Anita Hinriksdottir was front page news all across Iceland on Monday after she became her country’s first global champion in athletics following her 800m win at the 2013 World Youth Championships on the final day in Donetsk on Sunday.
Silver medals at the Olympic Games and IAAF World Indoor Championships had been the best previous result for the Volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic, but the Icelandic national anthem Lofsöngur rang out for the very first time at this level in honour of Hinriksdottir.
However, her compatriots will have to wait a short while before being able to celebrate her feat in person as she will not arrive back at the Icelandic capital’s Keflavik International Airport until early next week.
“When I get back to Reykjavik, and I live in the capital, I’m sure my family will be proud and happy but I’m not sure how much of a fuss will be made. It will be more than a week before I get back there because I am going straight to Italy to compete in the European Junior Championships this week,” said Hinriksdottir rather modestly in the wake of her triumph on Sunday.
“But I am so, so happy to be that person (to win Iceland’s first global title). I have been peaking for these championships for a long time so it’s a very good feeling.”
Her style may look awkward, with her arms flung out wide and a noticeable tilt forward when she runs, but it is effective and she crossed the line in a championship record of 2:01.13, just under a second off her best of 2:00.49 which she set last month in Germany.
“We started very fast, I was hoping that we were going to go through 400 in 60 something but it was faster than that; 58 something (in fact 58.25, with Hinriksdottir taking the lead just inches before the start of the last lap) so it was very fast.
“When I heard the bell, that was the time I planned to go in front and I was in the right position to take the lead right there,” she added.
“With 40 metres to go, I could see the clock by the line and I was hoping for a personal best but I dare not turn around, I didn’t know how far away the rest of the field was. I thought to myself, 'I have to finish it'.”
One thing that made Hinriksdottir even more determined to take the gold medal, in addition to finishing just out of the medals in fourth place at last year’s IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona, was the fact that she knew she was perhaps a little lucky to be on the start line at all.
She was initially disqualified after her semifinal, which she won comfortably in 2:02.43, for apparently breaking too early but the judges reviewed the race and decided that, in retrospect, she had not infringed the rules.
“I was feeling very happy about that race (the semifinal), I was feeling good and I was talking with my team mates but suddenly I couldn’t see my coach and a woman rung my phone from Iceland and she asked ‘Are you OK’. I didn’t understand what she meant but I realised that something was wrong and I went to the technical people to find out what was happening.
“It all happened about 10 minutes after I crossed the line and it was about another half hour before I was re-instated. It was very stressful,” reflected the relieved Hinriksdottir after she had fulfilled her destiny as the pre-championship favourite.
Hinriksdottir has also qualified for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow next month but she, and her coach Gunnar Paul Joakimsson, have now decided not to overstretch her young legs and lungs.
“I’m not going to Moscow. Me and my coach have decided that it’s not the right time. I think the first big senior championship outdoors I will run in will be the Europeans next year, although I did run at the European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg this year."
Iceland in the past has produced some big strong men and so it’s perhaps a surprise that a waif-like middle-distance runner had been the one to finally win a World title but Hinriksdottir is happy being Icelandic born, bred and trained.
“I think it’s a good place to be. I have such good training partners, I train with the boys. We have nice paths in the woods that are very good for running, a track, and in the winter we have an indoor track. I do a lot of training indoors but I also like running in the snow, it makes you stronger.”
Inevitably, there have already been enquiries from US universities about whether she wants to leave her island behind and study overseas but for the moment Hinriksdottir has her mind set on staying put.
“I have such a good coach that I will stay and train in Iceland until at least the Rio Olympics,” said the toast of Reykjavik and the rest of Iceland.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF