Athletics: Exhibition of the Masterkova class

One of the world's greatest runners is back on winning form after a long injury. Steve Downes spoke to her

THEY SAY that even the world's greatest athletes are just an Achilles tendon injury away from oblivion, and the double Olympic gold medallist Svetlana Masterkova nearly proved the point last year. But today, in the 1500m final, Masterkova may disprove another old sporting axiom: they never come back.

There have been greater comeback stories in sport, not least in Budapest this week, where Pawel Januszewski of Poland won the 400m hurdles barely two years after being read the last rites after a car smash. But if Masterkova manages to win the 1500m gold medal this afternoon - less than eight months after her first training session following serious injury - it will be a feat of considerable merit.

No woman had won the 800-1,500m Olympic double for 20 years until the relatively unheralded Masterkova managed the feat in Atlanta two years ago. Masterkova's relative obscurity was soon explained. The runner from Siberia, after a reasonable junior career, had married the professional cyclist Assiat Saitov and moved to Spain to be closer to her husband's team's base. While there, she took two years' maternity leave, missing the last European Championships in Helsinki and the 1995 World Championships.

Once she got back on the track in 1996, though, she was unbeatable, for as well as winning Olympic gold, she set world records at 1,000m and at the mile - a feat achieved in her debut at the distance.

Yet all that was nearly plucked away from her, as she hobbled from the track in pain and anguish after finishing a sorry 12th and last in the 1500m World Championship final in Athens last year, complaining of a sore Achilles tendon. From touching the highest of highs, Masterkova now thought she may be laid low permanently. She waited for the injury to heal, but it did not, and became infected.

Without regular training, Masterkova put on weight - tipping the scales 20lb heavier than when racing - and she pottered about the family home, doing the dishes and looking after her daughter Anastasia. But such a lifestyle soon lost its appeal, and in October last year she had an operation on the injury.

"If I look back at my career I have had more difficult times with injuries than good times," she says. "That's why I was so determined to come back. I wanted people to know that I am not a one season wonder."

"Athens was a big disappointment to me after my success in Atlanta," she said. She required three months of rehabilitation treatment after the operation last October, and only started training again in February.

Already, the rest of Europe's runners are regretting Masterkova's return. She has been beaten only once on the grand prix circuit this season, and then by an athlete - Gabriela Szabo - who has decided to avoid the 1500m and instead play the role of Sonia O'Sullivan's biggest threat in the 5,000m final tonight.

Four days after Szabo had beaten Masterkova at Monte Carlo, the two women raced again in Zurich. The Russian duly got her revenge over the little Romanian. When Masterkova said "I had to re- establish myself, show Gabriela who's the boss," you knew she meant business.

Similarly, Masterkova's performance in Friday's semi-final here was consummately dominant. Today, her biggest threats will come from another Romanian, Elena Buhaianu, who looked a threat in her semi- final, and Carla Sacramento, the Portuguese who took the world title last year in Masterkova's absence.

When she walked from the Nep Stadion on Friday night, the first person Masterkova spoke to was her doctor, Aleksiy Balakinev. Since the operation, he travels with Masterkova wherever she goes.

The suspicion is that Masterkova's tendon will never again be 100 per cent sound, and that her days of chasing records are over. "Times are not so important," she has said. "Winning is the main thing." A European gold medal today will provide useful evidence that Svetlana Masterkova is not a one-season wonder.

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments