Sayers strives to avoid the nightmare of fourth

British javelin hopeful unleashes throw that bodes well for medal challenge

For two months short of four years now Goldie Sayers has had time to reflect on the loneliest placing in the Olympic Games: fourth. In the final of the women's javelin in Beijing in 2008 the Cambridgeshire woman hurled her spear 65.75m, a British record and a distance that had secured a medal in every previous Olympic Games.

Sadly, on that occasion, it was not quite enough. Sayers was denied the bronze by the German Christina Obergföll by a margin of 48cm as Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic and Russia's Mariya Abamkumova took gold and silver.

In the Golden Gala meeting in Rome on Thursday evening, two months out from a home Olympics, Sayers unleashed her biggest throw since the 2008 Games. A first round effort of 64.73m earned her third place behind Spotakova (68.85m) and Sunette Viljoen, the 2011 World Championship bronze medallist from South Africa (67.95m). It also claimed the 29-year-old former national age group table tennis champion the scalps of Obergföll, who finished fourth with 62.60m, and Abakumbova, fifth with 62.00m.

Having been banjaxed by injury for two years after Beijing, and placed 10th in the World Championship final last summer, it was evidence that Sayers is getting back to something approaching her best. She is a member of the eclectic bunch of athletes coached by Dan Pfaff at the UK Athletics National Performance Centre at Lee Valley, north-east London. Pfaaf, the American who guided Canadian Donovan Bailey to Olympic 100m gold in 1996, has a diverse stable which includes long jumper Greg Rutherford, pole vaulter Steve Lewis, 400m hurdler Rhys Williams and veteran sprinters Marlon Devonish and Christian Malcom.

"Dan describes our group as 'One flew over the cuckoo's nest'," Sayers says, chuckling at the description. "There's all sorts of events and personality types. It's great fun. I'm learning a lot about all sorts of different events. If you want to sprint you can train with the fastest people in the country. If you want to jump you've got the best long jumper. It's a great way of pushing yourself."

As the big one that she let fly in the Bird's Nest was not been good enough for a place on the podium, Sayers knows she needs to push herself to have a chance of making the top three in London. "At the moment the event is tough," she says. "It has been like that for four or five years.

"I know it's definitely going to take 70m-plus to win. It's going to probably take a personal best to medal. But I threw a personal best last time and thought that would be enough in the conditions that day. It wasn't quite enough but on reflection I have to be quite proud of that performance.

"It's so difficult in this sport to say, 'I want to win a medal'. I mean I do want to win a medal but it's difficult to say 'I'm definitely going to do that,' when you've got no idea what the others are going to do."

Still, it bodes well that Sayers managed to unleash her best throw for four years in Rome despite having been struck down by food poisoning courtesy of a dodgy salmon salad earlier in the week. "There's still a bit to do," she says, "but I'm pleased with where I'm at – just a steady progression of season's bests."

Next up is the Diamond League in New York on Saturday but the big target for Goldie in 2012 is London and gold, silver or bronze.

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