Updated 2 August 2012
Zuzana HEJNOVA, Czech Republic
Born: 9 December 1986, Liberec
Coach: Martina Blazkova
Club: USK Prague
Zuzana Hejnova, who is called Lula by her friends, started in athletics when she was a pupil at the Basic school in Liberec. She was 12 years old and had an idol within her family. Her older sister, Michaela, also did athletics and competed in the Heptathlon at the 2004 Athens Olympics, finishing 26th.
The talented girl, who admired her sister, competed for the athletic sports club, TJ Liaz Jablonec nad Nisou, until 2006. She continued her study while being a successful competitor at the Pedagogical High School, where she stayed for four years from 2002. In 2006, she joined USK Prague athletics club and started to attend university in Liberec, where she studied how to become an economist or a manager. However, she still did not feel this was what she wanted to do in future. Therefore, in 2008, she enrolled for the study of physiotherapy.
Hejnova entered international level at the 2002 World Junior Championships, in Kingston, where she achieved the best Czech placing, taking 5th in the 400m Hurdles and setting her first national youth record (58.42). It was almost unbelievable given that it was only the fourth 400m Hurdles race in her life.
In 2003, Hejnova represented her country in the European Cup, First Division (57.78 for 4th) then back in her age category, in Sherbrooke, Canada; she achieved her first gold, at the World Youth Championships, improving her national youth record (57.54). In the same year, the athlete of a coach Dana Jandova qualified for the European Junior Championships in Tampere, Finland. There a tired Hejnova took the bronze medal in 58.30.
The Olympic year of 2004 also saw the staging of the World Junior Championships in Grosseto, Italy. The Czech team took two medals – Denisa Scerbova’s gold in the women’s Long Jump and Hejnova’s silver. Hejnova ran 57.44, a Czech junior record. The record did not last too long. The next year, 2005, brought Hejnova a gold medal from the European Junior Championships in Kaunas, Lithuania. Her time, 55.89, was also a national junior (already the third one that season) and senior record and inside the qualification mark needed for the World Championships in Helsinki.
However, 14 days later Alena Rucklova erased the record mark. Hejnova continued in her preparation for Helsinki but, in the cold and wind, she was unable to progress beyond the semi-finals, clocking 57.29.
The hurdler of PSK Prague club, who likes skiing, snowboarding and golf, showed her versatility also in athletics: at the International Combined Events match in Prague on 11-12 February, she placed fourth in the pentathlon a field including top specialists with a PB of 4157 points. At the 2006 European Cup, in Prague, Hejnova regained the national record, clocking 55.83. “Everybody was talking about a new Czech record before the event but I could not believe in it,” she said. Later that year Hejnova was eliminated in the semi-finals at European Championships, in Göteborg (56.39).
In early 2007, Hejnova again kept herself busy with Combined Events during the winter. She managed to win the Czech indoor title in Pentathlon at the beginning of February 2007, scoring 4146 points. Her sister Michaela finished second on 4014 points. In the International match in Zaragoza just two weeks earlier, she had placed 3rd with 4144 points, well ahead of her sister.
Come summer, after placing second in the European Cup 1st Division (56.20), Zuzana gained a bronze medal from the U23 European Championships in Debrecen, Hungary, but despite recording 55.93, she was not satisfied with third place. “I believed I could have run faster,” she said. “I was thinking of a time around 55.50.”
The young Czech athlete, who also likes reading books, playing the piano and travelling, qualified for the 400m Hurdles at the World Championships in Osaka. She had qualified at the Odlozil Memorial in early June, finishing second and recording 56.01. But she was not satisfied: “It was fine during first 300m but then I stopped before the eighth hurdle,” she said. “I wanted to achieve a new national record.”
The record came at the end of August, in the Osaka semi-finals. “Finally, I got the national record after waiting for it the whole season,” the Osaka semi-finalist wrote in her diary. “In the first semi-final heat, despite the time of 55.04, I finished only sixth and did not qualify. But I am very happy. I improved my PB by 0.79s.” At the beginning of the season she was thinking of a time on around 55.18, so she was surprised at the achievement. “Now I believe I am able to run sub 55 seconds,” she said.
And she was right. At the beginning of 2008, Hejnova first improved her indoor PB on 400m flat to 52.82 in Prague, then she competed at the World Indoor Championships, in Valencia, clocking 53.16 in the semi-finals of the 400m and helping the Czech squad to her country’s best result at this championships, finishing 4th with the women´s 4x400m.
Hejnova had to regenerate after the indoor season and, in April, her group flew to Cyprus and afterwards to Croatia for a training camp. Hejnova had small problems with her hamstrings but they were getting better.
On 12 June, at the Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava, Hejnova achieved 54.96 and qualified for the Olympics in Beijing in a national record. Then, on 16 June, she won the Odlozil Memorial in Prague (55.77) and, on 21 June, triumphed at the European Cup First League (Group A) in Leiria, Portugal, where the weather was windy and she achieved 56.16.
