Lucky to be alive

By John Haughey
BBC Sport

Roman Sebrle’s greeting is a warm smile and a firm handshake.

The Olympic decathlon champion confesses himself happy to be in Belfast on this bright spring day.

In fact, he’s lucky to be alive at all after being pierced by a javelin in a training accident in South Africa last month.

The weapon, thrown by top South African female Sunette Viljoen, went through the edge of the Czech athlete’s shoulder and out the other side.

He happily pulls up his shirt sleeve to reveal the evidence to BBC Sport.

“It was dangerous and I was very lucky that it didn’t destroy the muscle which would have ended my career or hit my throat or head which would have been even worse,” says the 32-year-old.

"Now it’s OK. I can do all my training without any problem or pain.

"It was my fault. I forgot that the women were throwing. Sunette, who is a good friend of mine, was very upset.

“She has a 64 metres personal best. It was only a 55-metre throw but I felt it,” he says with a laugh.

The Olympic champion travelled to Belfast to get in some handy competition at last weekend’s Irish Indoor Championships in preparation for next month’s European Indoors in Birmingham.

Sebrle, who successfully defended his European outdoor title last year, returned to Prague on Monday morning with a mere Irish shot putt silver medal to show from his three events but having made a lot of new fans with his affable demeanour.

After Birmingham, he will focus his attention on breaking his World outdoor championship duck in Osaka in September but he is already thinking about his defence of the Olympic title next year in Beijing.

“I want to be in good shape to try the World Championships after winning two silver medals before but much more important for me is the Olympic Games next year.”

Sebrle achieved a true sporting milestone when he became the first man to break the 9000-point barrier in the decathlon in 2001 but that achievement was topped by his Olympic title in Athens.

"I really wanted to win the gold medal and not finish second again as I had in Sydney.

“I was totally satisfied with my preparations before Athens and I was so happy that I won.”

In Sydney, Erki Nool’s gold medal had been tinged with controversy after he had successfully appealed against a foul in the discus which helped him take gold ahead of Sebrle.

"But I wasn’t really upset. I was still very young and just thinking about winning a medal.

“Erki was lucky. He fouled in the discus but it’s history.”

Of much more significance to Sebrle’s career has been his rivalry with his compatriot and three-time World Champion Tomas Dvorak.

The duo trained together for six years in Prague, with Dvorak’s father-in-law Zdenek Vana coaching both men, before Sebrle opted to move on after his world record season in 2001.

“When I got to the same level or maybe a little bit higher, I felt from him (Dvorak) some bad things and thought it would be better to move on. Maybe it’s normal that he felt like that but I felt really bad in the group.”

However, Sebrle acknowledges that the fracturing of his relationship with Dvorak played a big part in his achieving the world record of 9026 points in 2001.

"(The problem) It started after the Olympics in Sydney when I won a silver and Tomas didn’t win a medal.

"From that, things became more and more difficult so in Gotzis I had a big motivation to make 9000 points first and before Tomas. It helped me to make it.

“I had lived in this atmosphere for the two years before my world record of Tomas (Dvorak) wanting to make 9000 points first.”

Sebrle’s main rival today is American Bryan Clay and he is someone that the Czech star regards as a friend.

“Bryan is a really good guy. I trained in the US with him for three weeks and he invited me to spend a week at his home. He phoned me immediately after my recent accident.”

Last year, the 32-year-old spoke ambitiously of prolonging his career to the 2012 Olympics in London but while fame in his native land does ensure the opening of a few business doors with the future in mind, it does have its downside.

“If I go shopping everybody is watching me and asking for photos and looking for autographs. You cannot say no but all this makes my wife (Eva) a bit nervous.”

However, Mrs Sebrle apparently doesn’t mind being a golfing widow on occasions because the Olympic champion describes the game as “like a drug”.

“All the free time that I have, I’m going to play golf which is not good because I’m supposed to rest after training. I really love it. I’m a 12 handicap at the moment and I shoot around 80 on most courses.”

Indeed, Sebrle promises to pay a return visit to Ireland in the future to play some of the great links courses that he has heard about.

Judging by his rapport he developed with spectators, officials and journalists alike at the Odyssey Arena, he will be made most welcome on his return.