Interview: Goldie Sayers
12th August 2016
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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. One 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.
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