domingo, 26 de febrero de 2012

Ilke Wyludda now Aims for a Gold Medal at the Paralympic Games

Ilke Wyludda, the day she became Olympic champion
Photo: DPA
                 London Olympic Games are just around the corner and every athlete is training hard to rise to the occasion. Usain Bolt would like to run the 200m under 19sec so his legend can continue growing and similar thoughts has Yelena Isinbayeva, who is happily back to her best with a new world record. On the other hand, Haile Gebrselassie, 20 years after his international breakthrough, suffered another setback in Tokyo on his aspirations to compete in his 5th Olympic Games but still do not throw the towel. In the female discus throw event, after some lacklustre years, there is a new generation helping to reinvigorate the discipline. Yanfeng Li will try to follow up her victory at Daegu Worlds with the Olympic title but Yarelis Barrios and young stars Sandra Perkovic and Nadine Muller are up for an upset, hoping to get the first 70-meter throw of this century. The latter has won in consistency in the last two years and thus targets to become the next number one athlete in the discipline coming from Germany, the discus throw powerhouse by excellence. No less than 6 women belonging to that country rank into the all-time top-10, which is entirely made up of performances from that controversial 1980s decade: Gabriele Reinsch, Ilke Wyludda, Diana Sachse-Gansky, Irina Meszynski, Gisela Beyer and Martina Opitz-Hellmann. A member of this illustrious club, Wyludda, was also the last German Olympic champion at the discus back in 1996. Now 42, she expects to compete at her 4th Olympiad but in very different circumstances to Bolt, Isinbayeva, Gebrselassie, Muller and her own previous appearances, after having her right leg amputated one year ago. 
                The Leipzig-born Wyludda was one of the most prodigious talents to ever step on an athletic throwing circle. She still owns the thirteen best junior performances at the discus, including a huge 74.40m from September 1988, which is, besides the existing world junior record, the fifth overall mark in the history of the event. She threw more than seven metres longer than any other junior athlete has ever done. Accordingly, Ilke was twice a World junior champion at her pet event and excelled also at the shot put, reaching 20.23, which ranks her only behind Astrid Kumbernuss and Heidi Krieger at the junior tables but ahead someone as 1980 Olympic champion Ilona Brisenick-Slupianek. Ilke was already representing the East German team, being 18, at the 1987 World Championships in Rome, where she finished just out of the medals. However, she was not named for Seoul Olympics with such competition inside of her own country. The more experienced Martina Hellmann, Diana Gansky and record holder Gabriele Reinsch made the trip to Korea. Martina, who once threw the implement beyond 78 metres in an unsanctioned meet, was back then the dominating force in the discipline. She clinched the gold medal at the Olympic Games, in the same way she had won it at Helsinki and Rome World Championships.
              Wyludda was biding her time, which would come in the following decade. The hopeful German never improved on her massive 74.56 from 1989 in Neubrandenburg but gained in consistency, thus winning her first international senior title at the 1990 European championships in Split. (1) She recorded 41 successive victories between 1989 and 1991 but surprisingly her streak came to an end at the world championships, where she was beaten by Bulgarian Tsvetanka Khristova. For the first time injuries would hinder her progression the following season so she had an unfortunate Olympic debut. Wyludda would need up to 15 times knee surgery but always had the willpower to continue on her athletic career. Even more than once she was on a wheelchair for months to come back stronger than ever. In 1994 she defended her European and World Cup titles and the next year she won again silver at the World Championships in Goteborg, behind Belarusian Ellina Zvereva. Then came her sensational victory at Atlanta Olympics, where she threw the implement to a masive 69.66 to get the better of Natalya Sadova and Zvereva. In successive years she would struggle with recurring injuries and eventually gave it up, after the impossibility of regaining her past fitness. In such technical discipline as the discus is, age is a bonus. Ilke Wyludda could still be competing by now. Actually some of her long time rivals as Zvereva, Dietzsch and Yatchenko only retired recently and Nicoleta Grasu, just two years younger, won the bronze medal at 2009 Berlin Worlds; but reality is sometimes tougher than you want to.      

Ilke Wyludda, training for the 2012 Paralympic Games
In December 2010 Ilke Wyludda was again in hospital but this time there were further complications. Her knee was infected by septicaemia and she had to choose between keeping either her leg or her life. After the amputation that miraculous back to fitness she had achieved so many times in the past was impossible. Yet Ilke did not fall in self-compassion and had the will of going on, in spite of the tragedy. “However much you cry you are not going to get your limb back. You cannot stand in the past but keep living with new aims, because life is a gift.” (2) Ilke studied medicine, with a doctoral thesis in pain therapy and now she is working as an anaesthetist at Bergmannstrot Hospital in Halle, the same place where she had her leg amputated. Being helpful to other people suffering the same kind of sad experiences, Ilke can find a motivation from now on. Her new situation brought her also to embrace track and field anew. The Olympic champion in Atlanta is a true fighter and she learned to be it through the practice of sport. (3) Now to be back in training contributes to maintain physical shape and also allows her to fight for a new dream: to grab another title at the Olympic Games, this time at the Paralympics category. Only Hungarian fencer Pal Szerkeres has won medals at both Olympics and Paralympics and Wyludda could become the first athlete in winning gold in both categories. (4)    
Ilke walks now with the help of prosthesis; her apartment and also her car had to be redesigned to fit the new needs of her daily life. She wakes up at 4:30 to reach hospital at 7:00, where she works full time. Then she trains five times a week. Gerhard Boettcher, who was her coach for 20 years has come back to guide her again, in spite he is now a pensioner. Wyludda states it is a new situation but she is already training at 80% of volume, compared to her past workouts. Last December, without any previous training she made her Paralympian debut in a competition in Dubai. She shot putted 6.20 and landed the discus to 20.69m. Not much to cheer about but she expects to improve to 9m and 30m respectively by the time of the Olympics. If she qualifies she will be competing there at the shot put (F 58 category), because the discus is not included in the program. Now she will not be targeting world records, becoming the best athlete in the world, yet her competition will be for life itself. Whatever she achieves in London, Ilke Wyludda is an inspiration for everybody about how to keep struggling for new dreams in life, despite fatality has struck you in the most dramatic way. 

Abebe Bikila was also an Olympic champion who had to endure the experience of
 a physical disability, after his dramatic car accident