Croatia’s Sara Kolak threw a personal best and national record to land an unexpected gold in the Rio 2016 Olympic women’s javelin final on 18 August.
The 21-year-old Croat, who also broke the national record in the qualifying rounds, clinched the title with her fourth attempt, throwing 66.18m to secure victory by 1.26m from South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen. The bronze went to Czech Republic’s Barbora Spotakova, the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 champion, who went into the competition harbouring dreams of becoming the first woman to win three consecutive gold medals in the same individual athletics event.
A bronze medallist at the 2016 European Championships, Kolak was something of an outsider for gold, with most of the attention heading into the competition focused on the 35-year-old Spotakova’s attempt to make history. In the end, the Czech had to settle for bronze with a best throw of 64.80m, with Kolak emulating Sandra Perkovic in the women’s discus to win her country’s second track and field gold of Rio 2016.
“It is a big surprise,” said the victorious Kolak. “It feels amazing. It’s what I have been working for my whole life. I am 21 and I’m an Olympic champion. I did everything I could and I am so proud of myself. When I woke up this morning I was ready for a fight, a fair fight like never before. I wanted to give it everything I had and show everyone that qualification meant little. I wanted more.”
In winning silver, Viljoen became the first African athlete to win an Olympic medal in the event. “I am very, very happy. I couldn’t have asked for more,” said the South African. “I was fighting for a medal until the end. I was fourth in London (the 2012 Olympic Games), and to come back and win silver means so much to me. For my country it will mean a lot. The atmosphere was wonderful. There were a lot of people cheering for us.”
“She’s wonderful winner,” added Viljoen, voicing her admiration for the new champion. “A young new talent coming up. A well-deserved gold medal. I’m just privileged to be on the Olympic podium together with Sara and Barbora. Very happy.”
Though she came up short in her bid for an unprecedented golden hat-trick, Spotakova had the consolation of becoming the first athlete to win three Olympic medals in the event, and of capping recovery from a recent injury with bronze.
“I hadn’t counted on a medal at all because I broke my leg in March and I didn’t believe there was a chance of a medal,” explained the veteran thrower. “You lose your self-confidence when things like that happen and you have to fight to get it back. But I always persuade myself: ‘I am a champion’. I did my best this day and I had huge support at home in the Czech Republic.”
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