Her determination was re-emphasised in Seoul, where despite serious recurring injury to her tendon she managed to throw 56 metres: 'Everywhere was full of blood, and I was heartbroken really.' A back injury cost her a shot at last year's world championships, but when fit she has produced peak form when it most matters.
Three times she has won the Commonwealth Games title, including the 1986 contest when she dramatically overhauled her arch-rival for much of the 1980s, Fatima Whitbread. It was Sanderson who inspired much of Britain's success in the javelin: David Ottley's Olympic silver; Whitbread's wins at the European and world championships; and Steve Backley's emergence since Seoul. Sanderson has been there all along, but she will stop after Barcelona: 'Twenty years is enough,' she says.
Could there be a fairy-tale ending? It will certainly be more than a sentimental farewell to championship competition. 'Physically she is as good as ever,' confirms her coach, Brian Roberts.
Having consistently thrown around 70 metres over the years, winning standards are again within her grasp. Reduced world performance levels are clearly related to improved standards of drug testing. Roberts believes that the general drop in physical capabilities has also created technical failings, upon which Sanderson could capitalise.
Natalya Zikolenko of Estonia heads the world rankings with just over 70 metres this year. Norway's Trine Hattestad and a trio of Germans have also thrown further than Sanderson. She has managed around 64 metres this summer, but competition up to and including the trial didn't demand more.
'All the measurables are good,' Roberts insists. 'The event all depends on split-second timing. If you blink you miss the throw. Whoever gets it right could throw a personal best and win.
'Tessa is a good competitor. She will drag the last ounce of energy from her body. She has done well to get to Barcelona, but she is an underdog.' And in the Olympic arena? 'She doesn't have the tension that the top people will have to cope with. You have to be excited, but relaxed.' As in other things, so also in Olympic competition: practice could again make perfect.
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