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Tessa Sanderson: 'It was an anxious throw, I knew I'd given it everything'


I had struggled at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. A year later I was hit with an injury and I was out for two years. By Los Angeles I was probably only 90 per cent fit.I needed to make my first throw big. I wanted to go for a killer one. First round, first throw. Over.

There were a lot of elements I had to get right. There was the issue of my planting foot. It was that leg I had injured. I had lost an inch and a half off my calf. Then I had to ensure the delivery of the point of the javelin was perfect. And I then had to gather up as much speed as possible – I had lost a bit because of the injury.

But most of all it was a mental thing: the fear factor... and Fatima Whitbread. Fatima was my fiercest rival. We had been battling against each other non-stop. But it wasn't just her. Also in the field was the world record holder, Finland's Tiina Lillak. I couldn't think about them. I needed to be locked into my own world.

And then it came to it. I remember the moment vividly. It was a nervous throw, an anxious throw. From the moment I held the javelin in the draw position and then with the speed of my arm, I knew it was big. I could feel it in my chest. I knew I had given it everything. I knew it was perfect. But I didn't know it was going to be an Olympic record.

If I hadn't have nailed that first throw, I would have had to fight to the bitter end. But it was still tough to watch the remaining five rounds. I remember Tiina's last throw. I remember thinking: "Damn, that's good." And then it came down 56 centimetres short. I just couldn't believe it.

I debated for a long time whether to take my last throw or not. I knew I had won. It was basically a glory throw and I took it. It came up short, but it didn't matter. I was the Olympic champion. Fatima gave me a big hug after that. She knew I'd won. And she was professional enough about it.

Here it was, the biggest stage, the greatest show on Earth and I had won, and not Fatima, and not Tiina. I felt great, I felt fantastic. I remember there were loads of British fans behind the barrier. They were shouting my name. The feeling then was indescribable. And I sunk to my knees.

Once you walk up to the podium everything comes to you. The emotion, the fear. It's a feeling of marvel – and all of this is for you and you alone. It doesn't matter what happens to you in your life after that.

This series is being run in conjunction with Richard House Children's Hospice, which is based in the Olympic borough of Newham. It caters for children with life-limiting, life-threatening and complex health-care conditions. To find out more and to vote for your favourite British Olympic moment, visit www.facebook.com/richardhousech