By Paul Grech, World-Track
Twelve months ago, Nicolai Portelli was gearing up to take part in the 400m at the Beijing Olympics as Malta’s sole male athlete. It seemed like the perfect reward for an athlete who had always worked hard and done well without ever managing to make it to a major tournament.
Beijing changed all that and, it was widely assumed, Portelli could then hang up his spikes and retire while still at the top of Maltese sports.
But of course, the fact that this piece is being written about him now, shows that he’s done nothing of the sort. Indeed, he’s probably just enjoyed the finest year in his career having switched from the 400m to the shorter sprint distances of the 100m and 200m.
"Towards the end of last season we started working on different things and that led to the choice to focus on shorter distances," he said.
"On my part, I always considered the 400m as a sprint, so for me it was simply a case of doing what I did before but on a shorter distance. I have to say that my coach Vladimir Douchenkov planned the whole process brilliantly."
Whatever he did worked and he was Malta’s star performer at the Games for the Small States of Europe that were held in Cyprus earlier this year. "Without any doubt the performances in Cyprus were a success. I won three medals in just two hours setting a personal best in the 200m. The performance at the Mediterranean games is also something which I am proud of."
Those performances made him the obvious choice to represent Malta at the World Championships, something that he feels will be the pinacle of his career.
"The World Championships are the highlight of an athlete’s career. I cannot forget the Olympics, but the Worlds are the highest level of championships in the sport. To me this competition is very important, not only because they are the world championships, but also because it is another opportunity for me to get onto the track with the world’s top athletes and try to achieve a positive result. I know what my chances are, but I have my own personal goals."
"My preparation for these championships have been going well. As soon as I got to know I was chosen to represent Malta I immediately sat down with my coach to discuss the different options of preparation. We both knew it was not going to be easy after such an intensive season, however we devised a schedule which should give me the opportunity to run another good performance."
That will not be easy considering that the peak of the Maltese season is in May and June. A humid and hot summer has not made his job any easier.
"Peak maintenance is a big headache for every athlete and I think it is extremely sensitive for a sprinter," he admits. "The main competition of the season were the GSSE and that is to what all the training was aimed for. After that we worked in a different way considering that I had the European Team Championships and the Med games."
"I think we worked well and I have been consistent. With regards to the World Championships we had a six week preparation phase. I once again loaded the training with the intention of tapering in time for the championships. We will have to wait and see what the result will be, but after last years experience in the build up to the Olympic Games we knew what will be best for me under current circumstances and conditions."
As with any Maltese athlete that has ever competed at this stage, there are no dreams about winning for Portelli but simply the determination to go out there to prove his worth.
"My intention is to get to Berlin and run a good race. My philosophy is that if I run technically well a fast time will follow. I know it is going to be difficult, but my attitude is positive and I want to achieve a result which is close to what I have been doing this season."
"For a couple of minutes I will step out of the championships hype and focus on my race. I know that some of the people in the lanes next to me will be superstars, but I have to focus on myself and running well. If I achieve what I am setting out for I will end the season on a high note. If not, I am still happy with this years achievements and I will have to look ahead."
Paul Grech is a freelance sports writer who edits his own website about Maltese athletics at www.maltaathletics.com. You can also become a fan of Maltese athletics on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/posted.php?id=741186336&share_id=114782264882&ref=nf#/pages/Malta-Athletics/98703053410?ref=mf