When Ukrainian Nataliya Lupu was fifth in her semi-final at the Olympic Games in London, her summer was over. She had planned so much to make her mark and it did not turn out that way.
Today, whatever memory she has of London is now not tinged with so much frustration because of the gold medal hanging from her neck after a tremendous performance to win the 800m at these European Athletics Indoor Championships in Gteborg.
Bursting to the front on the final lap, Lupu won in 2:00.26, a season’s best, with Russian Yelena Kotulskaya second in 2:00.98 and Marina Arzamasova, of Belarus, third in 2:01.21. Jenny Meadows, the defending champion from Britain who had run once in 18 months before the Championships, was fourth in 2:01.52.
Lupu was so pleased, because the gold and the achievement came against all her expectation after she had had two tough races to reach the final, finishing second in both her heat and her semi-final.
Lupu, who won silver at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul a year ago, even told her coach that she was going to run this final in one way: her way.
She said: “Yesterday, after the semi-final, I said to my coach ‘I am sorry but tomorrow I will run last in the final and then all my hopes will be only on the last lap’.
“He said ‘ok, you make a plan, you can do what you want in the final’.”
The fact Meadows was even in the final was remarkable enough with so little race practice after injury. And she was not going to be a passenger.
The British captain led as the stagger ended and she was in front all the way to the bell.
But as the pace intensified, she was never going to be strong enough and Lupu had so much on the home straight to win.
In the space of two minutes, she dug deep to find the energy to win when this outcome might not have seemed possible as autumn became winter.
Lupu said: “I was really tired after the Olympics. I could not recover for two months – not only physically but mentally aswell.
“I found it difficult to train throughout the winter. It was hard, and I did not expect, not only to win a medal, to even go to the final. I did not expect anything from the winter season.
“I expected something from the summer and I did not achieve it. I do not know why. Maybe it is because of health problems.”
Whatever the reason, she now has her first major title behind her, a foundation she can take into the summer’s World Championships in Moscow, where Kotulskaya will be waiting.
She said: “From the beginning, I wanted the gold but silver is ok for me. I hope I can take revenge in Moscow.”
Arzamasova said: “I won a medal, so I am happy. Maybe I will realise I made mistakes later on.”
And as for Meadows, she was accepting of how little work she has been able to do.
“It’s a difficult situation – I’ve only been running for 12 weeks,” said Meadows, speaking to the BBC. “I said in my team captain’s speech not to leave any energy on the track.
“It is really a lack of preparation which cost me.”
So many strands of stories from a race where Nataliya Lupu proved that no matter how low you can be, in an instant your career can turn itself around.
Photo: Getty Images