Hejnova back on the big stage

Hejnova back on the big stage
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Zuzana Hejnova joins a strong Czech team at the European Athletics Team Championships First League in Heraklion this weekend.

Her time stands out from the rest, both this year and with her personal best, but that is not the important factor in the lineup for the 400m hurdles at the European Athletics Team Championships First League in Heraklion this weekend.

No. What is most crucial for world champion Zuzana Hejnova is that it is her name which is on the start list for the first major track and field event of the summer.

"I am happy to be back on the right level," said the prolific Czech Republic star. "Last year was very hard for me mentally."

Should Hejnova not bank maximum points for her nation in Crete, then it will be one of the big stories of the championships because it will be a huge shock.

She has a season’s best of 55.00, with her closest rival on times this year being Belgium’s Axelle Dauwens with 56.27.

And on personal bests, Hejnova, 28, is in a different league, having run a national record of 52.83 when she won gold at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow in 2013.

That came during a glorious summer, a period that she was ready to take into last year and the European Athletics Championships.

But inflammation in her ankle when she returned from a fracture forced her out of Zurich, and with it the frustrations that were only natural.

She said: "I was disappointed not to be on the track. Now I hope I am getting back."

Could she repeat her amazing 2013 where she was just unstoppable and unbeatable?

"I don’t think so," said Hejnova. "It was something special. But I would like to be back on the same level, that is my goal.

"I need to do more training, because I could not train for almost one year, which is a really long time."

Two years ago in Dublin, Hejnova won the flat 400m in 51.90 at the European Athletics Team Championships as fellow Czech Denisa Rosolova took the 400m hurdles in 55.34.

They reverse roles this time but will join forces in the 4x400m relay in what is a strong Czech Republic team.

Hejnova returned to major competitive action in March when she ran in Prague at the European Athletics Indoor Championships, competing in the 800m where she ran 2:05.34 but did not make the semi-finals and then was on the anchor leg of the 4x400m relay as the team finished fourth.

It was an important comeback and she will now aim to make further strides at the weekend in a summer where that 55.00 from Birmingham earlier this month puts her second on the European Athletics rankings behind Great Britain’s Eilidh Child, the European champion, with 54.84.