Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Head for Heights


The past couple of seasons have been lucrative times for Britain’s top female pole-vaulter as Kate Dennison; the vaulting queen of British athletics, has been breaking the British record for fun and now the former gymnast is on the hunt for her tenth national record in the global indoor championships next month, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 25-year-old Sale Harrier warmed up for the March 12th-14th event in Doha, Qatar with a brilliant 4.60m vault in the Aviva international Birmingham Grand Prix last weekend to capture British record number nine.

“It was great to push the bar that bit higher again in Birmingham,” Dennison explained.

“It has been an interesting indoor season - setting a national record early on in the season (with 4.57 in January) has meant that at every competition I have been attempting 4.58 or higher. It was quite a relief to get it last weekend.”

Evidently with a head for heights, Dennison continued: “It’s been a solid winter’s training which has helped in my preparations for the indoors and I am feeling in great shape and really looking to peak at the World Championships in Qatar.”

Cashing in

Still a developing discipline for women at home and abroad, the South African-born athlete has found her gradual progression in the event can bring profitable benefits in the two-years since breaking into top-international class.

With a $5,000 prize tag for each British best, the Steve Rippon-coached vaulter has been able to buy a new flat for her and partner, 2008 Olympic 400m sixth-placer, Martyn Rooney and literally cash in on her impressive form.

In addition to the occasional holiday, Dennison admitted where some of her appearance and prize-money goes: “I love new clothes so when I get chance, I get out and spend some money shopping like every girl loves to.”

Useful distractions

With a busy training schedule of vaulting, weights and plyometrics, Dennison has the useful distraction of her beau at home and who also trains at the same venue.

“It’s great to have someone who has the same goals as you and understands the commitment that it takes,” Dennison revealed. “Away from training, we love the cinema, poker nights, and just relaxing too.”

Competing around the globe gives Dennison the chance to indulge in her other passion; photography: “Travelling is definitely one of the perks to the job. The places I have seen, the people I have met it is also a great opportunity to get some great photos. I have been lucky enough to travel the world and snap some of the most amazing places in the world.”

Support network

With Dennison fast becoming one of the faces of London 2012, she has attracted the support of a top sponsor and sports PR agency:

“I have a fantastic support team behind me from the coaches and medical staff to my agents and PR advisers,” Dennison explained. “I have just signed a new deal with Nike – I am so excited. It’s been a childhood dream to be sponsored by them and I am delighted to be a part of their athlete stable.

Macesport have been great, and really taken the pressure off helping me to schedule things so it’s not so stressful and the pole-vault community it pretty tight so generally we all get on. There is a lot of respect within the group but obviously I am aiming to beat the rest of the girls.”

Sport swop

Based at the Centre of Excellence in Loughborough, Dennison has come a long way since swopping sports to take up the event in 2000. Fourth in the under-12 Nationals but frustrated with her stagnating progress in gymnastics, Dennison found the transition to pole-vaulting easy.

On the sport swop, Dennison – who uses sport psychologists to remain focused in the dangerous event explained: “I think gymnastics really helps with special-awareness in the air and instils a strong discipline from an early age. I suppose that having never competed internationally as a gymnast, I thought I had reached a plateau and so I thought it was time for a change.

Gymnastics and pole-vaulting have some similar core skills and it was a sport that really excited me.”

With a mother who had swum for Zambia and a brother of international-class in her former sport, Dennison had talented sporting genetics to aid the switch and unsurprisingly, she won national age-group titles from the offset for the first four-years of her athletic career.

British junior record

In 2002, Dennison progressed to become the first British junior to vault four-metres at the World Junior Championships in Jamaica and took her first national senior title four years later.

The Staffordshire University psychology graduate turned full-time in 2006, where she placed seventh in the Commonwealth Games and improved to replicate the same position – with 4.40m – in her heat of the 2008 Olympics in the Bird’s Nest in Beijing– her favourite stadium to compete in.

“I had had a problematic 2008 with injuries and illness,” Dennison revealed. “Getting to Beijing was in the balance and I realised I had to make the most of every opportunity. Thankfully, the medical team did a wonderful job and I made it to the Olympics for an amazing experience. It will be invaluable come 2012.”

Bouncing back from surgery

Dennison then underwent surgery on both Achilles after the 2008 Games but bounced back with a record-breaking 4.45m in the 2009 UK indoor Championships before moving on to place sixth in the European indoors.

