Brussels, Belgium – Belgium’s Olympic High Jump champion Tia Hellebaut announced her second comeback to athletics at a press conference in Brussels on Thursday (23).
Hellebaut was the surprise winner of the Olympic gold medal in Beijing in 2008 while stopping Blanka Vlasic’s winning streak of 34 competitions in clearing 2.05m at her first attempt in Beijing. Hellebaut gave birth to a second daughter in February but resumed training two months ago.
Two retirements, two comebacks
Her second comeback in international athletics seems to turn Hellebaut’s career into a true rollercoaster. The 33-year-old tall and rangy Belgian athlete combined international success in both the multiple events and the High Jump. Highlights of her career the 2005 European High Jump title, the 2007 World Indoor Pentathlon title and the 2008 Olympic High Jump gold medal.
A few months after winning Olympic gold Hellebaut retired from the sports and gave birth to a daughter Lotte in June 2009. In February 2010 she decided to make a comeback. It was a great moment for athletics fans to see Hellebaut compete at the last year’s European Championships where she finished fifth clearing 1.97m. Only her family and close friends knew that Hellebaut was pregnant again and not feeling completely healthy while competing at the 1992 Olympic stadium.
Her second retirement at the age of 32 was likely to seal the final end of a successful sports career. But hardly two months after her second daughter Saartje was born Hellebaut went out on the track again and set her sights at the 2012 London Olympics.
Goal: 'To jump two metres again in London 2012'
Hellebaut was not reluctant to unveil strong ambitions while explaining her second comeback.
“It is my ultimate goal to jump over two metres again at the London Olympic Games. I don’t want to talk about medals or placings, because that depends on the general level of the competition.”
But it looks as though Hellebaut has a stronger focus now that she had on her previous comeback.
“From the first moment I knew I was pregnant again I was convinced that I wanted to come back into the sports. I learned lessons from my first comeback. This time we hired a nanny from the very first day that I resumed training two months ago. It allows me to train and to rest in a more consistent way than I did last year. And I’m lucky : Saartje is a much better sleeper than Lotte has been. My training regime comprises five to six training sessions a week now, entirely dedicated to general conditioning. To start High Jump training too early would be a risk. I understand that and I can live with it, but I definitely look forward to regain regular training and to jump again.”
Hellebaut also thanked Minister of Sports Philippe Muyters of the Flemish Community for providing her a contract so that she can concentrate entirely on sport. Her comeback is a true boost for Belgian Athletics and for Belgian sports. In 2008 Hellebaut was the only Olympic gold medal winner for her country. And there is no doubt that her comeback will add even more interest in the women’s High Jump.
Ivo Hendrix for the IAAF