© Japan Anti-Doping Agency
In 2007, I represented Slovenia in the triple jump at the 11th IAAF World Championships, held in Osaka. I placed fifth at the time. However, the samples taken back then from the two athletes, who had won medals at the event, were later reanalysed – in 2015 and 2017 – and revealed that they had violated anti-doping rules. Their results were annulled, and I moved up two places to win the bronze medal.
To be honest, I was a little bit confused when I heard the news. I was happy because I finally got the medal that I had trained so hard for. But, at the same time, I felt sad because I was not able to experience the moment of receiving the medal on the podium at the event. As you know, we athletes train many years for that moment, but I missed it. The athletes who had cheated with doping took that precious moment away from me. Receiving a medal 12 years after the fact is not the same as getting it at the actual event – the joy and happiness you feel is not as intense. I am happy to finally gain what I deserve, but I have mixed feelings.
I think my career would have been totally different if I had won a medal and stood on the podium back in 2007 as a representative of Slovenia. I think that I would have been able to train for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing feeling less tense and with more confidence. With a medal in my pocket, I would have felt less pressured to win a medal feeling more motivated in my endeavour for the Olympic Games. What’s more, I would have won even more medals in my career than I did.
When you become a medallist, you are more recognised and more sponsors come to you. You are also recognised by your country and your federation, and everything becomes different, especially financially. I did not have that kind of life as an athlete. The anti-doping rule violation committed by others took away 12 years of my life that I could have had.
Even so, I learnt from sport to be disciplined, persistent and patient, and to think positively in any situation – to accept losses, too. Sport is an anchor in my life.
© Marija Šestak
I come from a sport family. My father was a professional football player. My mother competed in athletics, even if only for a few years. I started swimming when I was seven years old. I also played tennis and began athletics. So, I was involved in three sports at the same time. I ultimately chose athletics, which is my love.
To be honest, from the first day I started swimming, I wanted to be a world champion and an Olympic medallist. I began athletics when I was 11. A year later, I marked a new “under 13” national record inthe long jump. I felt very good because I became a national record holder. Ever since, I always made an effort to stay focused on the goals that I set for myself as well as enjoy all of my training and competitions.
In that sense, the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Osaka was a really special competition for me. I had got married to a Slovenian and moved to Slovenia. It was my first international competition representing Slovenia. I had also just recovered from a major injury, and I really wanted to achieve a good result. I placed myself under a lot of pressure so that I could do everything that I could to win a medal. Fifth place is very good, but I still feel a bit of dissatisfaction. It feels like I did not finish my job there.
© Marija Šestak
Today, I work for the Slovenia Athletic Federation as a professional assistant. I am involved in international work, including competition entries and logistics such as transport, accommodations and meetings for the Slovenia national team. I was also team leader for the 2018 European Athletics Championships. So, I am staying involved in athletics, and I hope I will stay involved with athletics. Even though I am now on the other side of athletics, I am very happy to be working for the Slovenia Athletic Federation.
We work a lot with youth athletes and continually send them the message – at many domestic training camps and other opportunities – that they should not commit anti-doping rule violations. I believe that we must continue reminding all athletes that sport must be pure and true by preventing anti-doping rule violations and that we must ensure athletes remain on the right path. This must be done appropriately by all sport federations, the National Olympic Committee (NOC), National Paralympic Committee (NPC), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and so on.
It is important to involve top athletes in anti-doping activities as role models. The voice of top athletes has a strong, effective message to youth athletes. They can persuade the youth that one can become a high-level athlete, an Olympic champion, without the need for doping.
As a mother of five and two-year-old daughters, my family is the most important for me right now. I want to tell my daughters the many things I learnt through sport, like “do not give up on your dreams because anything is possible. And if you fail, just keep going to reach your goals”. I want them to know that it is important for forming them into good persons.
© Japan Anti-Doping Agency
I would like to see sport without doping in the future. Whether football, athletics, tennis, swimming or handball, we are the athletes who work hard to reach our goals. My wish is to see all sport under equal conditions. I believe that the NOC and National Federation must change circumstances to achieve this.
There are many other athletes who had the same experience as me. My friend Věra Pospíšilová-Cechlová from the Czech Republic, who competed in the discus throw at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, received the “real medal” after more than 10 years like me. She told me that she also felt confused. Receiving a medal after all these years brought back memories the shock of not having been able to bring a medal home from the Games. Those memories were much stronger than the happiness we felt of being told that we had eventually won a medal.
Those athletes whose records were annulled due to anti-doping rule violations may now be retired and have forgotten about their experiences of the time. On the other hand, the sadness I experienced from not winning a medal at the time will never go away. I still even feel anger towards them. I do not want the cases like ours to ever occur again.
We should tell youth athletes stories like mine. They are interested in hearing about the real experiences of top athletes, and I think it would be the best way to communicate to them that doping is not acceptable. If anyone taking the prohibited substances is there, they will listen and rethink, “OK, I really made a mistake” if they have a true heart.
I think sport is cleaner now. Compared to 10 years ago, you can see it is a much, much better situation now, less doping. However, even though we have made good steps forward, it is not clean enough yet. We are going in the right direction, and as far as we keep taking good steps forward, every year we will see less doping. I am really optimistic about the future.
© Japan Anti-Doping Agency
I learnt being positive and facing up problems in life through sport. No matter what happens, I always try to find the right solutions to problems and enjoy every happy moment as much as I can. I also learnt that everything is possible, so never give up on your dreams. I always remind myself of these things.
When you are in sport, you feel happiness and sadness. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I learn to stand up again after an unsuccessful competition, or after injuries. I became the person who I am today through sport. I met wonderful people and gained some really special experiences that you cannot get in regular life. So, I am really happy because I was part of that life.
What I look for in the future of sport is the “health” element. When I started to train in swimming, sport for me was for my health. I want that for the future, too. I want this essence to come back to sport. Just by changing a bit of direction, sport should be equated with health, and for that to happen, I believe that sport must be clean.
All athletes have their own goals. They work hard for their goals every day. They are true champions in their own eyes, in the eyes of their families, friends and other people who are important in their lives. My goal used to be to jump 15 metres in the triple jump at the Olympic Games. While it was not enough to win a medal, I was happy to have achieved that goal. There may only be a few people who can win a medal in a competition. But my belief is that if you achieve your own goal, then you are the true champion.
Born in Kragujevac, Republic of Serbia. Competed internationally as junior in athletics as a representative of Serbia. Married a Slovenian in 2005 and obtained Slovenian citizenship. Competed in the 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics held in Osaka, Japan, in 2007 as a representative of Slovenia and placed fifth. The two athletes who finished higher than Šestak were later discovered to have committed anti-doping rule violations, consequently moving her record up to third place. Gained the “true” silver medal at the 2008 IAAF World Indoor Championships due to an anti-doping rule violation by another athlete.
Currently working for the Slovenia Athletic Federation, where she is engaged in the development and support of youth athletes.
For 24 years of my life, from the age of five until I retired at 29, I devoted myself to a single sport – gymnastics. What I learnt and became my belief from those times can be expressed in two Chinese words, Zhuānzhù (専注) and Jiānchí (堅持).
Sport has taught me a lot. There’s a lot to be learnt from both the joy of winning and the experiences of losing. Developing our skills is not the only thing we can gain through hard training.
Through sport I learnt the importance of training, and that you can overcome adversity and challenges by having self-discipline and being strong in both body and mind.