Trip down memory lane inspires Backley to look forward to Helsinki 2012
|British javelin legend Steve Backley relives the electric atmosphere
during the men's javelin final at the 1994 European Athletics
Championships in Helsinki.
It helped that he was then going out with a girl from Oulu – Finland's former sprinter Tula Kangas – but the main reason for the acclamation which, on the night, was second only to that afforded the Helsinki-born former world champion, Seppo Raty, was that Backley was a mighty competitor in a sport that has always held a particular fascination with Finns.
"There are 42,000 people here, and I don't think they were here to watch the 100 metres," said Backley after completing a jubilant, side-stepping victory celebration into the infield with arms raised having seen the last effort of the competition – from world and Olympic champion Jan Zelezny – fall well short of his best effort of 85.20 metres.
Backley had discovered just how special his event was to the Finns several years earlier when he had arrived to compete in Helsinki for the first time. "I had just booked into my hotel and was looking around the city when someone came up to me and said 'You are the javelin thrower?' He wasn't anything to do with athletics. He had just seen my picture in the paper. I was told that a crowd of 55,000 would be expected – and that they were coming to watch the javelin.
"The stadium was packed out. And the amazing thing was, when the javelin was over, people started to leave, even though there were track events still to come."
On that occasion, Backley defeat the local hero. But for him to do so again in a European Athletics Championships was a big ask. And for both of them, it was an even bigger ask to hope to beat the reigning Olympic and world champion and world record holder, Zelezny.
"Jan was just in a different league at the time," recalls Backley. "He wasn't the biggest of throwers, but he was kicking backside like it had never been kicked before.
"When we got into the stadium, though, I was rubbing my hands together because there was a screaming headwind. I always competed better in adversity, whether it was rain, a headwind, delays. I could always get my head round things that would put other people off.
I knew I had to get in early and put the pressure on so that there might be a chance Jan would try too hard and maybe implode."
The crowd roared on their home hero with their customary chant -- "Sepp-po, Sepp-po" – and Raty, who was seeking to become the first Finn to win the European javelin title since Hannu Siitonen 20 years earlier – got the first round lead with 82.90. But Backley, accorded only slightly less uproarious support, was in silver position with 81.04.
"When we had got to the end of the first round I remember thinking to myself 'No one fancies it'," Backley says. "I suddenly got this tremendous surge of adrenaline. I said to myself, 'If you can take control of this competition now you can win it.'
"I was always able to throw well into a headwind, where you need to line the javelin up properly and bring the nose down. I launched this beauty into the wind in the second round and it went out to 85.20. That would have been worth about 88, 89 metres with the wind behind it so it was a very creditable championship-winning throw."
Backley's calculations proved correct. Although Raty improved his performance in the fifth round, he could only manage 82.90, eventually settling for silver ahead of Zelezny, whose best was a second-round effort of 82.50.
Now the man who won four consecutive European javelin titles from 1990 to 2002 is looking forward with fascination as the European Athletics Championships return to the Finnish capital this summer through 27 June to 1 July.
Two-time Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen, reigning world champion Matthias de Zordo and the local hero, 2007 world champion Tero Pitkämäki, have all committed to competing in what promises to be a memorable javelin event in the Helsinki Olympic Stadium.
"Europe is steeped in the heritage of javelin competition, and if you add the fact that that this year's Europeans will be in the home of javelin throwing, it's an ideal place to practise your trade," he says.
"If you have got a passion for javelin throwing, Helsinki is the place to be this summer without a shadow of a doubt."