travis Ganong, of the United States.
In any given race, Osborne-Paradis remains in striking distance of the podium, even if he is one of the older dogs on tour.
“When we talked 10 years ago, I thought I would be retired at 30,” he said. “But the best guys now are Aksel Lund Svindal (34) and Hannes Reichelt (36). All these old guys are up there. So we’re going to keep going as long as I’m having fun.”
Erik Guay is the elder statesmen on the Canadian speed team at 35. He crashed in Garmisch, but is expected to compete at the world championships Feb. 6-19 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
STAR OF THE WEEK
Ted-Jan Bloemen, speed skating
Chalk up the 2016-17 season as a grind for the transplanted Dutchman with the potential to win multiple medals for Canada at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. Coming off a nasty skate laceration to the leg and a badly sprained wrist (from a bike crash), Bloemen earned his first win of the season on Saturday with World Cup gold in the 5,000 metres in Berlin, Germany. A distance specialist, Bloemen is a legitimate contender in the 5,000, 10,000 and team pursuit. “It’s always hard if you are not skating the way you want to skate,” said the 30-year-old, who lives and trains in Calgary. “It messes with your confidence. This gold medal is really great going into the World Single Distance Championships.”
ONE TO WATCH
Mirela Rahneva, skeleton
Through the first five races of her World Cup career, Rahneva already has one gold medal and two bronze. A wedding planner by trade, the Ottawa native is ranked fourth in the World Cup standings heading into the race Friday in Igls, Austria. Skeleton is about the start and the drive down the track. Already crushing the competition at the top, Rahneva will no doubt improve even further once she gains valuable driving experience on tracks around the world.