Tia Hellebaut sets a personal best in the shot (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 7 March 2008 – Valencia, Spain

Hellebaut: Despite Valencia success, the High Jump is most likely for Beijing

Valencia, Spain“It took a couple of minutes before I realised that I had won the gold medal. It was so close in the end I really did not know if it would be me or Kelly,” said Belgian Tia Hellebaut. “When I then saw my parents and my younger sister starting to celebrate in the stands I knew I had won it.”

Only 15 points separated Hellebaut (4867) and Britain’s Kelly Sotherton (4852) after a dramatic Pentathlon finish in Valencia, which was the closest in the history of the IAAF’s World Indoor Championships.

“I was really afraid that I could fall down and loose it all. I had tried to pass the runner in front of me but then suddenly lost my rhythm and started stumbling. Then I only focussed on the finish line,” Hellebaut recalled of the drama of the final ten metres of the 800m, when she finally fell to the ground but into the finish as well. “I knew Kelly would run a strong 800 metres race so I had to give everything to protect the lead.”

“Tia ran a fantastic race,” said Sotherton, who admitted being disappointed but also explained that she had expected Hellebaut to be her main rival together with Lyudmila Blonska. The Ukrainian only finished eighth in the end.  “It was very exciting and at the end I was not sure if she would make it.” 

Asked if she would train for the 800 metres and how many kilometres she would cover in a week the 30-year-old Hellebaut’s first reaction was: “Kilometres per week?” Then Hellebaut, who missed her Personal pentathlon best by only ten points in Valencia, explained that the main problem regarding the 800m is the High Jump in the summer. “When I do the High Jump I don’t train at all for the 800m. Otherwise I do some basic stuff by running in the forest and I had maybe four sessions this winter when I did for example a 500 or a 600m run.”

It had been in August 2006 when Belgium’s Kim Gevaert and Tia Hellebaut had written sports history for their country by taking the European golds at the 100m and the High Jump within minutes.

“Yes of course we thought about this again before this Friday. It would have been very similar to Gothenburg and I said to Kim, ‘hey come on we can do it again’,” Hellebaut explains. “But I knew that the situation had not been that good for Kim since she had been ill. I watched her final and kept my fingers crossed for her. But after it I fully concentrated on my event.”

The 800m of the Pentathlon started only ten minutes later. It was then the other way round: Gevaert watched the final of her friend hoping for a Belgian gold.

“I am happy for Tia. I knew it would get very close,” said Gevaert, who finished fourth in the 60 m final in 7.22. “Of course it was our aim and hope to take two golds. And the form I was in some weeks ago I thought I could run sub 7.10. But two weeks ago I caught a flu with fever, which is why I could not reach that goal. While for me it is disappointing Tia’s gold is really great for our small country. I am happy for her and in Belgium everyone will be proud. This of course is a very good motivation for our youngsters.”

“This is great for Tia,” said Wilfried Meert, the Meeting Director of Brussel’s van Damme Memorial ÅF Golden League Meeting. “She did it the same way as two years ago, when she finally won the gold in Gothenburg. In the winter she concentrates on the Pentathlon and then in the summer on the High Jump.”

“Something like this motivates our young athletes in Belgium,” Meert continued. “We have some promising youngsters but it is a long process to come through and they need a lot of patience. That is how Kim and Tia have done it.” Meert also pointed out that the double Belgium final was covered live by national TV, which is very unusual on a Friday evening.

In the early summer season Hellebaut will continue with the multiple events.

“I want to do the Heptathlon in Götzis, but in the summer will then turn to the High Jump again. After this success today I am thinking about Beijing, but most likely I will go for the High Jump at the Olympics.”

During the Pentathlon Hellebaut cleared 1.99m in the High jJump. Asked if Blanca Vlasic’s great form could play a role regarding her final decision, Hellebaut said: “If I jump I try to do the best for myself and I don’t look at what the others do. I first want to get over two metres again and then we will see. But of course Blanca Vlasic is very strong.”

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF