20 AUG 2008 General News Beijing, China

Miankova finally gets smart

Aksana Miankova set an Olympic record of 76.34m to win gold in the hammer (Getty Images)Aksana Miankova set an Olympic record of 76.34m to win gold in the hammer (Getty Images) © Copyright

In a triumph for resilience, Aksana Miankova won the Olympic women’s Hammer Throw gold medal for Belarus here tonight, overcoming a history of failure at major championships, a stubborn back injury, and the protests of her mother, who had other ideas for her teenage daughter some years ago.

Miankova lived up to her form this season, highlighted by a throw in June which elevated her to third in the all-time rankings, to deny the considerably more successful Cuban, Yipsi Moreno. While Moreno had taken gold or silver medals at the previous five global championships, Miankova had failed to reach a final in two World and two European Championships.

“My mother didn’t want me to go in for sports because she thought I would waste a lot of effort and sacrifice my health,” Miankova said. “She wanted me to be a doctor. She didn’t want me to be an athlete.” To try to cut down on the arguments, Aksana would go out to train while her mother was at work.

Although the Hammer Throw was not an event for women on either the Olympic or World Championships programme when Miankova took it up, she was still drawn to it.

“At that time I was not aware that the event was not part of the Olympic Games and World Championships and I enjoyed throwing the Hammer,” she said.

It was, after all, better than the alternative sport she had been offered before she was invited by coaches in the Mogilev region to try the hammer. Miankova’s height, and her enthusiasm for sport, made her a top target for the talent spotters.

“I was selected for rowing but, when I arrived at the venue and saw the ice, I didn’t like it,” Miankova said. “So I never did any rowing competition.” Valery Vorontsov, her coach at her sports school in Mogilev, suggested when she was 15-years-old that she try throwing the Hammer and she took to it straight away.

Now aged 26, Miankova has been throwing for 11 years through thick and thin – mainly thin. For many seasons she struggled with health problems until a breakthrough in 2006. Before that season, she had never thrown over 71 metres but in June, in Staiki, just outside Minsk, she broke the Belarus record with 76.86

Miankova believed that she could soon break the World record which, at the time, was held by Russia’s Gulfiya Khanafeyeva at 77.26. However, she hurt her back when she slipped on a wet surface while training in the Shot circle. Such was the consequence that she was fell short of qualifying for the final of the European Championships, in Gothenburg, two months later.

Unable to shrug off her now familiar habit of failing to qualify for finals, Miankova appeared in the 2007 World Championships, in Osaka, without recording a distance. Why the difference now? How, after failing even to reach a final before, had she managed to take the gold medal on her Olympic debut?

“My coach said that, at 25 years of age, you become very smart,” Miankova said.  “Maybe he was right.”

The confidence of a good season behind her helped too. First she won her event at the European Cup, in Annecy, France, then back in Staiki, she threw another national record (77.32) which raised her to third on the all-time list. Her greatest success, prior to this season, was a silver medal at the 2003 European Under-23 Championships.

A first round throw of 74.40 by Miankova proved a distance too far for all her opponents, except Moreno. The Cuban took the lead in the fifth round with a 74.70 effort but Miankova responded, in the same round, with an Olympic record and gold medal throw of 76.34.

“It was a good first attempt but I didn’t feel I was sure of a medal,” Miankova said. “I knew that my opponents were very strong and I expected a higher result from Moreno. There was also a strong girl from Slovakia who was very well prepared (Martina Hrasnova finished eighth) and I thought we would have a tough fight.”

After all she has been through perhaps, for once, Miankova deserved things a little easy.

David Powell for the IAAF