Feature24 Sep 2013

Bouncing back after giving birth, Spotakova surprises herself on her return


Gold winner Barbora Spotakova of Czech Republic celebrating her victory in the Women's Javelin Throw Final of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 9, 2012 (© Getty Images)

Just when the track season was drawing to a close and all the talk was of holidays and then training camps, Barbora Spotakova discretely came out just over a week ago on 13 September to throw 62.33m, which places her 18th on the 2013 season lists.

It was a modest effort by the double Olympic champion's high standards except for the fact that the Czech thrower only gave birth 113 days earlier to her son Janek and was not expected to reappear on the Javelin run-up before next spring.

Maybe there was a clue in the timing because it was exactly five years ago to the day that Spotakova had thrown the existing World record of 72.28m in Stuttgart, shortly after her first Olympic triumph in Beijing.

"I was 10 metres down on that," pointed out Spotakova, putting her effort in perspective, "but it is a nice pointer for what to expect next season."

Yes, indeed and with the European Athletics Championships on the agenda in 2014, Spotakova's throw will not have gone unnoticed by arch rivals, the new IAAF World champion, Germany's Christina Obergfoll and her predecessor and season leader from Russia, Maria Abakumova.

With both German and Russian recently married and talking of families, Spotakova is already well placed to give them some advice on that subject as well as javelin throwing.

Son Janek was in attendance in the Bohemian town of Domazlice for the sixth Jana Mazanec Memorial and was breastfed before his mum came out to throw. Spotakova even intends to take him training with her.

"It won't be easy, but I am not the sort to leave my child behind if I am competing. It will need organising, but I will sort something out that works whatever the ideal timetable is."

However, what about that throw that came in the opening round in Domazlice? After so long out of the sport, it was surprising she could throw so far. "I knew I could not manage more than one decent throw," she admitted, "my body was not ready for more than that."

"My acceleration was at about 70 per cent," reflected Spotakova. "I did not go flat out, but I hit it beautifully. All I could see was a dot as it flew through the air. And the fact that I went into this competition at such short notice was very satisfying. But I did not expect to throw that far. It was a surprise."

After that first throw – a stadium record – nothing else came close, but by all accounts coach Jan Zelezny was as surprised as Spotakova, jokingly noting it was more like someone returning from a minor injury rather than childbirth.

Shortly after giving birth, Spotakova maintained her all-round fitness by running in the woods with her dog or using a baby jogger. It was close to two months before she picked up a Javelin, but it was almost as though she had never been away. "It was noticeable that I did not appear to have forgotten too much," she said. "It all came back to me very quickly.

Tennis no substitute for throwing

"I miss competition," she said, explaining this sudden urge to compete before she stepped on to the track in Bohemia. "I could play tennis or go for a run in the woods, but it is not the same."

If her performance proves anything, it is just how competitive the Olympic champion is as she was clearly itching to get going. Psychologically, as a bonus, it sets her up nicely for the winter.

Her original intention was to see if she could edge over 60 metres. Instead, she went out two metres farther to exceed her expectations. "Now I can embark on winter training with a good feeling," she commented.

The serious build up for her new season for will start in November, as she heads to the mountains and to Spindleruv Mlyn (Spindler's Mill), one of the Czech Republic's best known ski and mountain resorts on the border with Poland.

In December, there is a dramatic change in scenery as she moves south to enjoy the warmth of Spain in the Canary Islands.

With both Obergfoll and Abakumova apparently hinting at starting families soon, it could well be that the Czech thrower will have a clear run next summer at the one title missing from her cabinet: the continental crown.

She took silver at the 2006 European Championships and bronze in 2010. Could Zurich 2014 be where she finally completes the full set?

In 2015, it is back to Beijing, scene of her first Olympic gold medal, where the next IAAF World championships take place. Maybe that will be the stage where the three big names in women's Javelin will once again clash.

Not to mention Rio 2016 when the Olympics once again rolls round and Spotakova, who will then be 35, has a chance of emulating her illustrious coach by making it a hat-trick of Olympic golds, an unprecedented feat in a women’s individual event.

Michael Butcher for the IAAF