The Swiss sprint ace and recently minted world Indoor 60m bronze medallist Mujinga Kambundji recalls the significance of the 2014 European Championships in Zurich for providing a series of highs and one big career low.
“For the 2014 European Championships to be held in Zurich, in my homeland of Switzerland was very special. I was naturally very excited at the prospect of competing there.
“In 2013 I made a coaching change to be guided by Valerji Bauer based in Mannheim, Germany. Previously I’d been trained by a part-time coach but under Valerji everything changed. I trained for harder and longer and I packed on some muscle through additional weight training.
“During the summer of 2014 I was running well and with confidence. In Geneva in June I set a Swiss 100m record of 11.33, which I matched at the national championships the following month.
“With the success I was enjoying and with the European Championships set to be staged in Zurich, the hype started to build and I was getting more attention from TV and newspapers. I am the sort of athlete who tries to remain calm and not over-think things and I knew from past experiences, I thrive under the pressure of performing at major championships. I was nervous, but that was fine, provided I used those nerves positively.
“First up was the 100m and in the heats, I trimmed 0.01 from the national record by running 11.32. In the semi-finals I then ran 11.20. The championships were special anyway because I had my friends and family there but I quickly realised many people were coming to the stadium to watch me run. I finished fourth in the final in 11.30 (into a 1.7m/s headwind) but even though I didn’t medal, it didn’t matter. I was enjoying so many great memories and achieving unprecedented success for a Swiss female sprinter.
“In the 200m I set a PB in heats (23.05) and semi-final (22.94) before running a national record of 23.83 to place fifth in the final. To run five PB’s in six races was unbelievable. I was so pleased to be running with the best European sprinters and I also quickly realised I was getting a lot of exposure on the sports news.
“The emphasis then switched to the 4x100m relay. There had been a lot of hype around our chances in this event with posters put up across the city of Zurich and we felt a lot of pressure. We also knew to win a medal would probably require some of the other countries to make a mistake. We qualified through our heat in third, although our chances of a medal improved after Germany, one of the strongest nations, were disqualified.
“I was nervous ahead of the final and a little tired after my exertions in the 100m and the 200m. I ran the first leg and about three of four strides into the race the baton slipped out of hand. I don’t really know what happened because everything unfolded so quickly, but I think the baton may have hit my leg causing it to shoot out of my grip. It was a sad moment not only for me but the whole stadium. It was the very last event at the championships and it played out like a perfect drama. What made it even more disappointing was the Netherlands were disqualified, which would have enhanced our chances of winning a medal. I went back into the call room in the Letzigrund Stadium and I remember crying. My team-mates then beckoned me to do a lap of honour. I felt so sad.
“Looking back, however, I have many fond memories of the 2014 European Championships. It was an amazing week of competition and what happened in the relay was just an accident. The way I performed in Zurich opened up many doors. I number of sponsors came on board and this allowed me to become a professional athlete. It is no exaggeration to say it changed the whole course of my career.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF