In episode six, Goldie Sayers talks candidly about missing an Olympic podium place by 38cm and then eight years later receiving the news of a positive doping test by the Russian athlete who finished ahead of her.
The biggest thing dopers cheat you of, is knowing how good you actually were
Goldie Sayers was awarded a bronze medal from the Beijing Olympics, eight years after competing at the event. Sayers threw a British javelin record 65.75m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, only to miss out on a medal by the smallest of margins after finishing fourth.
Eight years later, Sayers’ long-term suspicions were seemingly confirmed when Mariya Abakumova, who took silver at those 2008 Games, was named by Russian media as one of 14 Russian athletes allegedly shown to have failed drugs tests when their Beijing samples were re-analysed.
Visit Goldie’s website here.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 15.12.16 – Ep 6. Goldie Sayers – on drug cheats and getting bronze 8 yrs late
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR[Music]
TP: Welcome to A Question of Performance. I’m Tammy Parlour and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about what improves, limits and drives performance. Join me for 20 minutes of discussion twice a month to hear a range of views on what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.[Music]
Today I’m talking with a three time Olympian Goldie Sayers. She’s dominated her event the javelin and one of athletics’ most popular ambassadors. Goldie came fourth at Beijing but then eight years later news breaks of a positive doping test by the Russian athlete who finished of her. I’m really fascinated to understand she views success. But first, I ask her what it’s like to go out onto that Olympic stage?
GS: Wow, I’m trying to put myself back there. It is…I think it’s going to be quite a boring answer, but you do have to treat it like it’s just another competition, otherwise you’d send yourself bonkers I think – although you do know that it’s the culmination of four years of work and you basically have one moment to prove the last four years of life effectively. I remember actually in Beijing it was quite interesting because in the final – obviously the Chinese can basically change the weather or [laughter] or control their own climate, and a Chinese lady came round the warm up area and said, “It’s going to rain at 7.27,” and my final started at 7.20, and bearing in mind with javelin you can effectively have three throws and if you have a red and that’s it, so that adds up to about 13 seconds of actual performance on the Olympic stage.
GS: And then when you bear in mind it’s going to torrentially rain and effectively you have one throw to prove yourself so four a half seconds, and I said to my coach, “Right, I’m going to have to throw well in the first round because I very much doubt conditions will be right for the next five,” and I did and I threw the furthest I’d ever thrown and broke the British Record through a personal best [laughs]. It’s the most pressure you will ever be under in your life – not from outside just from yourself because you know how hard, you’re the only person who knows how hard and how much emotional and physical energy you’ve put into that performance. But it’s incredibly exciting and you’re very proud. I think the thing I like about the Olympics beyond any other major championship is that you’re competing for the country and the pride of the country as well. And having come from a team sport background I love being part of something that’s bigger than myself, and I think that has always boosted my performance [unclear 2:43].
TP: When you were in Athens and when you were in Beijing, were you aware of the country behind you?
GS: I think it was most prevalent in London the kind of feeling of everybody getting so involved in the Olympics. I don’t think you are totally aware of the public support behind you during the Olympics because you try and switch off from the media and TV and social media, but with it being your home country it’s much much bigger, but I think what is most apparent during the Olympic time is in the build-up in that everybody from the postman to your friends and family are asking, ‘Oh, how’s it going for the Olympics?’ so you tend to talk about it much more than you would do normally, which can be a bit of a distraction but once you’re used it you just switch on and off when those kinds of questions are asked.
TP: Did you have any techniques or strategies to get yourself focussed?
GS: I have always used visualisation throughout my whole career, so I know from the first sort of three steps of a throw whether it’s going to be good or bad effectively. It’s a feel, javelin is probably the most frustrating event there is in that you can’t try, you can’t use any kind of aggression at all. I think basically the javelin is above your head and in front of you so it’s literally [unclear 4:03] before then it’s all about rhythm and timing and so you can feel and hear whether…I can hear what I’m doing that tends to be biggest feedback mechanism is hearing my feet, but you’re effectively competing against the feed, you’re not really competing against your rivals as such, you’re always against the javelin.
