The culmination of 25 international seasons has left Kjersti Plätzer drained but satisfied, upon retaining her IAAF Race Walking Challenge title.
“I'm, empty but very relieved.” said the 37-year-old Norwegian a week after the IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final in Saransk, and six weeks after being disqualified in Berlin. “Now I can retire on a high which is so important for me.”
Such a long career has several beginnings - in Plätzer’s case due to injuries and motherhood. With her coach, Stephan, also her husband it may be a little intrusive to enquire deeply about some of their planning - but, what shines through is Plätzer’s sense of enjoyment of competition and the love of a challenge.
Two Olympic silvers
The early international races of Kjersti Plätzer née Tysse whetted her appetite for the long haul. “I’d say a highlight as a junior was fifth place in the 1986 World Juniors in Athens when just 14. It was a great experience and was really, really fun.”
After junior successes difficult years followed. With numerous injuries, Plätzer competed but was only able to get back to full training from 1992. Progress followed life changing events, and walking became a way of life; she married Stephan Plätzer in 1995, who became her coach the following year, and in 1997 they had a daughter, Kiara Lea.
“I think ninth in Budapest in 1998 was my start as a senior - it showed I was capable of good international results.”
“We continued being patient, increasing my training a little each year and then came Olympic silver in Sydney. That was huge.”
But some hard years followed. “Stephan had a brain aneurysm at Edmonton in 2001 just before the World Championships. That made my DQ unimportant - my only concern was getting him well again.”
Disqualifications followed in Munich in 2002 and Paris in 2003.
“These DQs mixed up my head, and I had to work really hard to get back.”
A seasonal best at the Athens Olympics, although only for 12th place but with no technical issues, showed she could focus. “That was a second start on the way to Olympic silver again.”
A break for the birth of Sebastian made her hungry and two fourth places - at the 2006 Europeans, and in Osaka in 2007 - were encouraging.
“I was sure I was in a position to win another medal but coming back and doing it after all those years, with the support of Stephan and my family, made it very special.”
“Therefore, I’d put my Beijing silver at half a point higher as a career highlight."
“Achieving a result once was OK but doing it again needed courage.”
IAAF Challenge the highlight of 2009
In Plätzer’s opinion the best thing that has happened to race walking in the last ten years is the IAAF Challenge.
“I've had two second places and won it for the last two years. I feel I won the final this year too (as well as the overall title) as the Russian girls ahead had their own race - they weren’t qualified. To finish ahead of Olive (Loughnane) and Elisa (Riguado) was the only issue.”
“After Berlin I had a lot of pain in my gluteus area making it very hard mentally to train - but two weeks before Saransk the pain went. I need to like what I do. I love competing. So it was such a nice feeling for it to become fun again, be able to look forward to the race and enjoy it!”
“We focused on enjoyment and not thinking about it as my last race until afterwards. I celebrated - but two steps after the finish line out came a big sigh of relief!”
Plätzer now focuses on new challenges, as a sales manager for Adecco.
“What I will miss the most is being with all my athlete friends and the close work with Stephan - and, of course, competing!”
“I'm really thankful for what I've learned in my career as a race walker. Competing when everything is easy is one thing but what makes it more satisfying is doing it the hard way. Race walkers are tough!”
What is her advice for athletes wanting to emulate her longevity?
“First of all, be patient - it takes time to get clean results. Have the courage to go on in hard times and stay clean... and don't be afraid to become a mother in between!”
“For thirty years of my life I’ve been a race walker…. It’ll be strange but at the moment I'm happy, relieved, and looking forward to watching from the outside. But come the spring when the competitions start, I know part of me would like to go out and race.”
Tim Watt for the IAAF