Justyna Swiety-Ersetic anchors Poland to victory in the 4x400m at the European Championships (© Getty Images)
Polish sprinter Justyna Swiety-Ersetic recounts her joy of double European gold in Berlin earlier this year and looks back on an untimely ankle injury in 2017.
My low moment came in 2017 when I twisted my ankle in the countdown to the IAAF World Championships – an injury which hampered my training for six weeks during the heart of the season and prevented me from performing at my best in London.
The preceding winter I had managed to avoid the overuse injuries of previous years and I was in good shape leading into the 2017 indoor campaign. At the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade I won my first individual medal at a major event (with 400m bronze). It was a beautiful and glorious moment.
Then leading into the outdoor season in Hengelo in early June, I ran a 400m PB of 51.15. The performance gave me a lot of joy. It was my third race in four days and proved that neither the travel nor fatigue could stop me. It was also the first time I believed I could break the 51-second barrier for the 400m.
On the back of this, my expectations soared and I believed I could run sub-51 seconds and reach the World Championship final in London – only for a week later to twist my ankle walking downstairs. Within seconds, my ankle was swollen and the injury turned out to be very serious. My whole world collapsed – all because of one unfortunate step.
Doctors advised that my season was over but I took up the challenge in the race to be fit for the World Championships. It was tough. Every day I focused on restoring the range of my ankle with mobilisation exercises with the physio. My entire day was devoted to the recovery plan. It was, honestly, the worst time of my life.
I spent six weeks in rehab before I could return to the track but I found it impossible to complete even a simple warm-up. I finished every practice with tears in my eyes. I was putting my whole heart into training with no visible improvements and that hurt the most.
At the World Championships I finished sixth in my heat (in a time of 53.62). I wanted to prove to myself I could still perform to my best, but with the benefit of hindsight I regret that I took up the challenge to compete in London and maybe I should have listened to doctors to call time on the season.
There is little doubt the high moment of my career came at this year’s European Championships when I won two gold medals (in the 400m and 4x400m) in 90 minutes.
The foundation of my success came during the winter season under my coach, Aleksander Matusinski. While the training remained very similar to previous years, we focused more on the smaller details – such as recovery, sports psychology and nutrition – which can make all the difference at the top level.
Before the season my coach had set a target of two gold medals in Berlin and for me to run a sub-51-second 400m. I am happy to say the plan was executed to perfection.
The 2018 season went very well. I was in good shape (Swiety-Ersetic set a PB of 51.05 in Osaka) and I had big expectations going into the European Championships.
My memories of Berlin were beautiful and glorious. I won the individual 400m (in a PB of 50.41). It was a magical moment, although I could hardly comprehend how I did it. With my parents, husband, brother and his fiancée watching from the stands, it made my victory even more special. I can only articulate it as indescribable joy.
After my individual race I was so tired and I felt I had no energy to race again 90 minutes later in the 4x400m. After all, running two races in such a short timeframe is madness!
Yet between races I spoke to my psychologist to act as a motivation. I had my concerns up until the last call but I was determined to finish the championship with two gold medals.
Waiting to receive the baton for the final leg is always nerve-wracking and there is a certain pressure and expectation running anchor. Yet to have the opportunity to bring home the team in first place was an amazing feeling.
To win two gold medals in one night is an experience I will always remember and it gives me so much motivation to work even harder in the future.
Steve Landells for the IAAF