BJELOLASICA, Croatia (Reuters) - Sandra Perkovic, who rebuilt her life after almost dying of appendicitis in 2009, views the Olympics as a chance to complete the transformation of an athletic career tarnished by a failed doping test in 2011.
The Croat discus thrower, who turned 22 this week, has staged a stunning comeback this season after serving a six-month suspension last year.
A few months into her “new chapter”, as she calls it, she produced a personal best and the season’s second best throw of 68.24 meters at the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix.
“The London Olympics next month will have the toughest competition in discus in the last 12 years. There are a number of girls who throw beyond 65 meters and no one can say for certain ‘I am the one’,” Perkovic told Reuters in the Bjelolasica Olympic Centre, a scenic mountain resort in central Croatia.
“Just remember that 64.30 earned gold in Beijing in 2008. But I am not the one to cave under pressure. If people have expectations it means I am worth something, it is an impetus to confirm my status as a possible contender for one of the medals.”
Judging by her almost military drill in the Croatian mountains, she may not be far off.
Her daily routine consists of breakfast, throwing a heavy iron disc, rest, lunch, break, throwing, rest, weightlifting, water exercise, dinner.
Perkovic had a dream start to her professional career. In 2010 she became the youngest discus gold winner at the European Championship in Barcelona, aged only 20, with a 64.67 throw.
She then tested positive at an anti-doping control in June 2011.
Perkovic said she had inadvertently taken a new, American-made energy drink which contained methylhexamine, a banned psychostimulant, that was not declared on the label.
The Croatian Athletic Federation suspended her, saying she had not been aware of using the stimulant.
“We just thought it was the same drink I had used before,” said Perkovic. “It was a stupid mistake that should not have happened.
“However, it did happen and there is no use crying over it now. It is very much behind me now.
“Every cloud has a silver lining. The ban was difficult but I did not become depressed, I found it an even greater motive for this season,” said Perkovic.
Small wonder, for a girl who almost came back from the dead in 2009 when doctors failed to diagnose appendicitis and it burst, causing an almost fatal sepsis.
Doctors put the Croat’s survival down to her extraordinary strength and fitness.
“I think this is the best season of my career. Unless there is an injury I can produce some serious results in London,” she said.
Editing by Tony Jimenez