Despite the injury-plagued autumn and winter, summer 2009 was to be Dennison’s breakthrough season, as she vaulted 4.51m and 4.55m on the European circuit ahead of 4.57m for the UK outdoor title.

Brilliance in Berlin

Eager to capitalise on her refreshed form, Dennison finished a brilliant sixth in the World outdoor Championships in Berlin; a huge improvement from finishing thirteenth in her heat at the 2007 event in Osaka and a sign of even better things to come.

Dennison; who names her first national record as her proudest achievement, gave her thoughts on her breakthrough year: “2009 was definitely my breakthrough season. I felt fresh and energised and had a brilliant year. 2010 has started off in the same way and it is all about building on that now.

“Making the World Championship final in Berlin was a big step and to finish 6th was amazing – the aim now is to consistently make world finals and move closer to the medals.”

4.60m was reached shortly after the championships; marking her ninth British record in the past eight months and after a short break and holiday, Dennison returned to the run-way in 2010 with great confidence.

Four British bests in 2010

With the 4.60m mark already reached in Birmingham; equally her outdoor best, Dennison is already jumping 20cm higher this indoor season than last and has broken her British best no more than four times in the past two-months alone.

Collecting her fifth-successive national indoor title with a 19cm winning-margin, Dennison has now set her sights on an event in Paris before the main goal of more achievements in Doha.

After the World indoors and a short break, Dennison will focus on improving on her eighth-place in qualifying at the last European outdoor Championships in 2006 in this July’s event (in Barcelona) as-well as possibly targeting a medal in the Commonwealths Games (in New Delhi in October).

Evidently on a steep progression curve and loving every minute, here’s betting a psychic would foresee more records, prize money and maybe even medals for the British woman this year and in the countdown to London 2012.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Saucony English National cross-country Championships PREVIEW – Saturday 27th February, Roundhay Park, Leeds


Ahead of the forthcoming Saucony English National cross-country Championships, Nicola Bamford previews the top contenders to look out for at the Leeds event...

Senior men

As previously feature on the ECCA website, Stockport’s Steve Vernon starts as a hot favourite to capture the senior men’s 12km title. The 29-year-old has made a fine competitive comeback after a five-month hiatus with third place in the BUPA Great Edinburgh international 4km last month and recently took his third Northern cross-country crown. Vernon will be looking to go one better than his second-place finish in 2009 behind Frank Tickner – who has been off the racing circuit for the past ten months.

He will be hard-pushed by Aldershot, Farnham and District’s Andy Vernon for the title of England’s fastest mudlark, though. The 24-year-old recently took the UK indoor 3,000m in Sheffield and British University cross title in Stirling and will be hoping to improve on his bronze medal-winning display from last year.

Others expected to figure prominently are Blackheath and Bromley’s Mike Skinner (30); eighth in the BUPA Great Edinburgh international 9km and 4th behind Vernon in Sheffield and Leigh Harrier, Pete Riley (30); the training partner of Steve Vernon and another on a successful comeback trail.

Neilson Hall, Scott Overall, Jon Pepper, James Walsh, Andi Jones and Ricky Stevenson could also feature.

Senior women

European cross-country Champion, Hayley Yelling-Higham makes her return to the English National after a five-year absence and starts as the favourite. The 36-year-old Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow runner was fourth in a classy Edinburgh 6km field and fifth in the Antrim leg of the McCain UK Cross Challenge last month and is eager to add to her 2003 and 2005 victories over the 8km course.
Three-time European junior cross-country Champion and Olympic 1500m runner, Steph Twell has been running sublimely of late; with the 20-year-old AFD athlete placing fifth just behind Yelling in Edinburgh and recently taking her second British Universities title.

Featured on the ECCA website, European under23 cross-country bronze-medallist, Jess Sparke (22, Woodford Green with Essex Ladies) and Hallamshire Harrier’s reigning champion and current Northern Champion, Hatti Dean (28) should also feature highly.

Others to watch include Lauren Deadman, Faye Fullerton, Katrina Wootton, Jo Wilkinson, Felicity Milton and Claire Hallissey.

