By the time Ashia Hansen arrived in Munich to compete at the 2002 European Athletics Championships she was the world indoor record-holder in the triple jump and had an impressive list of titles to her credit – but not so much as a single medal in that competition.
By the time she left that anomaly had been corrected in golden fashion.
After failing to qualify for the final at the 1994 European Athletics Championships in Helsinki and missing the Budapest edition four years later with a foot injury, it turned out to be third time lucky for the US-born athlete who had been adopted and raised in Great Britain since she was eight.
Hansen’s eventual triumph in Munich mirrored her experience at the European Indoor Championships where she failed to make the final in 1994 and having reached the final two years later, failed to record a legal jump. Such was her disappointment in the latter competition, Hansen even contemplated walking away from athletics altogether.
But when she arrived at the 1998 European Indoor Championships in Valencia, however, she saw off the challenge of the Czech world champion Sarka Kasparkova with a fourth-round effort of 15.16m - adding 13 centimetres to the world indoor record that had belonged to Russia’s Yolanda Chen since 1995.
While she had to miss out on Budapest, she recovered in time to win the 1998 Commonwealth Games title in Kuala Lumpur, and four years later she had prepared ideally for the European Championships in Munich by retaining her Commonwealth title in Manchester just over a week beforehand but only with her last jump of the competition.
Fittingly, the 30-year-old also had to be patient in Munich to make sure of her gold. Finland’s former European U23 bronze medallist Heli Koivula, giving the performance of her career, took a first-round lead with a wind-assisted effort of 14.83m that she kept until the sixth and final round.
At that point, Hansen stood second with her second-round jump of 14.60m which was followed by three fouls. A silver medal beckoned before her concluding effort of 15.00m exactly displaced the Finn. Job done. It was a season’s best, and the first time she had reached the 15 metre-mark in three years.
“She [Koivula] piled on the pressure in the first round and I was making mistakes because I was trying so hard,” recalled Hansen, whose only two counting marks before her final flourish were her first two of 14.54m and 14.60m.
“I did one in the fifth round but it was a no-jump. I knew it was in me and when the sixth round came I just had to relax and do exactly the same thing.
“It gave me confidence knowing I could do it in the last round but I don’t like doing it like that because it’s too much to handle,” said Hansen.
On the winning jump itself, Hansen almost bailed the attempt, believing she overstepped the board. "I thought it was a no jump and nearly aborted the jump," she said.
Luckily for her sake, Hansen committed to the jump and she was rewarded with her second major title in as many weeks. It was also a significant victory in the context of British athletics as Hansen became the first female athlete since 1954 to win a European title in a horizontal or vertical jumping event.
It would turn out to be Hansen’s last big outdoor title. After winning world indoor gold for a second time in her adopted city of Birmingham in 2003 she suffered a dreadful knee injury at the 2004 European Cup in Bydgoszcz, Poland that effectively ended her career in the very highest echelons of the sport.
After undergoing three operations she recovered to the point where she won a silver medal at the 2006 British Championships and gold at the 2007 British Indoor Championships albeit with distances far below the 14 metre-barrier let alone the 15 metre-barrier.
And after being unable to compete in the 2008 British Olympic Trials at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium, she drew the curtain on her illustrious and esteemed career.
“It had just become clear to me that I can no longer train through the pain of injury as I used to do. It’s time to take the pressure off myself.
“I can have few complaints though given what I have achieved in my career. Looking back I held a world record and I earned an MBE as well as all the pleasure I have taken from being involved in athletics,” she said.