TP: In 2007, you set a new British Record in the javelin and Beijing was the next year, did you feel a massive sense of expectation on yourself before going to Beijing because you had this British Record beforehand?
GS: I think 2007 was the best thing that could have happened to me and that I did absolutely shockingly badly and it was at Osaka at the world championships in that I’d suddenly improved to a Great British Record and was one of the kind of favourites – well not favourites I wouldn’t have said, but certainly in contention and I picked up a bit of an injury just beforehand and just didn’t perform well, because I wasn’t able to handle the kind of the expectation. But having failed, I then did a lot about it and made sure that I had a plan psychologically as well physically leading into Beijing, and everything did go to plan in 2008, apart from finishing 38 cm outside of a medal [laughs].
TP: Yes, let’s talk about that, can you tell me a little bit about that, you came fourth at 38 cm, how was that, and I know that’s a bit of crass question, but…?
GS: No it wasn’t unbelievable, I think it was probably the best competition at those Olympic Games if you’re watching it live in that everybody threw well first round, I broke the British Record and I threw 65 and 75 first round, the world record holder it was basically you had nearly break the world record to win – the top two were over 70 metres, which is fairly unheard at the Olympics. My sort of German rival, Christina Obergföll, threw just over 66 in the first round but then didn’t throw any further, and I kept throwing 65’s and being really consistent but I just could not quite the extra few centimetres because it had started raining after the first round. But it was a very strange feeling actually stepping off the track because I’d thrown further than I’d ever thrown before, I’d broken the British Record throwing a BP but finished fourth, and I think my first word when I walked off the track was something rude [laughs]. And which is silly really because I’d actually achieved what most people don’t achieve a BP and the British Record in an Olympic final.
It’s a funny thing success because that was a very successful and a great performance, probably the best performance in the championships I’ve ever achieved by quite a long way – yet, I didn’t achieve this kind of tangible thing that we revere which is an Olympic medal which has always been a dream of mine throughout my career. So I think my overriding emotion was disappointment when it shouldn’t have been having being eight years on I’m very proud of that performance, but immediately stepping off the track I was pretty gutted [laughs].
TP: Well eight years later, the news breaks of a positive doping test by a Russian athlete who finished ahead of you, what emotions go through you?
GS: Everything, anything and everything. I was actually driving down the M11 when I got the phone call [laughs] and – yeah, I think I swore a few times, cried, laughed; you literally feel every single emotion from being elated, because I did then I feel I had achieved what I always wanted to, but also being so gutted, but I knew at the time, we all knew at the time so it was very difficult giving interviews when knew that [over speech].
TP: You knew at the time someone was doping, yes?
GS: Yeah, the Russian she went in with a PB of 65 and came out with a PB of 70 m and at the top end you can’t improve 10% at the Olympics in horrendous conditions, and you can just tell from just physically she was unbelievable.
GS: So yeah, I think you just feel every emotion under the sun, I don’t think there’s anything that really can replicate those kinds of emotions. But I think I was – well I am really pleased, because I think the only thing that sort of upset me, the biggest thing that dopers cheat you of is knowing how good you actually were at that moment?
GS: And I think the hardest thing for athletes who aren’t cheating is that then you push yourself to extremes and more than your body can tolerate, and then from then on I did get a lot of injuries [over speech].
TP: I was going to say, you got quite a lot of injuries after that?
GS: Yeah, a lot of them were actual accidents and weird things that happened, but a few things – certainly the following year, I wound up with a stress fracture in my back because I just was…I was a bit miserable actually [laughs] that winter because I sort of thought what more do I have to do?
GS: And I’ve always been one – anyone who’s ever trained with me knows how hard I work and so you do think, ‘Right, I’ve got to do more, I’ve got to push myself harder,’ and then that’s when your body breaks down. So yeah, it’s very disappointing but very pleasing at the same time, it’s strange.
TP: I was going to say was there any sense of relief or?
GS: Yeah, there was a bit I think, because then I did then think, ‘Well, actually, actually I was pretty [laughs] good.’
GS: So yeah, it just literally the whole myriad of emotions and feelings.
TP: It’s funny because the performance doesn’t change the distance that you achieved it’s the same, but…
TP: …it feels like everything changes?
GS: Yeah it does a bit, and it’s strange in that, especially athletics it’s so numerical, so objective. The performance was there in black and white, and ironically, actually, every Olympic sense that would have been a good silver medal, I think it’s probably the furthest ever thrown in Olympic history by somebody not medalling, so as the performance goes it was brilliant, but…yeah just on the day, you just can’t control other people so no-one would have said on that day that you’d have to throw more than 65 m to medal. In fact, we had that conversation in the warm up area that it’s likely that 65 plus would win a medal and it was kind of that wasn’t the case [laughs].
TP: Do you blame anybody?
GS: Its interesting people have asked me that. No, I don’t blame Mariya Abakumova really I blame their system and I blame the Russian sports hierarchy because I don’t think it’s the athletes. I don’t think you have a choice in Russia from you’re reading and how many positive tests in every sport there is coming out, I just don’t think they have the option of not cheating. So I think there was another Russian javelin thrower who didn’t want to dope and was actually given a positive test and she suddenly disappeared – I used to compete against her, I think culturally it’s just a very different value system, whereas we wouldn’t dream of cheating they wouldn’t dream of competing and not cheating, and I just think you can’t really compare it’s just a whole different value set.
TP: Yeah, there’s a lot more in the news at the moment about more positive doping tests and more British athletes medalling because of it.
TP: Are things changing as they’re becoming more known?
GS: I hope so and I hope it is just something we have to go through in order to clean up the sport. Yeah, it makes me…certainly hearing that, I always wanted to remain naïve to the fact that you kind of knew certain countries weren’t doing everything in their power to compete cleanly like you are, but then when things like more and more of these stories are coming through and more and more people are getting caught, I now feel sceptical.
TP: You want sport to be pure and…
GS: Yeah, I know.
GS: And it is actually the only…
TP: …the best to be good enough.
GS: And also sport is I think the only thing that is almost like truth, because you can’t bullshit your way to an Olympic medal; you can’t stand at the back of the run-up and the best marketing team behind you to say you’re the best in the world it’s just human beings competing hopefully on a level playing field to try and win something in sport that really does have kind of true scarcity value compared to a lot of other sporting events. And yeah, it’s sickening, having dedicated your life to trying to be the best you can be and then other people not having to be anywhere near that. I really did have to be near my best or pretty much at my best every time I’m competing with other people, because I’m not six foot two and I don’t have long levers and I’m not naturally super strong I’ve had to really work at everything, but it’s made me have to be technically much better than most people and skilful and agile and quicker than everyone else in order to compete, so whilst they’ve had to be at probably 80/90% I’ve had to be sort of 99 but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
TP: Has this experience changed your view of what success is?
GS: No, not really, because I see success as basically everything in your power to the best of your ability, I think it’s a very personal success. I don’t think success necessarily should be based around medals – I have a slight issue with all funding being based around medals and everything else, I think there are some really good stories of people going into championships ranked 52nd in the world and coming out 7th, or people with great stories or battling adversity, I think that for me is success, but sadly in sport you do have a first, second and third and that’s the way I think most people feel comfortable measuring success.
GS: Maybe if I’d won more Olympic medals throughout my career I’d have said ‘No, success is all about winning Olympic medals,’ but throughout my career I’ve always done everything to the best of my ability so I don’t have any regrets, I think it’s more having no regrets and leaving no stone unturned and enjoying the process. I think people get so wrapped in most areas of life with the outcome rather than if you enjoy the process and you put everything into the process that kind of sorts itself out.
TP: Any advice you’d give somebody starting in athletics now?
GS: Phew tricky, I was with a development programme in Wales the other weekend. I don’t think it’s a bad thing not to specialise too young – I’d played a lot of other sports until I was 18. I think certainly in athletics you have to understand the mechanics and learn how to run, jump and throw properly before moving onto loading the body and things. So certainly if I had my time again I would have learnt really decent running mechanics and jumping mechanics and how to lift properly and basically all the skills you need to be a good athlete. And I think just be an all-round athlete in whatever event you’re in because you need, speed, power and you need stamina all of them. And I think you have to have a coach, you’re quite limited I think – well in most sports, but certainly in athletics in technical events certainly by coaching.