Junior men

European under-20 cross-country silver and bronze-medallists, Nick Goolab and James Wilkinson go head to head over 10km in the junior men’s event. Belgrave’s 20-year-old Goolab; the 2009 winner and second behind senior, Andy Vernon in the British University Championships recently faces the equally in-form Wilkinson from Leeds AC (19), who was eighth in the same race after taking the Northern crown.

Additional athletes to watch include Jonny Hay, Ronnie Sparke, David Forrester, Jonathan Brownlee, Ross Murray.

Junior women

Despite not racing since taking the Gateshead leg of the McCain UK Cross Challenge last November, AFD’s European junior 5,000m runner-up, Charlotte Purdue will be hard-pressed to beat is she toes the line. The 18-year-old was fourteenth in the last World cross-country Championships and will be keen to win after missing the 2009 event.

Also contesting the 6km route will be European under-20 cross-country bronze-medallist, Kate Avery (18, Shildon AC) and England-international, Hannah Bateson (18, Lancaster and Morecambe).
Lily Partridge, Jo Harvey and Natalie Grant also expect to place highly.

Under-17 men

Southern Champion, Richard Goodman should be the man to beat over the 6km route. The 16-year-old Shaftesbury Barnet Harrier capitalised on his magnificent European trials under-20 win and fifth-place in the continental Championships at the end of last year with victory in the Cardiff leg of the McCain UK Cross Challenge and South of England Champs last month.

His closest competitors should come in the shape of Thomas Curr (17, Stroud and District AC); the Midland cross winner, Sam Atkin (16, Lincoln Wellington AC); the Northern victor and Ben Connor (17, Derby AC) 2nd in the Northern cross.

Under-17 women

Emelia Gorecka (16, AFD) is in imperative form to retain her under-17 women’s title. If the Southern cross and World schools’ 3000m Champion succeeds over the 5km course, then Gorecka will have clocked up her third-consecutive National win.

Most likely to join her in the leading pack are her team-mate, Georgia Peel; runner-up in the Southern’s and Melissa Hawtin and Georgia Taylor-Brown.

Under-15 boys

St Albans AC’s 15-year-old James McMurray; the Southern Champion faces the Northern and Midland Champions, respectively in Nick Jones (15, Wirral AC) and Harvey Brown (15, Halesowen AC) in the under-15 boys’ 4.5km contest.
Under-15 girls
15-year-old Jessica Judd (Chelmsford AC) will be hoping to improve on last year’s third place by winning the 4km event, following her Southern victory.

Northern and Midland Champions, Katy Wood (14, City of York AC) and Sophie Coldwell (15, Charnwood AC) provide the opposition.

Under-13 boys

Middlesbrough AC’s Ben Spencer; fresh from his Northern cross victory starts as one of the favourites in the 3km event, with Isle of Wight’s Tom Newnham (13) hoping to replicate the form that took him to Southern victory.

Others set to feature include Dominic Bill (Halesowen AC), James Hatton (13, Charnwood AC) and Jack Crabtree (13, East Cheshire).

Under-13 girls

Soon to be featured on the ECCA website, Charnwood AC’s Hannah Nuttall heads into the 3km event full of potential, following her Midland victory in only her fifth competitive race.
Northern winner, Bethany Donnelly (12, East Cheshire AC) and Becca Croft (12, WSEH); the Southern victor also compete.




Dwain Chambers and Jenny Meadows lived up to the red-hot favourite tags by producing stunning victories ahead of their search for global glory in Doha next month.

There were plenty of celebratory kisses on Valentine’s Day weekend in the Sheffield English Institute of Sport as the UK indoor trials witnessed some fine performances from athletes seeking places on Team GB for the IAAF World indoor Championships in Doha, Qatar on March 12th-14th.

Scintillating world-lead for Chambers

Dwain Chambers asserted himself as the hot contender for global glory in Doha, as the 31-year-old Belgrave Harrier scorched to a world-leading 6.50 in the 60m final.

Starting as pre-race favourite following his 6.57 victory in the recent Birmingham Games, Chambers added a third-consecutive indoor national title to his athletic resume in scintillating fashion.

Warming up with a 6.64 heat and 6.58 semi, the six-time champion and European indoor 60m title-holder defeated former world junior champion, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and former European indoor silver-medallist, Craig Pickering into second (6.55) and third (6.66) spot, respectively.

Mark Lewis-Francis continued his eye-catching return to form since Achilles surgery with 6.67 for fourth.

