Goldie Sayers: 'I must wrap myself in cotton wool until 2012'

After two years out due to injury, the javelin thrower is looking an Olympic prospect again. She talks to Simon Turnbull
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The Independent Online

There was a rude awakening for Goldie Sayers yesterday. As she told her 1,002 followers on Twitter: "Was looking forward to a little lie-in... 6.59am and Dorothy the drug tester knocks on the door."

As well as extracting the urine, Dorothy the drug tester would have doubtless clocked the photograph which stands on top of the fridge in the north London home of the British javelin thrower, whose return to world-class form in Stockholm last Saturday slipped under a media radar that was bleeping manically with Phillips Idowu's tweeted responses in his dispute with Charles van Commenee. The picture is of Sayers' late father with Johnny Cash.

Pete Sayers was a country and bluegrass vocalist cum guitarist, the first British artist to appear at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. He worked with Cash in the days when the brand of music played by the "Man in Black" was still somewhat in the shadows, away from mainstream popularity. Growing up in Ely, around the corner from Oliver Cromwell's old house in the Cambridgeshire cathedral city, Goldie was not even aware who the man next to her dad in the photo was.

"It is a bit weird," she reflected yesterday. "I've watched Walk the Line [the film about Cash's life] and it's a bit bizarre now that bluegrass and country is a bit more cool. I think dad would have been a bit aggrieved because it's becoming a bit more pop-y. In that kind of music, they're all great instrumentalists. The musicality of it all is pretty cool."

Pete Sayers died in 2005. When he used to watch his daughter throw the javelin, he always told her, "Put wings on it". She certainly did that on Saturday, on the opening day of the European Team Championships at the 1912 Olympic Stadium in Stockholm.

Goldie's final-round effort winged out to 64.46m. It was the third longest throw of the 28-year-old's career in the spear-chucking business, her farthest since the 65.75m effort that earned her a British record and a tantalising fourth place in the 2008 Olympic final in Beijing.

It took the best throw in the world this year to beat her, Christina Obergföll claiming victory with 66.22m. It was the German who pipped Sayers to Olympic bronze three years ago. Still, as runner-up, the Briton claimed the scalps of the gold and silver medallists from Beijing: Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic, holder of the world record at 72.28m, and Mariya Abakumova of Russia.

After two years of injuries and operations – a chronic back problem in 2009, a fracture of the hip socket suffered while winning a record eighth consecutive national title in Birmingham last summer, and knee surgery in March this year – it is fair to say that the Goldie girl is back in the global mix in her event. Thirteen months out from the home Olympics, Van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics, can add another name to a list of serious British contenders for a track and field medal in London, placing the Cambridgeshire woman – who was born Katherine Sayers but became Goldie after her brother, John, called her Goldilocks – alongside those of Jessica Ennis, Idowu, Dai Greene and Mo Farah.

"It's fantastic to be back in a British vest and performing well," Sayers said. "To beat the world record holder and Olympic champion and also the Olympic silver medallist was not a bad day's work after quite a difficult year. It wasn't the best technical performance ever, so I'm kind of pleased that there's things I can improve on. I still think there's lots more to come.

"I know that on my day I am one of the most skilful javelin throwers in the world. I've just got to make sure I wrap myself in cotton wool between now and 2012. I do believe in my own ability but you have to perform and beat these girls when it matters.

"It's really helpful to be throwing in big competitions now. I always find extra metres in competition, through adrenaline. If you can harness that kind of energy in an Olympic Stadium it can only be a good thing."

It seems to be a good thing for Sayers – whose next competition on the road to the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in August is a German Grand Prix meeting in Cottbus on Saturday – that for the past 12 months she has been a member of the eclectic group of athletes being guided by the American Dan Pfaff at the UK Athletics High Performance Centre at Lee Valley in north London.

Pfaff learned his coaching trade under Carl Lewis' mentor, Tom Tellez, and guided Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey to Olympic 100m gold in 1996. He has also coached Marion Jones and the former pole vault world record holder Stacy Dragila.

"It's a great group to be part of," Sayers said. "If I want to sprint with someone, I've got the best sprinters in the country – Dwain Chambers, Christian Malcolm, Marlon Devonish. If I want to jump, we've got the best jumpers – Greg Rutherford, Martyn Bernard, Germaine Mason. It's the first time I've trained in a group environment. I think I'm in the best place to do the best I can in the next 14 months."

Sayers would extend that assertion to include the Great Britain team environment, which she insisted was unharmed by the row which broke out in Stockholm after Van Commenee criticised Idowu, the world triple jump champion, for apparently announcing his withdrawal from the squad on Twitter. "We didn't really talk about it in the team," Sayers maintained. "It's just between Charles and Phillips and I hope it will be resolved.

"I think Charles is a great team leader and I love his style of management. I think he's very fair. In our team meetings he's accountable as well. I think he expects us to be accountable and I think that's the way it should be when you're competing for your country. You definitely know where you stand and I think that's fair."

'The day I got Graeme Hick out...'

Goldie Sayers is a woman of many talents. Before making her name as a javelin thrower, she played hockey, tennis and netball for Cambridgeshire and was national Under-11 champion at table tennis.

In 2006 she made her cricket debut in a charity match organised by the North Middlesex club and claimed the wicket of Graeme Hick, the former Worcestershire and England batsman. Thanks to a bit of coaching from a long-time friend, the former Somerset batsman John Francis, she got the ball to swing and Hick edged a shot that was caught. "I did say to him, 'You're never going to get out to a worse bowler in your career'," Sayers recalled.