The Olympic 400m hurdles were the consecration of the 22-year-old Czech athlete. “I really wanted to go to Beijing and during all that year I worked very hard to get the flight ticket,” she stated. Zuzana Hejnova did not disappoint the Czech team. She qualified for the second round with the twelfth fastest overall time of 55.91 seconds and for the final with 55.17. In the final she finished seventh with 54.97, only one hundredth behind her personal best of that time.
After a successful summer season, the winter 2008-2009 brought some health problems. Zuzana had to handle a tonsils operation which ended with some other health complications. After a training camp in South Africa, she returned to the freezing Czech weather and turned sick again for a month. For all that Hejnova did not have good indoor season 2009.
The fruits of hard spring preparation and the first national record improvement in 2009 came on 7 July at the IAAF GP in Lausanne. The time, 54.94, was 0.02s better than the one achieved in 2008 in Ostrava. However, the next national record did not wait long to come. Only three weeks after the Swiss meeting, Hejnova started at Super Grand Prix meeting in Monaco. The new Czech record mark was changed into 54.90, despite the fact that Hejnova took “only” seventh place. “I think that if I had better lane, not the first one, I would have run even faster,” the national record breaker was quoted at the meeting. The paradox was that the multiple Czech record holder did not have any national title from her event. “I will run 400 meters flat at the national championships. It is less tiring for me and there is better competition on this event,” said the 400m hurdles runner.
Despite the fact that Zuzana broke the 55 seconds barrier in the semifinals of World Championships in Berlin for the third time in the season, she did not make it into the final. She was fourth in her run, 13 hundredths of a second from a final spot. "What can I say? I'm very disappointed. I could have made it. There was no need to run too fast. If I am aware of mistakes? Not really. I ran well, smoothly, but slowly. I spoiled it for myself, it was a huge chance," she regretted.
The year 2010 started with a successful return of the 400m relay at the World Indoor Championships, in Doha. The Czech quartet (Rosolova, Bartonickova, Bergrova a Hejnova) took fourth place again in 3:30.05, but because of doping in the Jamaican medal team, they were later awarded the bronze. "We are definitely happy we won the battle with the Britons and in addition we have a superb time, about 4.5 seconds better than in 2008. I did not expect that we could improve this," beamed the anchor leg runner, Hejnova. For her it was like a substitute for the individual race, where she was the first behind the qualification line in the heats with the time of 53.56 and overall finished 13th.
Her first big chance for the senior (individual) medal was close at the European Championships, in Barcelona, where she ended just off the podium, in fourth place. Although she ran well and confirmed that times below 55 seconds are not a problem for her anymore, even the second fastest time in her career 54.30 - in the season she had improved to 54.13 NR already - was not enough for the medal; she'd lost it by 12 hundredths. "I've run out of power at the end. I'm sorry," she said after the race. "With the time I can be happy. I knew that medals would be distributed around 54 seconds. I really believed in a medal," said Zuzana. 2010 however was a positive year for Hejnova, who had her first strong season at international level and took the second place in the Diamond League Standings at her event. The same result came in national polls for Athlete of the year 2010.
During winter, Zuzana used to choose the 400 meters flat as her additional event. In 2011, however, she seriously devoted her efforts to pentathlon. After her success in the Four Nations match in Reims, where she was second only to French specialist Antoinette Nana Djimou with 4406 points, she decided to participate in the European Indoor Championships in the pentathlon.
In the first three events she set personal bests, but in long jump she had two faults and only in the third attempt recorded 5.73. The final seventh place, with the total of 4453 points, meant a new PB again. "It could have been a lot better but it is just multi event. I am not experienced multi-event competitor," she stated. "I had no great expectations and I thought that if I get a PB, I'd be totally satisfied," she said positively. "I will not specialise in pentathlon and I admire the girls who do this event. I will again continue in my hurdles," she laughed in the mixed zone.
In her first start outdoors in 2011, on 4 June, the athlete coached by Martina Blazkova attacked her own national record (from 2010) running 54.26, just 13 hundredths slower, at the Diamond League meeting in Eugene, finishing in fourth place. With this time she also easily qualified for the World Championships in Daegu, Korea. "Before the start I was pretty much afraid - I did not know what to expect after such a long journey and a great time shift, "said Hejnova. The excellent performance from Eugene was followed by the victory at 400m hurdles at the next Diamond League meeting in Oslo, on 9 June. Zuzana clocked 54.38 and four days later in Prague she added the next victory, achieving 54.44 at the Odlozil memorial.
Zuzana Hejnova then showed one of the best performances within the Czech team at the European Team Championships in Stockholm on 18 June, breaking the national record with 53.87. "Actually I did not expect that today it could be so good. I felt tired and sleepy. Natalya Antyukh started quickly, but I was faster in the finish," said a happy Hejnova. Her previous record was improved by 26 hundredths. "Now I'd like to stabilise my performance at around 54 seconds, and if it should even fall down to 53.5, it would be very good," she said.
