Christina Obergfoll of Germany reacts after a good throw in the Women's Javelin Throw Final of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 9, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
'Always the bridesmaid never the bride' is an expression that seems to have been coined for Germany's Christina Obergföll, who lines-up against double Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic. In major championships the German has now accumulated no fewer than five silver medals without ever clinching the big one.
In the London Olympics, she did it again and though you would think it might be the cause of a certain frustration, Obergföll was anything but dismayed. Maybe it was the fact that she had managed to win a medal with only one valid throw, but she was ecstatic after the event. "I would never have believed you could win gold with 65 metres," she said. "I would have thought that somewhere in the high 60s would have been necessary for that."
Where long throws for minor medals are concerned the javelin thrower from Offenburg has previous, as they say. In the 2005 Helsinki World Championships, she let fly with a corker of 70.03m and still only won silver, upstaged by a World record 71.70m from Cuban Osleidys Menendez.
Then again, the German has been in the unfortunate position of competing at the same time as Spotakova whose reign started the following year in Osaka. Like Steve Backley who always encountered Jan Zelezny standing in his path, Obergföll has also had to deal with an all conquering Czech. And when she failed, there was always another German like Linda Stahl or Steffi Nerius waiting in the wings to upstage her.
London, though, was a strange competition, with many of the field athletes struggling with the conditions and the javelin was no exception. One valid throw of 65.16m in the opening round for Obergföll and that was it. Try as she might in her five subsequent efforts, she could make no advance. "I wasn’t satisfied at all with my first throw, but then I lost the thread. I was too aggressive or too fast. After my third throw I noticed that the air went out of it, a bit like a balloon losing air. I then tried to push myself. I still believed I could do this, but then Spotakova threw 69 metres and I knew it would be really hard."
At the end she was just glad to hang on for silver. All around her there was devastation, apart from the one glorious exception from the winner. Last year’s winner of a pulsating World Championships was one of the most notorious failures. "It was a strange competition," opined Obergföll. "When [Mariya] Abakumova went out I thought I wasn’t seeing straight. Everybody has luck and luck was on my side this time."
Considering what happened in last year’s World Championships when Obergföll finished just outside the medals with a throw slightly better than in London, you can see what she means about luck. "It took me a long time to digest things," she said talking about Daegu. "I told myself that I would try one more time. But if it does not work, then maybe it is time to look at doing something else." Thankfully she tried, but it was a close run thing.
"I thought of packing it all in. Why do I always have to be punished? I throw well the whole season and then somebody else comes out of the woodwork and throws further."
The disappointment of Daegu was such a bitter blow for the German that she sought the help of a psychologist. "I learned a lot and got a lot out of it. I think it contributed a lot to my success," she said referring to London.
Evidently, defeats over the last few seasons have scarred Obergföll, hence the importance of this silver. "Berlin was incredibly difficult, Barcelona was not easy either, 2011 the World Championships was pure agony. I was really down."
With such a recent past, Obergföll is not seeing too far ahead into the future. At least next year’s World Championships in Moscow are just about feasible. "I can’t say right now I shall continue until 2016. I am 31. I’ll take everything from year to year from now on."
Athletics aside, the Olympic silver medallist has her studies to complete with a Master’s degree in the pipeline though she has yet to choose a theme. And then there is the subject of her personal life that has suddenly become of interest to the German public.
Her coach and boyfriend is World Championship medallist, Boris Henry and though the question of marriage is not up for discussion right now, the subject of children has been hinted at. And not only for Obergföll. It seems to be under discussion in the world of women’s javelin with Abakumova planning her marriage in October and Spotakova talking of having a child before Rio.
"Offsping would be nice," said Obergföll noncommittally, before adding a more substantial hint. "It is sure to come into this world with a javelin in its hand."
Michael Butcher for the IAAF