From Newmarket to the Olympics: Retired Sayers looks back on her career
When a sporting star decides to retire, it is supposed to provide some closure. One chapters finishes, allowing another to begin — the two should never bleed into one another.
But, for Newmarket’s Goldie Sayers, the situation is not so black and white.
After seven operations in the last eight years, few would have been surprised when the news broke last Wednesday that the 11-time British javelin champion had opted to call it a day.
Aged 34, Sayers has stepped aside as not only a multiple national title-holder, but also a British record holder and a three-time Olympian — achievements she could only dream of when growing up in Woodditton Road.
And yet, she remains ‘left in limbo’ as the legal process surrounding her bronze medal from the 2008 Olympic Games in China continues to frustratingly drag its heels.
In setting a new British record of 65.75m, Sayers initially finished fourth in the Bird’s Nest Arena in Beijing, though she almost instantly suspected foul play.
Those doubts were ratified 12 months ago when retesting of anti-doping samples uncovered a violation for Russia’s Mariya Abakumova, the silver medallist.
Sayers was informed of her elevation on to the podium while driving down the M11 to meet her mother Liz — a former Newmarket Journal editor — for coffee at the town’s Waitrose store.
But that delight has since given way to anger, with Abakumova appealing the decision and the reallocation of medals still yet to happen.
Even so, when Sayers reflects on her distinguished career, pride remains the dominant emotion — she will not allow drug cheats to taint her achievements.
“I retire with a deep sense of gratitude for some absolutely amazing experiences,” said Sayers.
“I was happy when I first found out about the Olympic medal, but I have had a year to think about it and I am more angry about it now.
“It is a stolen moment that I am sure would be the highlight of my life and would have potentially changed the course of my career.
“It is wasted energy in many ways, even though I am angry and frustrated. I do not want to be someone looking back on 2008 for the rest of my life.
“I can look back on that performance with a great sense of pride because I did break the British record in the Olympic final and at any subsequent Olympics that would have been a silver medal, not a bronze, in tough conditions as well.
“I am very proud of what I achieved in my career. There are obviously some ‘what-ifs’ and ‘if-onlys’, but that would be the same for most athletes.
“It would be nice to celebrate in a few months’ time with friends, family and everyone that has been involved in that Olympic medal.
“I am left in limbo a little bit, but I have retired so my daily life is different to being a professional athlete. Saying it out loud — ‘I have retired’ — draws a line under it.”
It was more than 5,000 miles away from Beijing in Newmarket, where Sayers first discovered her deep passion for throwing the spear.
A once National Schools table tennis champion, it was during the school Easter holidays that a 13-year-old Sayers was first given a javelin by a teacher at King’s Ely to take home for practice.
Already adept when it came to throwing, Sayers soon found she was clearing the back garden fence that surrounded her Woodditton Road home with ease.
And unbeknown to the teenager, it was a developing skill that could quite easily have had disastrous consequences as two sporting worlds collided.
“I was good at all sports, but throwing things especially,” added the former Fairstead House pupil, who will be Team GB’s deputy chef de mission at the 2017 European Youth Olympic Festival.
“I used to get balls stuck up trees in the playground by throwing them too far which annoyed the teachers!
“I had a long slightly narrow garden and would throw the javelin over the top of the fence.
“I jumped over the hedge into what I thought was a field of neighbourhood ponies and it was not until later I learned it was actually an equine facility unit and they were million pound racehorses!
“Luckily I did not hit any of them and nobody spotted me.
“I used to wait until the light faded a bit in case I needed to jump over and get the javelin back.
“Getting better at things I am passionate about is something I have always been determined to do and that mindset definitely started in Newmarket.”