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Interview: Goldie Sayers

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While she waits to hear whether her fourth-place finish at the Beijing Games in 2008 could be upgraded to a bronze medal, the former Olympic javelin thrower Goldie Sayers explains why sport can be both amazing and devastating.

Goldie SayersOne element that makes the Olympic Games remarkable is their juxtaposition of extreme highs and lows: some athletes fulfilling their lifelong dreams as others see them shattered, often at the same event.

Goldie Sayers, the British javelin record holder, could produce a case study in that uncertainty.

The classic example is her experience in Beijing, where she threw further than she – or any other Briton ever – had thrown before but came up an excruciating 38cm short of a medal.

Cruelly denied the chance to celebrate the greatest moment of her career on an Olympic podium, eight years later, she recently learned that the medal she had worked hard for throughout her career could be rightfully hers.

The International Olympic Committee alleged in May that Mariya Abakumova, who took silver in that competition, had failed a drugs test when her Beijing sample was reanalysed, appearing to validate Sayers’ long-term suspicions.

If confirmed in the next few months, Abakumova is likely to be stripped of her prize and Sayers will finally be awarded third place, a tangible reward for her superb performance.

“I think it’s a positive step,” she says with a sigh.

“It is not positive for the sport right now, obviously, but there have been clear historical abuses of the system by Russia and cultural change need to happen.

“I had my doubts at the time and that was hard. Certainly, if I were to be awarded a retrospective medal, it would be a sort of vindication having spent 20 years dedicating my life to the sport. It feels like a long time ago now. It was frustrating because I had thrown a personal best, a British record and the largest distance without winning a medal. I was proud of my efforts and I could not have done better.”

This was neither the first nor the last bittersweet moment of Sayers’ career but, mercifully, the rest were down to chance rather than alleged cheating.

Another instance of ecstasy turning into agony occurred in the lead-up to London 2012, when she confirmed her position as a medal prospect by breaking her British record with a world-leading 66.17m throw and injured her elbow at the same meeting.

“It was kind of my best and worst day on an athletics track and my proudest moment alongside Beijing,” she recalls.

“I beat everybody who were going to be my competitors at the London Olympics but three weeks was not enough to get fit after I partially tore my elbow ligament. It was painful.”

The damage meant that Sayers was unable to contend for a medal in front of her home crowd, yet she still regards London 2012 as one of her career highlights.

“It was a shame not to be able to do it fully healthy, but it was the greatest Olympic Games that I had ever been to. What I remember most is standing at the run-up with 80,000 people screaming for you, knowing that they are willing you on.”

Her Olympic appearances are mere glimpses, however, of more than ten years on the global stage. The Suffolk-born athlete first came to international attention on setting a university record at the Loughborough International Match and, at Athens 2004, she qualified as Team GB’s youngest member.

For the sport and exercise science graduate, the secret to spanning two decades at the top is maximising her training.

Sayers uses scientifically-formulated, sports nutrition products from HIGH5 (for who she is an ambassador) to optimise her performance.

Goldie Sayers“I use the Citrus 4:1 Carbohydrate Whey Protein Isolate for sessions where I need to keep my energy levels high. I don’t think that you can be switched on all the time in training or competitions, so I use the chocolate Protein Recovery powder to help me refuel and recover more quickly.”

Likewise, the 34-year-old owes her longevity to her resilience. Amidst the tumult of some worldwide competitions, Sayers has been crowned national javelin champion 11 times and, in 2014, captained Team GB to the most successful European Championships in the history of British athletics.

There is no wonder why she also works as a motivational speaker. “People are not prepared to fail these days, but you have to be resilient,” she insists.

“I think it is important to put yourself in a position where you might fail because sport is not life or death and failure is almost always more common than achievement. You can get over any disappointment and learn from it. Failure is where you learn.”

Sayers will be supporting her friends and team-mates from the sidelines after she failed to qualify for Rio 2016.

Yet, you can be sure that she will come back stronger in both mind and body.

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