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Paris, FranceVitezslav Vesely increased his lead in the Javelin Throw Diamond Race at the Meeting Areva in Paris on Friday night, but it wasn’t in quite the way the 29-year-old Czech would have liked.
Vesely, The winner this year in Samsung Diamond League stops in Shanghai and Oslo, finished second to Ukrainian Oleksandr Pyatnytsya at the Stade de France after problems early in the competition left him with too much to do in the waning stages.
"I could not get it right on the runway and when I learned how to deal with the surface it was too late," said Vesely, who nonetheless extended his lead in the event to 12 points, well ahead of Pyatnytsya and Vadims Vasilevskis of Latvia, who each have four.
After three modest throws shy of the 81-metre line, he improved marginally to 83.07m in round five and closed out the competition with an 83.93m effort, but that was still well short of the Ukrainian's 85.67m winner in round five, the second farthest throw of his career.
"I had tough training this week and my legs were cramping at the end. But I wanted to win in any case."
This wasn’t the first time Vesely encountered runway difficulties this season. Just a week earlier, similar problem nearly resulted in his missing qualification to the European Championships final in Helsinki where he started as the solid favourite for gold.
"I had problems with my run-up, with the Mondo surface. I thought that everything would go well. But actually I was maybe lucky to make the final." Indeed, Vesely was just 10th in qualifying, with just 20 centimetres separating him from the first non-qualifier.
Arriving as the world leader at 88.11m from Oslo and by far the most consistent thrower this season with five victories and one runner-up finish in his six meets prior to Helsinki, he carried a target on his back.
"Everybody told me I should win, that I was the favourite. So I was glad that I fulfilled those expectations. I think it was good training for the Olympics because of the difficulty in qualification. I’m glad the problems were in Helsinki." London’s Olympic Stadium, he noted, also has a Mondo surface.
Late start in the event
Compared to other top throwers, Vesely came late to the event, beginning in his late teens when he realized that throwing the javelin far was something he was quite good at.
"I started at a sports school and did athletics there. I recognised that I was good at throwing. Also, in the Czech Republic Jan Zelezny was the biggest name in athletics, so that was also an attraction."
But chronic problems with his elbow forced him to the sidelines for two years before he resumed the sport at 23 in 2006 with none other than Zelezny, the three-time Olympic and World champion, and still the World record holder at 98.48m.
"At the beginning it was very special to me, but I was also a little bit nervous," Vesely recalls of his first days training with the throwing legend. "We felt that we had to do very well because his name was attached to us and our performances. If we didn’t succeed, that would not look good for him."
Vesely later came to realize how fortunate he was to also train with some of the finest throwers in the world, compatriots Petr Frydrych and Jakub Vadlejch among the men along with women’s World record holder and Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova.
Vesely steadily improved and climbed through the ranks, making the Olympic final and finishing 12th in 2008, taking ninth at the 2010 European Championships and fourth at last year's World Championships before capturing European gold this season for his first major title, one that even Zelezny couldn't manage to win in his illustrious career.
"It was definitely special to win in Helsinki, my first medal. Jan always told us that Finland is special, that they liked him there and that they like the javelin."
Cautious optimism as London approaches
Helsinki was not only good practice for London, but for the most part a dress rehearsal as most of the Olympic medal contenders are from the continent.
"In the Olympics (and World championships), medals were almost always won by Europeans. I don’t think that will change this year. But there are others," Vesely noted, specifically naming Stuart Farquhar of New Zealand, who is third on the world list at the moment, and Guillermo Martinez of Cuba.
With less than a month to go prior to the Games, Vesely is cautiously upbeat about his medal prospects.
"I think I’m in a good position to win it. I think if I can keep my consistency that things will be good. But there are still several competitors who can too."
On of those is Andreas Thorkildsen, who despite his off-season thus far Vesely believes should not be discounted as he tries for a third straight Olympic title.
"His season is a little surprising. But he can still be strong and still do well in the Olympics."