Javelin legend Jan Zelezny, 40, wins medal in dream farewell in Gothenburg

Jan Zelezny, photo: CTK

Jan Zelezny is widely believed to be the greatest athlete to have ever thrown the javelin. He holds the world record in the discipline, and has been both Olympic and World Champion three times. His long and glittering career came to an end on Wednesday night, when Zelenzy, now 40, took part in his final competition, the European Championships. Fittingly, he came away with one last medal.

Jan Zelezny,  photo: CTK
Both of Jan Zelezny's parents, Jaroslav and Jana, threw the javelin, though his first sport was handball. But handball's loss was certainly the world of athletics' gain when he switched to the javelin, in which he first made an impact on the world stage a full 19 years ago, with a bronze medal at the World Championships in Rome.

Since then this quiet and modest man from Mlada Boleslav has achieved more than any other athlete in the history of his discipline, and set standards that may never be equalled.

After a silver medal at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988, Jan Zelezny took gold at the Olympics in 1992, 1996 and 2000. His collection of gold medals also includes three from the 1993, 1995 and 2001 Athletics World Championships.

He set a new world record of 98.48 m in 1996. Since then no other athlete has come within five metres of equalling that phenomenal achievement.

But time catches up on all of us, even Jan Zelezny. He turned 40 in the middle of June but was determined - despite injury setbacks - to achieve one last success on the international stage, at the European Athletics Championships in Sweden's Gothenburg.

After just making it through the heats, Zelezny got off to a flying start in the javelin final on Wednesday with a great throw of 85.92 m. He knew that put him in with a good chance of a medal, and decided to go hell for leather with his final two attempts. Here's how Zelezny himself describes Wednesday's competition.

"I'm satisfied. I was relaxed because I knew I would put everything into the final. After my first throw went well I decided to risk it a bit - the throws either worked out or they didn't, I wasn't trying to impress the spectators. But there was a chance that at least one of my other throws would go further. So yes, I risked it a bit."

Those final throws of his career were poor, but it didn't matter - he had done enough to reach the podium. The bronze medal he won on Wednesday provided Jan Zelezny with a fairytale - and entirely fitting - end to a wonderful career. He will go down in the history books as one of the all time greats of Czech and world athletics.

Zelezny is now expected to concentrate on coaching and his work as a member of the International Olympic Committee.