TP: Mmhm. As soon as the news broke around your bronze medal and the doping scandal and so forth, I really wanted to talk with you about how your view on success and things, is that the story you want to share?
GS: I’m certainly pleased that I can finish my career as an Olympic medallist. So yeah, for sure that would be…
TP: So it’s better than a different story? [laughs]
GS: Yeah. No, exactly, so yeah that’s the one thing I am really pleased about to say I’m an Olympic medallist is for me personally is a great achievement. I didn’t get to experience that feeling of being an Olympic medallist for the last eight years of my career which I would have loved to have done, but I would be really interested to know what that gives you psychologically? Because it must do, it must give you the feeling of I’m doing everything right, I’m achieving things that I’d never imagined as a kid so I think that would have been nice.
TP: When do you get the medal?
GS: I am still waiting to hear, there are still legal processes that I have to go through and they have to get the medals back and then they notify your National Olympic Committee and then once they do then the BOA can I guess I can discuss with them.
GS: I’m relatively involved with the British Olympic Association being on the Athlete Commission so I’ve had discussions about it, but until they get the green light we can’t really say when or where it will be presented. I would love to have it personally presented at the world championships because you’re in an Olympic stadium and you’ve got a home crowd. And having injured myself just prior to London I think that would be quite fitting.
TP: What’s fuelling your competitive drive at the moment?
GS: It’s interesting, for me it’s always about just being the best I can be. And yeah, I’m getting a few urges to go into coaching as well because I love getting the best out of other people. I’ve always found that throughout my career I’ve always kind of coached other people and certainly in group environments I always [laugh] sort of end up putting other people first sometimes. But I do think as an athlete it’s very good to coach other people because you really get to the nub of the most critical factors in your performance as well as theirs. And I think the one thing in sport that’s quite interesting is you never ever get to see yourself before like in real time. You might be able to watch a video and I’ve watched hundreds of hours of videos of myself throwing but you’re not watching it in real time and you never really get to stand back and reflect on your performance, and I think that’s where injuries are really helpful sometimes. So really take a step back and take a step back and look at what’s most important.
TP: Some quick fire questions for you. What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
GS: I had a three egg omelette with kale, broccoli, a little bit of cheese and I some [s.l – Bircher – 18:47] muesli. I trained before breakfast so I kind of had to eat breakfast [laughs].
TP: Favourite piece of kit?
GS: Training equipment kit? I think as a javelin thrower you have to have a medicine ball or a variety of medicine balls. I spent life or I have spent the last 10 years throwing balls against the wall. [Laughs].
TP: Sporting hero?
GS: Well I’d actually say Jess Ennis.
GS: Because she’s the one person who has remained completely the same from the moment I met her. I remember introducing her to my mother at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 and I said, “Oh this is the future Olympic champion in the pentathlon.” You could just tell, she’s a great girl to be around but also I think she’s just kept her feet on the ground, which I think it’s quite hard to do when you’re…she is a household name and probably would go down as probably one of the greatest sports people ever. I also have a huge amount of admiration for Johnny Wilkinson as well and I kind of put them both in the same bracket.
TP: Most useless piece of advice you’ve either given to someone or received?
GS: I always used to get told I was too small to be a javelin thrower.
TP: Right [laughs].
GS: That always really helpful.
TP: Greatest passion outside of sport?
GS: Wow! Outside of sport [laughs]?
TP: [Laughs] Is there anything else outside of sport?
GS: Yeah, I love seeing friends – I think food actually, good food, good quality food.
TP: And the last one I feel sort of strange asking, I’ve asked these quick fire questions to everybody when the last one is best performance enhancer? [Laughs].
GS: Best performance enhancer? I think being happy…I think sleep is the most undervalued. I think people go on about supplements and everything else and actually it’s a slightly cheaper supplement you can ever not have to buy is kind of I think sleep. I go a bit bonkers if I don’t get enough sleep.
TP: [laughs] I’m very much the same. Thank you very much, Goldie.
GS: No worries.
TP: It’s been brilliant talking to you today I really appreciate.
TP: Thanks for listening. You can follow the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and also don’t forget to subscribe online to aquestionofperformance.com.[Music]