Beringen, BelgiumTia Hellebaut announced her comeback to international athletics at a press conference today (16) in Beringen.
The 2008 Olympic High Jump champion, whose 32nd birthday it is today, said that she is looking for a new challenge after having been out of competition since the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart in 2008. Her ambition is to jump 2.00m again and to come as close as possible to the performance level that she reached before her retirement. If everything goes well, she wants to continue competing until the London Olympic Games in 2012.
Inspired by tennis players Clijsters and Hénin
Hellebaut said that she was inspired a lot by the successful comeback of Belgian tennis players Kim Clijsters (winner US Open 2009) and Justine Hénin (finalist Australian Open 2010) who both made their comeback in 2009. “You can not compare athletics to any other sports but I asked myself why I wouldn’t be able to return to competition and reach a high performance level as well. To be able to jump over 2.00m again is the challenge that I have set for myself,” said Hellebaut.
“My main motivation is that I very much love my sports and that I still feel a strong desire to train and to compete. At a certain moment I heard a voice inside my head that was calling me back to the track. And if that is something that you desperately want to do, you have to listen to that voice, that’s what my coach always said,” said Hellebaut with a laugh.
European Championships in Barcelona likely to be the first target
Her coach and partner Wim Van De Ven smiled and admited that he was overwhelmed and surprised by the decision of Tia : “On September, 26 she first talked to me about her idea of returning to the sports and the next day she stood on the track to train. Apparently she finds it difficult to function without a challenge. I must tell you that she is as fanatic as she’s always been. When things don’t go the way she wants the bars are flying around my ears in the weight room.”
Asked about her competition program Hellebaut replied that there is no schedule yet. “I started training in October and things are going very well since. I returned from a six week training camp in South Africa recently and that helped me a lot to work on my condition. Initially the European Indoor Championships of 2011 in Paris would be the first big target, but I already hope to be ready to compete at an international level this summer. Give me to more months to see how my body reacts to the increase of training sessions and training intensity. After that we will decide if the European Championships in Barcelona can already be a realistic goal for me.”
Though Hellebaut celebrated her 32nd anniversary today, age is not an issue for the Olympic champion. “My international career started late and I retired at the age of 30, when I was at my best performance level. I feel healthy and my body weight is exactly what it should be. I will adore it to have my daughter around, actually there will always be a nanny when I’m on training or when I’m travelling, so everything is taken good care of.”
“Also, the pressure is different now, I have nothing more to prove and I will concentrate on my own challenges. I want to enjoy the competition, but I’m also planning to be competitive at the highest level. If everything goes well, I want to continue in the sports until the London Olympic Games in 2012.”
Hellebaut has no ambitions so far to return to the Heptathlon. “I have always been developing multiple skills in my preparation and that will still be the case now. But I don’t plan to return to the Multiple Event competitions.” Part of the training group of Wim Van De Ven are Eline Berings (100m Hurdles), Sara Aerts (Heptathlon) and Hans Van Alphen (Decathlon).
Hellebaut earned her first selection for a global championship at the age of 23. At the World Championships of 2001 in Edmonton Hellebaut finished 14th in the Heptathlon. In 2003 Hellebaut broke the 6000 points barrier in Götzis and raised her PB in the High Jump to 1.91m. Increasing focus on her High Jump training led to a PB of 1.95m and a place in the Olympic final in Athens in 2004.
Hellebaut won her first major title in 2006 at the European Championships in Göteborg, where she cleared 2.03m to beat local favourite Kajsa Bergqvist. In 2007 Hellebaut became European Indoor Champion in Birmingham with a PB of 2.05m. But the Belgian reserved the biggest honours for 2008. First she won the gold medal at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia in the Pentathlon. At the Olympic Games in Beijing Hellebaut ended the 34 meeting win streak of Croatian Blanka Vlasic to become the first Belgian female Olympich Champion in Athletics.
In one of the greatest female High Jump finals ever Hellebaut battled with Vlasic and Russian Anna Chicherova to win the Olympic gold in Beijing. Six athletes remained in contention at a height of 2.01m, with Hellebaut in the bronze medal position. With a first time clearance at 2.05m Hellebaut went into the lead and took the gold after Vlasic failed at 2.07m.
In December 2008 announced her retirement from international athletics. In June 2009 she gave birth to a daughter Lotte, hardly 10 months after winning the Olympic gold. Four months later she picked up training again and decided recently to return to the international High Jump scene.
Ivo Hendrix for the IAAF