Feature11 Jul 2017

With late round heroics in London, Spotakova shows she’s still very much a contender


Barbora Spotakova at the Diamond League meeting in London (© Kirby Lee)

It wasn’t the longest throw of her career, nor was it the most crucial. But when Barbora Spotakova launched her sixth round effort out to 68.26m at the London IAAF Diamond League meeting last Sunday the sense of satisfaction was written across her beaming face for all to see.

It was, she said a few moments later, “a fantastic day”.

Little wonder, for it was the 36-year-old world record holder’s longest throw since winning Olympic gold in the same east London venue five years earlier, and timely proof that she is ready for one more tilt at regaining the world title she last won 10 years ago when she returns to the British capital in one month’s time.

Spotakova had arrived at the meeting hotel of the Müller Anniversary Games at 17:30 on Saturday evening feeling tired and a more than a little jaded after losing to Sara Kolak just two nights earlier in Lausanne.

Expecting the unexpected

Kolak, the 22-year-old who last summer relieved Spotakova of her eight-year reign as Olympic champion, had stolen the Czech veteran’s thunder again in the Swiss city with a victory-snatching final throw of 68.43m that not only eclipsed Spotakova’s opening effort of 67.40m but bumped her off the top of the world leaderboard and took her place at the head of the Road to the Final standings.

It was not merely a personal best but a national record for the Croatian, surpassing the 66.18m that had snared an Olympic gold medal in Rio where Spotakova had been forced to settle for bronze. It also placed her firmly in the favourite’s seat for August’s IAAF World Championships.

“The competition in Lausanne was only two days ago which is too short, so I don’t know what to expect,” Spotakova had admitted on her arrival in the British capital. “If the body recovers I could be 100 per cent. I feel tired right now, but it could feel different tomorrow.”

For four rounds in the London Stadium it looked as if the result was about to go the same way. While Spotakova’s javelin had been peppering the infield at 65 to 66 metres, Kolak had already set two meeting records and led by almost a metre and a half thanks to her third round throw of 67.83m – the second longest of her relatively short senior career.

When Spotakova opted to pass the fifth it seemed as if the game was up. But the former junior heptathlete has been an international competitor for 17 years and all that experience counts for something. She was merely saving those fatigued muscles for one last assault.

With the stadium announcer virtually handing victory to Kolak, Spotakova let fly with one of the biggest efforts of her career before turning to the crowd in celebration. She had exacted a small piece of revenge on the young pretender but more importantly send a quiet message, to herself as well as the watching world, that she remains a serious contender for the major crown.

“I didn’t expect such a big throw even though I knew I was in good shape,” she said. “Competing back here flooded me with so many nice memories of 2012.

“Now, I have to keep my form until August – it’s pretty even with me and a couple of the other girls so I can’t underestimate anyone. It will be a very exciting competition.”

It often is with Spotakova who so memorably completed the full set of world, Olympic and European crowns in Zurich’s Letzigrund Stadium three years ago when she took the continental title that had eluded her legendary coach Jan Zelezny just months after returning to competition following the birth of her son, Janek.

With three world, three Olympic and three European medals to her name, plus a world record that has stood for nine years, hers is one of the most glittering records in global athletics.

But it’s a record that’s lost a touch of lustre in the last few years, for that European triumph in 2014 was her last at a major championships. She could only finish ninth at the Beijing Worlds two years ago when she missed the cut, was fifth on her title defence at the Amsterdam Europeans last July, and third at the Rio Olympics – a set of results that has led prompted thoughts of retirement, ones she has doused for now, thanks largely to the spur of winning the London Worlds.

On next month's World Championships: 'This could be my last one'

“I am still doing athletics just because there is a World Championships in London this year,” she admitted. “Otherwise I would maybe have finished before now.

“This could be my last one, though, because it is getting harder and harder. I never say never, but it could be. If I win [in London] it’s likely to force me to stop, more than if I don’t.

“I think the atmosphere will help me here,” she added. “I will soak up the atmosphere and the spectators are always very good here. They understand track and field so I hope they will help me.

“Also, all the fans can travel here from the Czech Republic. Last year the Olympics were in Rio, and before then the World Championships were in Beijing – no one goes to cheer for me in Beijing or Rio. I will have more people supporting me in London.”

As for her chances?

“I don’t know,” she says. “I hope I will fight for the medal, as every time. I am in good shape. I am always ready for the fight.” 

As she showed – yet again – at the London Stadium last Sunday.

Matthew Brown for the IAAF