21 AUG 2008 General News Beijing

With dramatic last round effort, Spotakova sets European record to spear Olympic gold

Barbora Spotakova on her way to her winning throw os 71.42m in the women's javelin final (Getty Images)Barbora Spotakova on her way to her winning throw os 71.42m in the women's javelin final (Getty Images) © Copyright

Czech World champion Barbora Spotakova, with a massive last round throw of 71.42m swept away a briefly set European record by Russia’s 2005 European Junior champion Maria Abakumova (fourth round, 70.78), to claim the Olympic title.

This was the greatest competition in terms of quality at a major championship since the introduction of the new specification spear at the turn of the century. Topped by the fourth longest throw of all-time, the list of the world’s 70m javelin throwers was doubled this evening.

Two 70m throws in the same competition have only been seen once with the current javelin. That occurred at the 2005 World Championships final in Helsinki when Cuba’s Osleidys Menendez set the World record of 71.70 and a then new comer Christina Obergföll of Germany surprisingly countered with a 70.03 European record.

The German was to improve her record to 70.20 winning the European Cup in Munich in 2007, and Menendez has had two other 70m+ throws in her career. These five throws were until this evening the sum of the world’s cash of all-time 70m performances.

Tonight Menendez and Obergföll were but bit-part players in an extraordinary 70m duel. We witnessed the arrival of a prodigious talent on the world stage just as promising as Obergföll had been in Helsinki, and the cementing of the pre-eminent reputation of the reigning World champion.

Obergföll has a growing reputation for under performing in major championships; fourth in 2006 Europeans, silver in 2007 Worlds, and now bronze in Beijing. Her third place was secured with her opening attempt of 66.13. The European record holder coming into this final, Obergföll, 26, was the first of the major players to perform, however, her following five throws all stalled thanks to too high a trajectory.

Immediately following the German in the throwing order was the 22-year-old Russian Abakumova who at the start of this year had a personal best of 64.28. Her release was a revelation, 69.32m, a national record which improved her 67.25m which she established just prior to these Games in Irkutsk on 2 August.

When five throwers later Britain’s Goldie Sayers produced a national record of 65.75 (ultimately fifth place), and with the next effort of the first round Spotakova launched her first spear to 69.22, an improvement by seven centimetres of her own Czech record, we guessed we were about to experience a very special competition.

Abakumova again encroached into what previously had been unknown territory to her before this evening. Her second round 69.08 would have been good enough for 10th on the all-time list prior to the start of this final.

Rain was now descending heavily on the competition and the runway was mopped in an very improvised manner, as officials used bath towels to dry up the approach surface.

Besides the Russian’s mark, the efforts of the other eleven finalists certainly seemed to be subdued by the weather in the second and third rounds, with nothing of significance being recorded.

The weather conditions however were not to dampen Abakumova’s quick ascent up the all-time list, as on her fourth attempt she improved her national mark again to 70.78, which bettered Obergföll’s continental mark by 58cm.

The rain was still heavy and it looked increasingly like no one would have any answer to the young Russian phenomenon.

But in the ever smiling face of the Czech World champion there was the sense that at least one athlete believed the gold medal was not decided. Since her opening gambit Spotakova had produced, 67.04, foul, 64.92 and then in the fifth another foul. Like Obergföll her spear was stalling high and landing in the early 60m region on each occasion, and then intentionally foot fouled by the disappointed thrower.

Spotakova, has a exaggerated high stepping approach, a firm controlled base from which she mounts her efforts, and on her final throw the penultimate of the competition, technique and power were joined and a 71.42 European record flew from the 27-year-old’s grip.

The pressure was now on Russia’s international newcomer who with the last throw of the night had to find an immediate response. To Abakumova’s credit she managed 67.58! As we wrote in our preview more than a week ago, “in their 2005 European Junior champion, Mariya Abakumova, Russia has found a throwing gem.”

“I don’t know how I did it,” said Spotakova. “I can tell you honestly. I don’t know how I did it.”

“It’s a very special day for the Czech Republic. It’s the 40th anniversary of the Russian invasion in 1968.”

“I usually win with my first throw. I’ve never won with my last attempt. This is the first time.”

So the medals went to the Czech Republic, Russia, and Germany.

Notably Germany packed the top-eight, with European champion Steffi Nerius in fourth (65.29) and Katharina Molitor eighth (59.64). Defending champion Menendez was a shadow of her former self with 63.35 (6th) and Pole Barbara Medejczyk was seventh with 62.02.

Chris Turner for the IAAF