Faces of the future: Finland’s Amanda Kotaja

The 20-year-old Finnish wheelchair athlete is aiming to win her first world title at Doha 2015. 17 Oct 2015
Female wheelchair racer

Amanda Kotaja of Finland wins the womens 100m T54 final during day two of the IPC Athletics European Championships

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“I was stronger and faster than ever. But during this summer I was ill many times and I couldn’t train."

Doha is the stage where for 10 days starting next week, dreams will be made, and some shattered at the IPC Athletics World Championships.

For Amanda Kotaja, making her dream come true will also confirm what many in the sport are saying about her.

That the T54 racer from Finland is already the best in the world.

At the 2014 IPC Athletics European Championships in Swansea, Great Britain, Kotaja came of age, winning her first major championship title as she secured gold in the 100m T54.

Of course that victory was by no means a huge surprise - the 20-year-old, who began wheelchair racing at the age of 12, had already proved she has what it takes to succeed amongst a world class field when she twice finished runner-up behind the seemingly invincible American Tatyana McFadden at the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships.

This time however Kotaja is determined to make that place at the top of the podium her own – and whilst illness may have disrupted her training schedule in recent weeks, she is drawing upon her impressive form in the early summer months to help drive her on.

“At the beginning this summer was perfect,” explained Kotaja. “I was stronger and faster than ever. But during this summer I was ill many times and I couldn’t train.

“Now I feel better and I hope that I have enough time to recover to the same level I was before. I absolutely want the gold medal over 100m, but I have had some health problems so it will be difficult.”

There is one more factor to consider: McFadden will not be in Doha to defend her 100m title, having chosen to focus on the New York marathon.

Not that the American – or indeed any of her other track rivals - gave Kotaja any sleepless nights. The women’s T54 may be highly competitive, but this only serves as inspiration for Kotaja.

“It absolutely motivates me to train and compete better and better,” she explained. “My focus is on my own capacity. We all are at the same point at the starting line. It is challenging and they motivate me and I love it.”

That early summer form was certainly impressive - back in June Kotaja showed that her preparations for the World Championships were well on track as she smashed the 100m T54 world record in Arbon, Switzerland.

The Finn knocked 0.18 seconds off Paralympic champion Wenjun Liu’s previous mark set three years previously at the London Games, crossing the line in 15.64 – nearly a second clear of the rest of the field.

“I knew that I had been in good condition, but such a good time was still a surprise to me. The world record certainly brings me some confidence at the moment,” she added.

Kotaja also topped the 100m world rankings in 2014, having come tantalisingly close to Liu’s mark when she managed 15.94 just weeks before racing to 100m gold – and 400m silver – at the European Championships.

The Finn was the only T54 racer to go sub-16 seconds last year in the 100m; this year Kotaja and McFadden are the only two athletes to achieve that mark.

Now the Huittinen-born para-athlete has every reason to believe she has what it takes to win gold in Doha – and emulate the feats of another talented Finnish wheelchair racer, the men’s reigning Paralympic, world and European 100m T54 champion and world record holder, Leo-Pekka Tahti.

If Kotaja can be half as successful as her compatriot and hero, then her bright future is assured.

The Doha 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships will take place between 21-31 October, attracting 1,300 athletes from 100 countries.