It was the summer of 2002. The venue was Munich, the competition was the European Athletics Championships and in a house in the Czech Republic, the excitement was growing for the start of the heptathlon.
For two days Zuzana Hejnova would be glued to the television, watching every move of the woman who was one of the driving forces for her own success – her older sister Michaela.
“When I was young and coming into the sport I used to watch the European Championships,” said Hejnova, 30, now the athletics superstar of the family as the two-time world 400m hurdles champion.
“I remember 2002 in Munich because my sister was competing, so I cheered for her. She was my idol when I was young.”
That week Michaela was seventh, scoring 6032 points as Sweden’s Carolina Kluft won gold with 6542.
In eleven months’ time, the scenarios are likely to be reversed, with this time Zuzana on the track and Michaela - who is seven years her senior - the interested and excited spectator as the Hejnova family chases European glory again.
Berlin 2018 is the showpiece event of the track and field season next summer, as part of the inaugural multi-sports European Championships co-hosted by the German capital and Glasgow.
For Hejnova – Zuzana, that is – it will be one of the most important competitions of her career. Her double world success - first in Moscow in 2013 and then Beijing in 2015 - might be her career-defining moments but Berlin offers another chance for her to land individual European success, something that she has missed out on in the past.
“I would like to get a medal there, it would be perfect,” said Hejnova.
The reason is understandable. She first competed at the European Championships in 2006 in Gothenburg where she was fifth in her semifinal. A few milliseconds proved the difference between a place in the final and a semifinal exit and at the next two editions, Hejnova reached the finals but missed out on the medals by the narrowest of margins.
In the first of those, Hejnova ran 54.30 in Barcelona to finish fourth as Great Britain’s Perri Shakes-Drayton took bronze in 54.18 and then two years later in Helsinki, Hejnova missed out on the bronze again by 0.14 as Ukraine’s Hanna Yaroshchuk finished third in 54.35.
She helped the Czech Republic to bronze in the 4x400m relay where she ran the first leg but more individual disappointment was to follow.
With Zurich 2014 on the horizon, Hejnova was the clear favourite being the world champion from 2013 and the Olympic bronze medallist from London 2012 but when she fractured a bone in her instep at the start of January, it led to the Czech not even making it to the Letzigrund Stadium that summer. Hejnova also missed out on the European Championships in Amsterdam last summer due to injury.
Perfect is indeed a good way then of describing how she will feel if she is standing on that podium next August with a European medal around her neck.
“It is my goal,” said Hejnova. “I was there at the World Championships in 2009. I made the semifinal, so now I would like to finish much better. The European Championships is something which is very much on my mind.”
Those thoughts come at the end of another season where Hejnova was left frustrated as she finished fourth in the World Championships in London but she still remains one of the best exponents of the event of all-time.
Her national record of 52.83 was set at the World Championships in Moscow in 2013 which makes her the fifth fastest European of all-time. Along with also being the IAAF Diamond League champion in 2015, it is a CV which is as good as they come.
As Hejnova knows, it will be even more impressive with the title of European champion on it.
More information on the 2018 European Championships:
- The Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships will be part of the first multi-sport European Championships along with co-hosts Glasgow.
- It will be a must-watch, must-attend experience that elevates the status of European Champions, uniting existing European Championships to celebrate the highest honour in European sport and celebrating the defining moments that create Champions.
- It is the continent’s ultimate multi-sport event, an 11-day celebration of European sport staged every 4 years.
- Seven of Europe’s leading sports (athletics, aquatics, rowing, golf, cycling, gymnastics, triathlon) will be brought together for the first edition.
- The European Athletics Championships in Berlin will be staged 7-12 August. The six other sports will be staged in Glasgow through 2-12 August.
- 4,500 athletes and 52 nations will compete across the seven sports.
- Potential TV audience of over 1 billion with millions more across multiple digital platforms.
- Over half a million spectators expected.