Last Saturday’s final of the women’s High Jump at the European Indoor Championships was to be one of the most hotly-contested and unpredictable contests of the weekend. Instead, it turned into an exhibition by Belgian Tia Hellebaut, who clearly thrust herself to the fore of the sport’s most competitive event.
“It was just unbelievable,” said Hellebaut, after dominating the competition with a nearly flawless display during which she upped her career best to 2.05. After her opening height of 1.87, the 29-year-old missed only once - at 1.99 - before finishing with first attempt clearances at 2.01, 2.03 and her indoor season-capping world season’s best, a championships record which elevated her to a tie as the fourth highest jumper ever indoors. On the all-time list, only World record setters Kajsa Bergqvist (2.08), Heike Henkel (2.07) and Stefka Kostadinova (2.06) have jumped higher.
Hellebaut rose to the spotlight in the event last summer, riding a wave of momentum all the way to the European title in Gothenburg after winning the deepest women’s High Jump competition ever. With four other jumpers in the Birmingham field who had cleared two metres this season, another fierce battle was expected. But when the rest of the field wilted after 1.96, Hellebaut was on her own.
I just ran and jumped higher and higher!
“I felt really good before and during the competition, but I still think the girls made it too easy for me. Maybe it’s because I came here thinking about competing in the Pentathlon, and then only competed in the High Jump. I don’t know. It felt too easy. I just ran and jumped, and jumped higher and higher. So I’m just going to keep that feeling.”
On paper and in reality, the two victories couldn’t have been more different.
“I have the feeling that this was quite easy for me,” she reiterated. “In Gothenburg it was like it was a big fight. Here, I jumped, I felt good, and I cleared the bar. But of course it’s great to win.”
Getting the feel for the World Record
In Gothenburg, she ended the competition with a trio of misses at 2.05. Illustrating her growing confidence, in Birmingham she went on to try a would-be World record of 2.09.
“I just wanted to try it,” she said, “just to see how high it is. 2.05 was the highest bar I ever tried to jump, so I just wanted to see what it feels like to jump at 2.09.”
Initially, she had tentatively planned to contest the Pentathlon in Birmingham as well, but after a minor cold set her back, she opted out of the multi-event competition. She said she wasn’t necessarily disappointed that she didn’t join Carolina Kluft and Kelly Sotherton, but her competitive ferocity did make her miss being in the thick of things.
“I wanted to be there in that competition because I felt that it was a great, crazy good competition. When you train for the Heptathlon you want to be part of that. But I proved (in the High Jump) that I was in good shape.”
Hellebaut credits her improved consistency and surprise PB with her focus on speed, which she adds has improved dramatically over the course of the past year.
Focus on speed
“I don’t train a lot for the High Jump specifically,” she said. “I just do speed work. In training my best is 1.90 or something like that. And if I jump 1.90 in training, that’s really good.
“I’m much faster this year. I think that’s because when I did only Heptathlon training, then last summer switched to only High Jump training, I’ve gotten much faster. If you train at a higher quality, you get faster. Before I needed to have more base. But now I train more high intensity so I can get better and better.”
After beating arguably the best jumpers in the world in two consecutive continental championships, the next step for Hellebaut is an obvious one.
“Next is the World Championships in Osaka. I’m just going to keep training like I’m doing, and I’ll be alright.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF