Ukraine's triple jump world champion Olha Saladuha is determined to defend her continental crown at the 2012 European Athletics Championships, which will be held in Helsinki between 27 June to 1 July.
Saladuha won at the previous edition two years ago in Barcelona, when she dominated the competition and eventually won with a leap of 14.81m, before going on to win at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, last summer.
“I'm looking forward to the European Athletics Championships. It's really important for me to defend my title in Helsinki. Very important, I will be there,” Saladuha told www.european-athletics.org, after making her 2012 debut at the European Athletics Indoor Permit Meeting in the German city of Düsseldorf last Friday.
“Barcelona was an important milestone in my career. I'd won other big events before, including the World University Games, but that was the most important victory at that stage in my career.
“My winning distance was just three centimetres short of my personal record. I showed to myself that I could be at my best in a big competition and that gave me great confidence. The European Athletics Championships are now very close to my heart.
“It's a dream for any European athlete to win at these Championships and I don't want that dream to end. I think the European Athletics Championships are very important,” she added.
Saladuha is hoping that the traditionally appreciative Finnish fans will spur her on to great feats and impressive distances in Helsinki.
She will be hoping to go over 15 metres once she gets into action - her personal best currently stands at 14.98m - and perhaps challenge the championship record of 15.15m set by Russia's Tatyana Lebedeva in 2006, a competition in which Saladuha finished fourth.
“I'm already looking forward to competing in Helsinki. It has got a reputation as one of the great athletics stadiums in the world. I didn't go to the 2005 World Championships that were held there as I was 22 and only at the start of my international career, but I heard many stories about the championship from other athletes who were there. Everyone talked about how good the crowd was. I hope it is the same for these championships.
“The other reason I want to win a gold medal in Helsinki is that the colour goes so well with the blue and gold uniform of the Ukraine national team,” joked Saladuha, who is well known among international athletes for her attention to detail including her elaborately painted fingernails.
Saladuha joins a growing list of reigning world and European champions who have said that they intend to be in Helsinki despite the start of the 2012 European Athletics Championships still being more than four months away.
Other European athletics stars expected to be in the Finnish capital include Great Britain's world and European 400m hurdles champion David Greene, French sprinter and 2010 European Athlete of the Year Christophe Lemaitre and Turkey's 2010 European Athletics Championships 10,000m gold medallist Elvan Abeylegesse.
photos Janos Schmidt