Golden girl Lalova is glad all over
|Ivet Lalova of Bulgaria won the women's 100m title
at the Olympic stadium in Helsinki on Thursday.
It is not that easy when 30,000 people are watching but as she stormed through the line to win the 100m gold medal at these European Athletics Championships tonight, she found her quiet corner on the bend of the track.
Bulgarian Lalova stopped, looked to the leaden skies and then crouched down on her haunches and rested her head on her thighs.
"In April, I told myself I would only cry again when I have won," she said later.
By that time, an hour after a victory which was a triumph against adversity, Lalova had wiped away all the tears. She was just starting to come to terms with being the European champion after thinking she might never be in a position to achieve a result such as this one.
It was why, amid all the photographers circling around her, she only wanted to be with her thoughts. "I have been waiting so long for this gold medal," she said. "It is such a relief. I just needed to take it in."
The reason for such an outpouring of emotion was understandable. Seven years ago, when the World Championships were heading to Helsinki, Lalova snapped the femur in her right leg in a collision with another athlete during warm-up at a meeting in Athens.
At the time she was the European 200m indoor champion and she had finished fourth in the 100m at the Olympics in the Greek capital just a few months earlier.
She was out of the World Championships that summer and her athletics world had come crashing down on her.
"The lowest point was watching the 2005 World Championships from my hospital bed," said Lalova, 28, her face wide with a smile and a Bulgarian flag draped around after victory in 11.28.
She added: "People were thinking that I could never make it again but I have shown I can.
"I am really happy because I have put all my heart and soul into it.
"All the people around me have been such a great support and it's such a relief for me.
"I have had some tough years coming back and I thank everyone around me that I never quit and I never thought about it.
"Even last year when I was running fast I was seventh in the world championships but always the people with the medals are the focus. Everyone was asking 'Where is your medal?' I needed it so much. Wow. I made it."
Make it she had and while the cool conditions, with the rain and sun competing for top billing, were hardly great for sprinting, they were perfect for the type of guts and strength that Lalova had in abundance.
She wanted it so much that her face was a vision of power as she exploded out of the blocks, her arms pumping at a frenetic rate.
It was close at halfway as Ukraine's Olseya Povh made a mark and Germany's defending champion Verena Sailer could not be ruled out.
But Lalova was not going to be beaten, taking gold in style with one last show of strength ahead of Povh who was second in 11.32 with Lithuania's Lina Grincikaite third in the same time.
Lalova became only the second European Junior Champion to win at the European Athletics Championships 100m while her 0.04 triumph was the smallest difference between first and third in the history of the event.
Now for the Olympics, where she is determined to go under 11 seconds, but that is for next month in London.
Tonight was all about not letting a moment of this glory be lost to memory, Lalova embracing every question she was asked as though she had spent a lifetime waiting for it.
Well, in athletics terms, she has. Nearly seven years and beforehand she had played out every scenario of the final.
"I have run the race over in mind, I was winning, I was second, I was third - I was last, I was cramping," she said.
No need to think what might be anymore. Lalova knows what is - a gold medal, and no more tears.
Click on the link below to watch a brief interview with Lalova following her victory.