21 AUG 2008 General News

Czech Javelin Tradition continues with Spotakova

Barbora Spotakova waits for the javelin to land on her last attempt as she wins the Olympic javelin title (Getty Images)Barbora Spotakova waits for the javelin to land on her last attempt as she wins the Olympic javelin title (Getty Images) © Copyright

BeijingThink Javelin, think the Czech Republic, think Jan Zelezny. You’re thinking in the past.

Think Javelin, think the Czech Republic, think Barbora Spotakova. Now you’re in the present.

Spotakova followed Zelezny’s advice to give up the Heptathlon and concentrate on the Javelin and, five years after those wise words from the men’s World record holder, she’s the women’s Olympic champion.

And guess who was watching among the 91,000 spectators in the National Stadium? Zelezny, of course. Mission accomplished.

Spotakova did unto Maria Abakumova, the Russian runner-up, as Zelezny had done unto to him before he went on to take three Olympic titles. In 1988, at the Seoul Games, Zelezny was leading in the final round when the gold was snatched from his grasp by Finland’s Tapio Korjus.

Abakumova, as was the case with Zelezny in 1988, had to settle for the silver. The only difference was that Korjus won gold on the very last throw of the competition whereas Spotakova did so with the penultimate release. She faced the anxious wait to see whether the Russian could recover the lead but, having set a European record of 70.78 in the fourth round, she was unable to pass Spotakova’s final throw of 71.42.

Not only did Spotakova steal the gold from under Abakumova’s nose, she strangled her continental record almost at birth. Furthermore, she wasn’t going to be beaten by a Russian on the date that she said had been in her mind since she knew the schedule. 21 August marks the 40th anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.

And so Spotakova is the World and Olympic champion but, at 27, she is going to have to go some to catch Zelezny.  He won Olympic gold medals in 1992, 1996 and 2000 and World Championship golds in 1993, 1995 and 2001. Spotakova came relatively late to the Javelin, her debut championship being the 2000 World Juniors in Santiago, where she placed fourth in the Heptathlon.

However, Spotakova went to study at the University of Minnesota and there began the path that would lead her towards becoming a specialist Javelin thrower. “I started to throw a little Javelin then I came back to Czech Republic and, suddenly from nothing, threw the standard for the European Championships in Munich,” she said.

In Munich, Spotakova did not qualify for the final. “Then I met Jan Zelezny and he told me to do the Javelin and not be a heptathlete,” Spotakova explained. “I said to myself: ‘If this man tells me to do the Javelin who else has to tell me?” Even so there was still a voice in her head shouting ‘combined events’ but it lost the argument despite her going to Talence in 2004 and scoring 6749 in a Decathlon.

Zelezny had offered his advice late in 2003 and he invited Spotakova to a training camp in South Africa in the spring of 2004. Now she is the first women’s Olympic javelin champion from her homeland since 1952 when the winner played a part in one of sport’s most extraordinary coincidences.

On 19 September 1922, in Czechoslovakia, two babies were born whose lives would become forever linked. The day that Emil Zatopek came into the world was also the one which heralded the arrival of new born Dana Ingrova.

In 1948 Emil won the 10,000m at the London Olympics and, soon afterwards, he married Dana. Then, at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Emil won the 5000m, 10,000m and Marathon. The middle one of these was the 5000m and, on that very day, Dana (Zatopkova) won the women’s Javelin.

Two people born on the same day, and who shared a wedding day, had now won Olympic gold medals on the same day.

In successive championships, Spotakova has proved that she is a big-occasion performer. She improved her National record twice in the final of the 2007 World Championships, in Osaka. She threw 66.40 in the first round to lead and 67.07 in the third to secure the gold medal.

Holding the top mark of the season coming into the Olympics – a personal best 69.15m – Spotakova suspected that distance would not be enough here. “The Olympic gold will take 70 metres,” she had said beforehand. But, afterwards, she added: “My dream was to throw over 70 metres and I didn’t expect that I would have to throw over 70.50 metres It’s like a miracle for me, like a fulfilled dream and, of course, it continues the Javelin tradition in the Czech Republic.”

David Powell for the IAAF