Melanie Seeger (l) in La Coruna (Véronique Warburton) © Copyright
General News La Coruna, Spain

Seeger finds the right balance between work, family and Race Walking - IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final

There's nothing new about top athletes having a baby and returning to championship competition.

But not so many have the baby and return to full-time work – especially as the work is a primary school teacher with all the attendant stresses and strains of a demanding job.

Melanie Seeger has to make lunchtimes count when the German champion race walker shuts her classroom at midday.

It’s then the 34-year-old hammers out the training sessions that saw her claim a fine third in the IAAF Race Walking Challenge final in La Coruna on Saturday (17).

The bronze, not to mention the $14,000 prize money that went with it, has been a long time coming.

Seeger’s CV is a collection of decent top-10 places – but not one podium until now.

Indeed, her PB for 20Km, 1:28:17, at the IAAF World Walking Cup in Naumberg on home soil was set more than seven years ago – and even then it was good for only ninth.

Seeger described 2004 as ‘my year’ especially as it carried a fifth in the Olympics as well. But the mother of two-year-old Helena reckons her success in La Coruna could lead to an Indian summer.

“Even this year, I thought I might stop walking, maybe three times,” she said. “Daegu (IAAF World Championships) was so disappointing. It seemed I was putting in so much hard work but coming out with nothing.”

Seeger was a DNF in Korea, and this after a training camp to put the finishing touches to an effort that saw her out of the race as she went backwards at 15 kilometres.

But she was sure the preparation was good, and the chance to put Korea right in La Coruna was a last hope for something tangible out of the year.

“I knew that Olga (Kaniskina, Russia, the winner) and Liu (Hong Liu, China, second) might be a bit too much to overcome, but I was sure with the right race I could get third.”

Seeger battled the second half with Ana Cabecinha, and a last lap over the one-kilometre circuit saw her dig out 4:07, the fastest by anyone including Kaniskina at the bell for a six-second victory over the Portuguese.

“I would say I’m very strong willed,” added Seeger, “and when I want something I go all out to get it."

“I’m not sure what went wrong in Daegu. Was it in my mind? Maybe, but I was sure, or rather hoping I could put it right.”

As well as a demanding job, and a demanding child - “In Helena’s first year, my parents said ‘you have a spirited child there’” - Seeger does not have a full-time coach.

Michael Klabuhn has looked after her in his free time for 23 years, and occasionally former IAAF champion Ronnie Wiegel had offered advice when the two meet up in Postdam – original home to both.

However, partner Dries and father to Helena, is an important part of the set-up that still requires iron discipline to duel with the best at world level. She was back at work the day after she returned from Daegu.

And if Seeger’s lunch box is hard kilometres on some days, her breakfast on others is grinding out more of the hard stuff at 7am.

However, there are pluses to a full life outside athletics it seems.

“Some walkers maybe have all day to worry about how things are going,” she explained, “I don’t. When I pick up Helena after school and play with her a bit, all I really have time to do is prepare the following day and the next training session."

“I think that helps. Worrying can only affect performance. If this last performance says anything, it says you can be a mother, worker and a winner.”

The ‘A’ qualifying standard for the 2012 Olympics is Seeger's next goal – and after La Coruna – very achievable, she insists.

“I need to walk a second-half 47 minutes-something to get under 1:31:30, and I’m sure that’s possible.”

And having decided to quit so often in recent times, how long now does the tough German give herself on walking’s world stage?

“After La Coruna?” she said. “Bearing in mind how happy I am right now – about five years.”

Paul Warburton for the IAAF