It did not take too long and Hejnova fulfilled her aims. In the French capital she won the second race in a row within the Diamond League and improved her own national best at 400m hurdles, achieving the then world leading mark of 53.29. “My coach Martina Blazkova is here with me and my boyfriend and a few friends too. It helped me a lot,” said the excited 24-year-old athlete on 8 July. “I was very motivated and wanted to show them a great performance in Paris.”
Coming to Daegu as a number two in the world rankings at that time (behind Jamaican Kaliese Spencer, 52.79), Hejnova hoped for a great result in Daegu. “For me it is still important to get to the finals, because it can be very difficult. And then we will se. Maybe others will take me as an underdog, but I have to stay a cool.”
Zuzana managed to get to the final but was disappointed about the seventh place. “Unfortunately, I was very tired in the last meters and could not speed up. To be sixth or seventh – it is not a big difference. Generally, I should feel satisfied to be in the top 10 in the world,” the 24-year-old described after running 54.23 in the World Championships final. She repeated the same placement in the relays after the team of Rosolová, Bergrová, Bartoničková and Hejnová took seventh place at 4x400m in 3:26.57.
Only four days after the end of the 2011 World Championships, on 8 September, Hejnova ended the season at the Diamond League meeting in Zürich, placing fifth in 54.89.
Zuzana, whose biggest sport hero is Allison Felix, decided to skip indoor competitions in 2012 to focus only on Olympic Games. Despite this fact, she took part is some combined event competitions and won the national indoor title at 400 m.
In her first outdoor competition, the Ostrava Golden Spike meeting on 25 May, Zuzana fulfilled the Olympic standard to start at her second Olympic Games by running 55.28. The next success came on 11 June at the Odlozil Memorial in Prague where she ran a new meet record, 54.43. “I am sure now I am on the right way towards Olympics now,” stated the 25-year-old athlete based in Prague.
But the big disappointment came at the European Championships, in Helsinki, where Hejnova had golden ambitions. She missed the bronze medal by 14 hundredths and the silver went to her team mate, newborn hurdler, Denisa Rosolova. “It seems I forgot how to run. I do not know what was going on. I trained well; I feel well and still cannot perform well at the competition. I hope I can break this spell in London,” she cried. A few days later she made her day by winning the next big bronze in 4x400 relay with her team mates, all from one training group of Martina Blazkova - Zuzana Bergrova, Jitka Bartoničkova and Denisa Rosolova. “I did not believe in a medal, so this is just awesome,” Zuzana added.
The fourth place from Helsinki was forgotten once Zuzana appeared at the Diamond League meet in Monaco on 20 July, her last outing before leaving for the London Olympics. She triumphed in a season best of 54.12 and improved her self-confidence. “I did not manage it well in Helsinki. Mentally, I feel ready now and first of all, I want to enjoy the Olympic Games in London and I am sure I can surprise all,” Lula confessed.
“Because of athletics, I maybe lost some contacts with my friends but on the other hand, sport gives me a good feeling about myself, it teaches me to be systematic and increases my self-confidence. And because I like travelling, I am always looking forward to every foreign trip. I wish I would visit Malaysia once more and I would like to better know Japan and China,” the Czech record holder confessed.
400m Hurdles: 53.29 (2011)
2002: 58.42; 2003: 57.54 NYR; 2004: 57.44; 2005: 55.89 NJR; 2006: 55.83 NR; 2007: 55.04 NR; 2008: 54.96 NR, 2009: 54.90 NR; 2010: 54.13 NR; 2011: 53.29 NR; 2012: 54.12
2002 5th World Junior Championships (Kingston) 58.42
2003 4th European Cup First League Group B (Velenje) 57.78
2003 1st World Youth Championships (Sherbrooke) 57.54
2003 3rd European Junior Championships (Tampere) 58.30
2004 2nd World Junior Championships (Grosseto) 57.44
2005 1st European Junior Championships (Kaunas) 55.89
2005 SF World Championships (Helsinki) 57.29
2006 1st European Cup First League Group A (Prague) 55.83
2006 SF European Championships (Göteborg) 56.39
2007 2nd European Cup First League Group A (Vaasa) 56.20
2007 3rd European U23 Championships (Debrecen) 55.93
2007 SF World Championships (Osaka), 55.04
2008 1st European Cup First League Group A (Leiria) 56.16
2008 7th Olympic Games (Beijing) 54.97
2009 3rd European Team Championships (Leiria) 55.29
2009 SF World Championships (Berlin) 54.99
2010 h World Indoor Championships (Doha), 400m 53.56
2010 1st European Team Championships 1st League (Budapest) 54.51
2010 4th European Championships (Barcelona) 54.30
2011 7th European Indoor Championships (Paris), Pentathlon 4453 pts
2011 1st European Team Championships Super League (Stockholm) 53.87
2011 7th World Championships (Daegu) 54.23
2012 4th European Championships (Helsinki) 54.49
Prepared by Zuzana Trojakova for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008-2012