Triple Olympic hammer champion Anita Wlodarczyk (© Getty Images)
Heading into the Tokyo Olympic Games, five athletes had a shot at making history by becoming the first woman to win three Olympic gold medals in a single individual athletics discipline.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce narrowly missed out in the 100m, Valerie Adams was delighted to take bronze in the shot put, Sandra Perkovic finished just outside the podium places in the discus, and Barbora Spotakova missed out on making the final in the javelin.
It all then came down to Polish hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk.
The 36-year-old had won Olympic gold in 2012 and 2016, which, along with her four world titles and multiple world records, underlined her status as the most dominant athlete of her generation.
But when Wlodarczyk cut short her 2019 season in order to undergo surgery on her knee, she wasn’t sure if she’d be ready to compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Ultimately, she was one of many athletes who in some way benefited from the postponed Games. The extra year meant another 12 months of rehab, and she returned to competition earlier in 2021, gradually improving as the season progressed.
Sadly the anticipated showdown with world champion DeAnna Price didn’t quite materialise as the US thrower picked up an ankle injury shortly after setting a North American record of 80.31m at the US Trials. To her credit, Price made it to Tokyo and reached the final, but was some way off her best and finished eighth with 73.09m.
Wlodarczyk, meanwhile, looked back to her best and sent her hammer out to 76.01m, 77.44m and then 78.48m in the Olympic final to secure her third gold, making history in the process.
|Anita Wlodarczyk||POL||Hammer||🥇 2012, 🥇 2016, 🥇 2020|
|Shirley Strickland||AUS||80m hurdles||🥇 1952, 🥇 1956|
|Nina Ponomaryova||URS||Discus||🥇 1952, 🥇 1960|
|Iolanda Balas||ROU||High jump||🥇 1960, 🥇 1964|
|Tamara Press||URS||Shot put||🥇 1960, 🥇 1964|
|Wyomia Tyus||USA||100m||🥇 1964, 🥇 1968|
|Tatyana Kazankina||URS||1500m||🥇 1976, 🥇 1980|
|Jackie Joyner-Kersee||USA||Heptathlon||🥇 1988, 🥇 1992|
|Gail Devers||USA||100m||🥇 1992, 🥇 1996|
|Marie-Jose Perec||FRA||400m||🥇 1992, 🥇 1996|
|Heike Drechsler||GER||Long jump||🥇 1992, 🥇 2000|
|Derartu Tulu||ETH||10,000m||🥇 1992, 🥇 2000|
|Veronica Campbell-Brown||JAM||200m||🥇 2004, 🥇 2008|
|Yelena Isinbayeva||RUS||Pole vault||🥇 2004, 🥇 2008|
|Meseret Defar||ETH||5000m||🥇 2004, 🥇 2012|
|Valerie Adams||NZL||Shot put||🥇 2008, 🥇 2012|
|Tirunesh Dibaba||ETH||10,000m||🥇 2008, 🥇 2012|
|Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce||JAM||100m||🥇 2008, 🥇 2012|
|Barbora Spotakova||CZE||Javelin||🥇 2008, 🥇 2012|
|Sandra Perkovic||CRO||Discus||🥇 2012, 🥇 2016|
“The medal is so cool,” she said. “It’s heavy, which is kind of a symbol of the difficulties I endured to get here.
“After the competition I slept for maybe 50 minutes. It was so emotional. I didn’t have time to reply to all the messages of congratulations I received. My email box is full!
“With no fans, it was a totally different competition,” she added. “Different, but still very special. I will never forget the medal ceremony though. It was one of the most important. That’s why I’ve kissed the medal. This one is special and means a lot. Of course the ceremony in Rio where Irena Szewinska presented the medal to me was also very special, but this has a different story behind it.”
Wlodarczyk isn’t done yet, though, and she already has her sights set on adding two more medals to her collection in 2022.
“The Olympic final was my last competition this season,” she said. “Now it’s time for a short holiday and then I will start my preparations for next year, where there are two medals on offer: the World Championships and the European Championships.”
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics