EUGENE, Ore. – As the defending champion in the javelin, Swedish national record-holder Sofi Flink is poised to join select company as two-time winners at the IAAF World Junior Championships.
Athletes must be 19 years old or younger during the calendar year to be eligible for the World Juniors and Flink’s first javelin title came as a 17-year-old in Barcelona in 2012.
The IAAF World Junior Championships, which began with the inaugural event in Athens, Greece in 1986, are held every two years. They will be hosted in the United States for the first time at Hayward Field in Eugene from July 22-27. It will be the largest IAAF-sanctioned event on U.S. soil in history, with more than 1,750 athletes from 179 countries expected to compete.
Flink is just one of four athletes that have a chance to defend their titles at the 2014 World Junior meet in Eugene.
Spain’s World Junior record-holder Ana Peleteiro is the reigning triple jump champion and ranked No. 16 all-time at 46 feet, 6 inches. Cuba’s Yorgelis Rodriguez, the defending champion in the heptathlon, is ranked No. 9 all-time on the World Junior list with her score of 6,237 points. Ashraf Amgad Elseify of Qatar is the World Junior record-holder and defending champion in the men’s hammer throw with his toss of 280-9 from Barcelona in 2012.
Flink’s accomplishments are astounding for someone her age and she is no stranger to major international competitions.
Flink finished 10th in the IAAF World Championship finals in Moscow last summer and now has her sights set on the World Junior record of 206-8/ 63.01m, which is just a little more than her personal best of 203-3/61.96m.
“Of course I’m aware of it and I certainly wouldn’t mind beating it since it is so close,” Flink said of the record. “But I try not to think of it that much so that I can stay focused on my throwing. It would be a bonus.”
World Junior record is the goal
Getting the World Junior record would be a fitting end to a stellar junior career for Flink, who burst onto the international scene in 2011 with a silver medal at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Lille, France.
“When I won that silver medal in Lille is when I knew I could do big things in the javelin,” Flink said.
Flink has seen steady improvement over the last three seasons, increasing her personal best by nearly 20 feet. Last year, Flink posted the six farthest throws by a junior. She ranks No. 5 on the all-time junior list with her 203-3 personal best.
Flink may not be a novice on the world stage, but until last week’s Diamond League meeting in New York City , she had never been to the U.S., much less competed here. She placed seventh in the javelin at 183-8.
Flink plans to go to a training camp in San Diego the week before the IAAF World Junior Championships begin on July 22. She does not know much about Hayward Field or what to expect of U.S. track fans. “I hope there is going to be a big and enthusiastic crowd there,” she said.
Flink signed a professional contract with Adidas last year and counts three coaches as keys to her success. Her father, Vesa Jamsa, is her head coach. Jamsa is a chiropractor and former member of Sweden’s national Greco-Roman wrestling team. Sofi began throwing the javelin at age 11 under her father’s tutelage. Finnish coaches Petteri Piironen and Ismo Sarlin are Sofi’s technique trainers.
“You could say that Vesa is the main coach, responsible for ‘the big picture’ in the team,” Flink said. “He is the one who is almost always with me on training and competitions. Ismo is my first technique coach who helped me set the foundation in the beginning, while Petteri is also my technique coach, but more the one who helps me with the details. I think they complement each other perfect.”
Recognizing talent at young age
Jamsa was mainly a soccer player and wrestler growing up, but found that he had some success throwing the javelin. His athletic background made it easy for him to recognize talent in Sofi.
“At a very early age, it was obvious that Sofi was very physical and talented at sports,” Jamsa said. “She did almost all the athletic events from the get-go and did really well in all of them.
“Her best event beside the javelin was running 600 meters. You could see that she had a natural throwing arm from the beginning and I realized early on that she was very talented. Since then, she has just kept on surprising me and everybody else with better and better results.”
Jamsa said the progression of adding coaches came about naturally.
“I knew Ismo from my own javelin ‘career,’” he said. “He was a very good javelin thrower himself in his youth. So, when Sofi was 11, I took her to Ismo to let him watch her throw. He was a little hesitant at first because she was so much younger than the other throwers in his group, but as soon as he watched her throw, he just smiled and made the thumbs up.
“We joined a group from Hasselby (a track and field club in Stockholm) and met Petteri in Kuortane, Finland in February, 2011. He was very impressed with Sofi and everything kind of clicked right away. Since then we have been going there many times every year on training camps. As Sofi mentioned, they complement each other perfect. They share the same philosophy when it comes to javelin throwing, but have different ways of teaching it, which has proved to fit Sofi very well.”
Jamsa also told a revealing story about Sofi’s tenacity from a young age.
“When Sofi was 10, she was pushed off a trampoline and fractured her radius on her throwing arm,” he said. “She got an appointment to remove the cast six weeks and three days after the injury, on a Monday, but she made me remove it on the Friday before, so she could compete the day after. She set a personal best.”
Flink has overcome other challenges in her rise to the top of the World Junior rankings. Ten months prior to the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships, she had a total MCL tear of her throwing elbow. The setback was painful and rehab was intense, but Flink returned better than ever.
“When it happened I was nervous of not being able to throw the javelin anymore,” Flink said. “I learned that technique and injury prevention are very important parts of training and that I have to take it seriously so I don’t get reinjured.”
Flink enjoys travelling to competitions and has found some favorite venues to compete in. “I think it is a lot of fun to travel and compete around the world,” she said. “The Olympic stadium in Stockholm and the dittos in London and Barcelona are very nice.”
Flink has also had time to enjoy activities outside of competition.
“I just think London was a very cozy city,” she said. “After the competition we went out to a nice restaurant for dinner and after that got to see a bit of London from one of those cool taxi cars. The trip to Barcelona was very special because of both the competition and everything around it was so perfect.”
She also enjoyed the Letzigrund in Zurich where the European Championships will be held three weeks after the IAAF World Junior Championships, August 12-17, the culmination of a long and grueling season for Flink.
Besides training, she is a third-year college student at Widenska Idrottsgymnasium (Sports College) studying a variety of subjects, including philosophy, psychology, Swedish, English, Spanish, math and communications.
Flink escaped the cold winters in Sweden by spending a few weeks training in South Africa this winter, after spending four weeks last year in Shanghai. “The camp in South Africa was really good,” she said. “Fantastic weather, perfect training facilities, nice people, magic scenery and good food. Last year I was in Shanghai. That was also a very interesting and fun place.”
Family support is key
Flink tapers from 10 training sessions per week during the offseason to five-to-seven sessions during competition and focuses on eating healthy. “I avoid junk food, gluten, dairy and sugar,” she said.
Flink is helped and inspired by her family’s involvement in her career.
In addition to her athletic father, both of Sofi’s brothers are athletes; Daniel plays soccer and Niklas is a Greco-Roman wrestler like his father. Her mother, Lena, works as a chiropractic assistant in her father’s office. They all follow Sofi’s career intently.
“It means a lot to me to have my family involved in my career,” she said.
Despite being very busy with training and schooling, Flink does find time to do normal teen-age activities, such as attend her prom this spring. She also enjoys “spending time with friends and family, shopping, watching movies and listening to music”, when she does get some down time.
Flink said she has not planned ahead yet for the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China or the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, but you can bet that she will be there.
“Unfortunately, javelin isn’t that big in Sweden compared to other sports,” she said. “But I am proud of it and hope that I can contribute to make it more popular. I’m going to train hard to get as far as I can get. That’s my plan, or at least as long as I think it’s fun.”