Ksenija Balta at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio (© AFP / Getty Images)
Today we kick off another 2018 series, ‘High and low’, in which athletes talk about one particular high point and one low moment from their career.
We begin with Ksenija Balta of Estonia, the 2009 European indoor long jump champion, who looks back on her career and picks out a prolonged period of injury frustration plus a very special Olympic moment as a low and high moment from her career.
“Without doubt the biggest low in my career occurred during a lengthy period of injury woe, which sidelined me from long jump competition for four-and-a-half years.
“In 2009 I had triumphed at the European Indoor Championships and the following year I had matched my winning mark in Torino with a 6.87m leap outdoors. Yet in early 2011 I started to encounter some difficulties with my knee. The problem was diagnosed as a bone edema (a condition characterised by the accumulation of excessive fluid in related structures of bone marrow) and it was a very slow recovery process.
“I re-habbed the knee for many hours each day, however, after one year it was decided I would require surgery, which was a real low point for me. In February 2012, I underwent surgery in Finland in which some holes were drilled in the bone and some bone marrow was taken from hip and transplanted into the knee to improve circulation.
“It was a risky procedure and I was told the recovery process would be long and it would require a lot of patience. Which in my case was true as I took my first running steps in September of that year!
“My first proper jumps sessions took place around three years after the injury was first diagnosed and I recall being incredibly nervous to complete three to five jumps – more nervous than for any competition!
“I re-started some sprint racing in 2013 but it was not until 2015 I returned to long jump competition – some four-and-a-half years after my last comp. I recall having this incredible willpower in that competition (she jumped 6.51m in Tartu). I competed like a crazy person. The emotions were very powerful.
“Some people have said what kept me going during this long period out of competition and I had so much support from my parents, my coach and partner Andrei Nazarov, the federation and my medical team. But what kept me going the most was my passion for athletics. I love the lifestyle, the competing, the training – it has given me so much. It is everything I’ve wanted to do. I love who I am when I’m doing sport.”
“For me, the greatest high I’ve experienced came when I competed at the Rio Olympics, finishing sixth in the final with a best of 6.79m (just 8cm shy of her lifetime best). That for me was the absolute maximum I could have produced on that day. I was super-excited to be there and it proved to me those four-and-a-half years away from long jump was all worth it.
“I remember so much about my Rio experience. I recall the thrill of walking into the stadium for the first time during qualification and experiencing the light, the colour and the noise of the crowd. I felt like a gladiator. Then when the competition started I was super-focused, competing in my own bubble. During the competition, I felt incredible. I gave it everything. It meant so much to be to be back competing in that atmosphere. I’d missed it and even though I placed sixth I felt like a winner that day.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF