Andreas Thorkildsen revisits the scene of his breakthrough to the world’s elite this weekend when he steps onto the javelin run-up at the Olympic stadium in Athens for the 10th IAAF World Cup in Athletics.
It is two years since (then 22 and only ranked 13th in the world) the Norwegian swept aside all his rivals to lift the Olympic title on an occasion that he himself described at the time as “totally insane”.
To his credit, though, he did throw a lifetime best of 86.50m to back up his wins that season in Stockholm and London. It was the first glimmering of a consistency that has become his trademark.
Consistent, stronger but feeling tired
Since then, Thorkildsen has consolidated his position as the world’s number one, taking silver in the Helsinki World Championships and this year lifting the European title. Last weekend he also clinched the World Athletics Final for his tenth win of the season that has seen him break the 90m-barrier three times, leaving his PB at 91.59m.
The season started for the man from Kristiansand in Doha on 12 May and, understandably maybe, he is beginning to detect signs of weariness. “I feel as though my body is showing signs of being just a little bit tired,” he told Norwegian daily Aftenposten. “It hurts in some places. It’s time for a rest,” he said, looking forward to a post-World Cup holiday.
Not that tiredness was particularly noticeable in Stuttgart as he launched the spear to 89.50m, his fifth longest mark of the season. “I don’t think I’ll be in much better form this weekend,” he said, looking forward to the World Cup where he represents Team Europe.
Coach Åsmund Martinsen has also detected the signs of a long season. “I think we’ve switched over a little to the reserve tank,” he explained. “Recent results have come from his consistent technique. He is not as strong as he was in Doha in May.”
After giving up his part-time job at The Bank of Norway, Thorkildsen has had more time for training and the results from the winter showed that he was approaching 2006 stronger than ever. His new bench-press record now stands at 180 kilos, 10 more than his previous total. His rivals would have to deal with a fitter, more experienced athlete from now on. “Obviously, I’m proud of my record this year,” said Thorkildsen. “It’s been an unbelievably good season for me.”
Goodbye to a legend
It has also been an historic one in terms the retirement of one of the greats of the event, Jan Zelezny. It was in Athens two years ago that Thorkildsen denied the Czech a fourth Olympic title and this year the Norwegian took the only title to evade Zelezny, European gold. “It is almost a pity that Jan is retiring,” admitted Thorkildsen. “He has shown this season that he can still mix it at the top.” In Gothenburg, the 40-year-old gambled everything on the first round and picked up bronze, a remarkable performance.
Gothenburg also represented the end of the Steve Backley era since he had won all four previous editions of the European Championships. In more senses than one, Thorkildsen was the present and future of the javelin, at the forefront of a new generation.
It is hard to see where he goes from here, though there are reports that he has at least Zelezny’s longevity in his sights, if not his World record of 98.48m which has stood for ten years. “There’s a long way to go before we get that far,” admitted Martinsen. “We’re not thinking of it. What we are concentrating on is improving where we can.” For his part, Thorkildsen believes there are not many things he needs to put right, apart from some technical improvements.
Michael Butcher for the IAAF