Zuzana Hejnová has won the Czech Republic’s first medal at the World Athletics Championships in Beijing, with gold in the women’s 400 metres hurdles. Indeed, despite suffering serious injury problems throughout 2014, she has become the first athlete ever to successfully defend the world title in the event.
In 2013 Zuzana Hejnová was named European Athlete of the Year in the women’s category after going unbeaten in the 400 metres hurdles. Her magnificent season reached a climax with gold at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow, an event she won in a new Czech national record.
The following year was a completely different story. The 28-year-old sustained an injury to a bone in her foot in training in January. As she was recovering from that she developed a problem with her heel. She ended up missing the European Athletics Championships and essentially writing off the entire season.
Now, however, all of Zuzana Hejnová’s hard work on the comeback trail has paid off. After a characteristically strong second half, she was first to cross the line in Wednesday’s final in 53.50 seconds, a world-leading time for 2015. Indeed, Hejnová is the first ever athlete to successfully defend the world title in the event.
The field had changed somewhat in her absence and Hejnová had been expected to face tough competition from Kaliese Spencer of Jamaica. In the end it was the 20-year-old American Shamier Little who came closest to defeating the title-holder, after Little’s compatriot Cassandra Tate had set the pace early on.
Speaking moments after her latest triumph, Hejnová said she been concentrating on her own performance.
“From the start I told myself to focus on my own lane. I didn’t notice any of the others and concentrated on my own steps. I knew if I didn’t make a mistake I would win the title. But it was a very tough race. It was definitely harder than my first title – it was a terribly even field.”
This time last year it might have been hard to imagine Zuzana Hejnová topping the podium as the Czech national anthem rang out around the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing. The athlete herself was among the doubters.
“I didn’t believe I’d manage to return to the very top. But I had a lot of people around me – friends, my family, my boyfriend – who motivated me. They helped me try to keep a clear head and get back to where I belong. What I’ve done, winning the gold, is absolutely great.”
Next up for Hejnová is a Diamond League meeting in Zurich in a week’s time. But the Czech’s sights must now be set on next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where she will be hoping to improve on her bronze medal from London 2012.
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