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Munich Magic | Backley rules the javelin again with fourth title in 2002

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There were many great moments in Steve Backley’s career, but one of the finest was surely his celebration in Helsinki after retaining his European javelin title at the 1994 Championships. 

The field that night in what many regard as the world capital of javelin throwing included the 1992 Olympic champion Jan Zelezny of the Czech Republic and home thrower Seppo Raty, who had won world gold in 1987 and silver four years later. 

But a second-round effort of 85.20 metres from Backley, who had taken bronze at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, proved enough for a win that saw him side-stepping exuberantly down the length of the javelin throwing area. 

All the world’s best had gathered – and he was the best of them. 

In the two Olympics that followed, Backley, who had earned bronze in 1992, earned silver behind Zelezny, setting a Games record in Sydney before his Czech rival bettered it. The Olympic title would never be his. 

But by the same token, the European title, which always evaded Zelezny, was something he earned on four consecutive occasions, running parallel to the track victories of his British teammate Colin Jackson in the 110m hurdles. 

“Everything I do all year is geared to doing well in the championships and the European title is as good as a world or Olympic title because all the best guys are here,” Backley said with reference to his four continental titles. 

Steve Backley of Great Britain

That sentiment held true eight years later when Backley, by then 33, sought his fourth European title in the Munich Olympic Stadium against a field that included his perennial Olympic bete noire Zelezny, 36, who by then had won two more golds in 1996 and 2000.

The in-form thrower, however, was the powerfully built Russian Sergey Makarov, who had bettered 90 metres on three occasions earlier in the year.  

He beat Backley at the European Cup in Annecy and on the home soil of Sheffield the following week when he sent the javelin out to 92.61m, putting him third on the all-time list ahead of Backley’s lifetime best and former world record of 91.46m from 1992. 

Some British bookmakers were firmly backing Makarov to prevail in Munich, offering modest odds of 10-1 on another Backley victory at the European Championships. 

But the Briton was in the zone given his season’s best of 87.29m.  

On a cool and drizzly evening in Munich, Makarov applied pressure with his opening throw of 88.05m. 

It was good, but not insurmountable – and Makarov couldn’t improve upon his first round throw whereas Backley was on an upward trajectory, improving to 86.37m in the third round. Zelezny’s quest for the European title fell apart again as he recorded three no-throws. 

Taking to the runway for the fifth time in the final, Backley put everything together to land the spear beyond Makarov’s opener, registering 88.54m. 

Makarov's fifth round throw of 86.31m didn't trouble the lead and he tumbled over the boundary line on his sixth attempt in his efforts to surpass Backley with the last throw of the final.  

Backley was European champion for a fourth time. "This victory is sweeter than the three others simply because it was harder," he said. "The javelin has become more competitive over the past 12 years. I remember winning my first title in Split with a margin of more than four metres."

On that occasion in 1990 he threw 87.30m, with silver going to the Soviet Union’s Alexander Zaytsev on 83.30m. 

After his sidestepping triumph in Helsinki, the Brit completed a hat-trick of titles at the 1998 European Athletics Championships in Budapest with a first-round championship record of 89.72m that settled the result from the off. 

His victory in Munich was harder won against an opponent who would go on to win the world title the following year.  

"It is more satisfying to do it that way," said Backley, reflecting on Munich. "You have got to really dig deep and it is a real test of your concentration. But as you get older you enjoy the championship atmosphere and I certainly rise to that."




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