50 Golden Moments: Lalova finally gets to shine in Helsinki

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Back in 2005, at that summer’s World Athletics Championships, it could have been the moment for Ivet Lalova to get among the medals.

The previous year, at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, the Bulgarian sprinter had finished fourth in the 100m and fifth in the 200m. In the shorter event, on home soil in the European Cup, she had also clocked 10.77 which remains the second fastest time by a European.

Lalova, as she was then, had gone on to win the European indoor 200m title earlier in 2005 but instead of challenging for the medals in the Finnish capital’s famous 1952 Olympic Stadium she was watching the championship from a hospital bed after her breaking the femur in her right leg in a collision with another athlete while warming up during a meeting in Athens in June.


Turn the clock forward seven years and Lalova was about to have her moment of redemption for all the years of frustration as she struggled to recover fully from the potentially career-threatening injury and reclaim her place among the world’s top sprinters.

In 2011, after a move to Italy to train and live, she had finally gone under 11 seconds again and led the European 100m lists that year but indifferent form prior to Helsinki saw the mantle of favourites fall on the shoulders on Ukraine's Olesya Povh and Germany's defending champion Verena Sailer.

By contrast, Lalova was down in seventh on the pre-Helsinki form chart.

However, she immediately changed opinions about the likely medal contenders with a sparkling first round run, flying to a European-leading 11.06. Later in the day on 27 July 2012, with conditions changing for the worse, she won her semi-final in 11.23.

The following day, there were again dark clouds ominously overhead, neither rain nor wind could stop Lalova in her quest for her moment in the sun.

Drawn in lane four with Povh, another semifinal winner, on her inside it was the fast-starting Ukrainian who held the lead for the first half of the race with Lalova a fraction behind but the latter was starting to go through the gears and her longer stride made the difference.

She was on the shoulder of Povh at 60 metres before pulling away to win in 11.28, the time a reflection of the cold and damp conditions with the women running into a 0.7m/s wind, Povh hanging on to take the silver in 11.32 with Lithuania’s surprise bronze medallist Lina Grincikaite given the same time but five-thousandths further back.

Lalova didn’t stop running for almost another 100 metres, outsprinting all the waiting photographers at the finish line and taking a brief moment for herself at the start of the back straight before the floods of tears started.

'In April, I told myself I would only cry again when I have won,' she said later.

'I have been waiting so long for this gold medal. It is such a relief. I just needed to take it in,' she explained, expanding on her reason for almost disappearing from view, albeit in a stadium with an estimated 30,000 fans braving the elements.

'People were thinking that I could never make it again (after 2005) but I have shown I can. I am really happy because I have put all my heart and soul into it. I have had some tough years coming back and I thank everyone around me that I never quit and I never thought about it.

'Even last year (in 2011), when I was running fast, I was seventh in the world championships but always the people with the medals are the focus. Everyone was asking 'Where is your medal?' I needed it (the gold medal) so much.'

'I had to watch the (2005) World Championships on television from hospital. That's why it is so special to me to be able to come back to Helsinki and do what I could not do in 2005. Winning this title has been my dream for many years.'

'Sometimes you get stuck in your mind with the times, when you have in your mind the idea 'Maybe I can never run fast again'. It's a big problem. I was stuck at that level and couldn't get any faster.'

'Last year, I decided I had to change everything,' she reflected. 'I changed my lifestyle. I began training in Rieti in Italy with a new coach. I felt like I had a new fire inside me.

'When you change something, you get results almost immediately. I moved to Italy about three months before the season last year and ran some good times.'

And the good times continued – metaphorically and literally – for Lalova at the Helsinki 2012 European Athletics Championships.

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