If giggling were an Olympic sport, Ashia Hansen and Colin Jackson would have medals to show for it. But their performances here on Saturday, when in the space of five golden minutes they won European titles at the triple jump and 110 metres hurdles respectively, were those of mature athletes in complete control of their talent.
For Jackson a level of expertise and self-knowledge built up over 17 seasons is about to become lost to the sport – he still plans to retire after next year's World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, by which time he will be 36.
That is a decision which was lamented by the 23-year-old Latvian Stanislavs Olijars, who was left in Jackson's wake as the Welshman won in 13.11 seconds to equal Steve Backley's feat of the previous night of earning four successive individual European golds.
"I think Colin Jackson is the greatest sprint hurdler there's ever been," Olijars said. "For me it's better if he would stay. I hope he will."
That hope is in vain. But for Hansen, now 30, a career that has been disfigured by injury and personal difficulties in the space of the last two years is coming together beautifully.
After collecting her second gold medal in the space of 11 days thanks to an outstanding final jump – her 15.00m here replaced the 14.86m with which she won the Commonwealth title at the top of this year's world rankings – she is looking forward with a confidence she has never felt before.
"I am using this year as a stepping stone to next year's World Championships and the 2004 Olympics, because I have still got a long way to go in terms of fitness," she said. "Next year is going to be a year I really come through – and then ever better the year after." The giggle occurs at this point. "It's worked out quite well really."
Hansen can make light of her problems, but she never forgets what she has been through. Throughout 2000, she had to compete in the knowledge that she would be ensnarled in a court case involving her former boyfriend, Chris Cotter, who was eventually jailed for obtaining money under false pretences and faking a racist incident outside her home.
In tandem with that mental stress, Hansen had to deal with an injury to her right foot so severe that she was eventually told by a specialist that if she did not have it operated on she would never jump again.
Without realising it, Hansen ruptured the planta fascia tendon on the sole of her foot while training in January 2000. As she unconsciously compensated to accommodate the problem, other injuries developed – four cracked toes, and, three weeks before the Sydney Olympics, a stress fracture.
"I was in pain from the moment I got up to the moment I went to bed," she recalled. "Even then I would have problems because the foot would cramp up. One day when I was training in January of last year I threw a tantrum because all my team-mates were moving on and I could just about run. I was starting to think that nobody believed I was in pain continuously."
Through the efforts of Charles van Commennee, the coach to Hansen's bitter rival Denise Lewis, a medical examination was arranged for her in Amsterdam, and after an MRI scan confirmed the rupture she was operated on in March last year.
"I had to learn to walk all over again," she said. "I had been walking on the side of my foot beforehand and jumping flat-footedly. So first I walked, then I jogged, then I progressed to skipping, then striding. Then I moved on to sprinting, and then long jumping, and finally triple jumping. I began by taking one step and then doing a hop, step and jump. Then I took it back to three steps and built up from there.
"One of the worst things for me was that when I originally got the injury I was in the form of my life. I was jumping ridiculous distances off a short run-up. I had done so much work, and lost so much weight I was partly in denial about the fact that I was actually injured. But I was always determined mentally to get back."
In terms of Hansen's three-year plan, 2002 has been a hugely successful hop. The step and jump should be worth watching.
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