- 23 Sep 2000
- Sydney 2000
Železný shows age is no barrier to javelin joy
Javelin legend Jan Železný came to Sydney looking for a third Olympic gold.
At his first Games in 1988, aged 22 and representing Czechoslovakia, he had just missed out on victory, and had to settle for silver. His first gold came four years later in Barcelona when, by now competing under the Czech Republic flag, Železný swept aside the challenge of Finland’s Seppo Räty and Great Britain's Steve Backley. By Atlanta 1996, Backley had emerged as his main rival, but again the Czech prevailed, bagging his second Olympic gold.
However, going into Sydney 2000, Železný was 34. No javelin thrower of that age had ever taken the Olympic title. And he also had to face the challenge of his good friend Backley once more. The Briton came to the Games having won the previous three European titles.
The distances set in the qualifying round didn't affect the final, but still Železný signalled his intent as he recorded a massive throw of 89.39m. Backley's best throw was nearly six metres short of that mark, but both men qualified for the final.
Železný's first throw was sensational. If there were any doubts about his ability to cope with the passage of time, he answered them in emphatic style. His first attempt soared into the air and landed at the 89.41m mark, further even than his mighty qualifying attempt.
It looked as if it might even be long enough to win the competition, but Backley had been waiting years to avenge his defeat in Atlanta and he was not about to give up so easily. His response was magnificent – a second-round throw of 89.85m, breaking the Olympic record. It was the British athlete's longest throw for eight years and the Sydney crowd now knew they were watching something very special as they waited for Železný's response.
It came in the fourth round. The Czech produced one of the greatest throws of his career to hurl the javelin beyond the elusive 90m line, setting a target of 90.17m and snatching away the Olympic record that Backley had held for a matter of minutes. This time, Backley had no response.
It was the first time that a javelin thrower had won three gold medals and confirmed Železný's place as one of the great, if not the greatest, javelin athletes of all time. He went on to win another world championship title in 2001, while Backley took a fourth European title in 2002. Both men competed in the 2004 Games in Athens, but finished outside the medals.