In the form of his life despite limited racing opportunities due to his past drugs suspension, Chambers said:

“I don’t know what to say. I’m just glad to be competing again. I really had to run because I had these young boys on my tail. I must be getting better with age, you know. It was good because the pressure was on, not just to win but to run well. Knowing I had these guys behind me – you know Harry and Mark making a fantastic return. It’s going to be a good season for us.

Joint second in the 2008 world indoors and eager to go one better in next months’ championships, Chambers added:

“I’m confident this is just the start and I’m not going to start celebrating till I’ve got that ticket to Doha. When I know I’m definitely going then I can start thinking about winning it.”

Indeed, with British sprinting arguably never looking healthier, we could very well see two members of Team GB on the medal podium in Doha.

Capitalising on his sparkling recent form, an equally-elated Harry A-A revealed his thoughts on his new personal best:

“I feel awesome. This is what you want. I just latched onto Dwain. I’ve been training really hard. We sprinters have got to move up. I’m so happy, my last few indoor seasons have been good but they’ve not been quite there. This time I just put the race together.

The 21-year-old Sutton and District sprinter continued:

“I ran an amazing semi-final. I didn’t know how I was going to get from 6.70 to 6.55. I just knew that things have been going really well. Finally it’s nice to be back in the mix again.”

Pickering (23, of Marshall Milton Keynes AC) was evidently disappointed to further lose his grip on the British indoor number one mantle in recent years:

“Obviously, I am disappointed that Harry ran so quick as one of my competitors, but fair play to him. I would have liked to have run a bit quicker. I was never working towards Doha, but I would have liked to have been in a position to have said, ‘No, I don’t want to go.’ But at the end of the day I think it’s been worthwhile running indoors. And now I’ve got some things to improve for outdoors. It’s good to have people running quickly because you know you’ve got to pull out your best performance; it’s positive for the sport.”

100m title no.6 and 200m title no.2 for Maduaka

Experience triumphed over fresh talent as 36-year-old Joice Maduaka continued her renaissance by claiming her sixth national indoor 60m crown over new Team GB member, Bernice Wilson in a season’s best of 7.29 to Wilson’s 7.39.

Fresh from her fastest short sprint in three years (7.32 in late January), the Woodford Green with Essex Ladies sprinter progressed through the rounds with 7.43 and 7.35 to produce a strong display in the final ahead of the 25-year-old Birchfield Harrier. City of Plymouth’s 30-year-old Katherine Endacott took the same time as Wilson for a close third.

Now with the world indoor qualifying time under her belt, Maduaka said of the race that earned her the Aviva ‘performance of day one’reward:

“That’s good! One last thing to worry about. I can’t complain with that. I am happy because I am coming back from Moscow flu and hit rock bottom last week but I’m on the way up now.”
The 2008 200m champion returned to the track on day-two to take the 200m title to register the fastest time of the season with 23.48, ahead of Endacott (23.57).

Maduaka explained: “Training’s going well; I’m just having fun, remembering why I decided to take up this sport. I’ve been running round on a search for a coach, I knew what I was looking for and I found him. I’m learning; to be in the sport for so long and still be learning is great.

“I’ll go to the world indoors and then go from there. I don’t want anything this time round so I can’t disappoint myself, whatever comes I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Rutherford ruins Tomlinson’s lucky no.7 bid

UK outdoor record-holder, Greg Rutherford spoiled the party as he took long-jump victory over the indoor national record-holder and rival, Chris Tomlinson.

The 23-year-old Marshall Milton Keynes athlete took his first senior national indoor title, following a great summer in which he placed fifth in the world outdoor championships.
Jumping a best of 7.94m to Tomlinson’s best of 7.75m, Rutherford said:

“I’m pleased with the win but I just got a little bit tired in the last rounds. I wanted to get over eight (metres) but it just didn’t happen today. The indoors was to kind of see where we were, I’m pretty behind on training but I’ve had a solid block recently which is good.”

Rutherford continued: “I might compete next week; I’ll sit down with my coach and see. Things are going in the right direction; the partnership with Dan (Pfaff) is fantastic. It’s great to have him at the side of the track.”

Newham, Essex and Beagles’ 28-year-old Tomlinson could not replicate his recent UK-leading 7.99m and revealed his dismay:

“I wanted to come here and do well but I’m disappointed. I’m not sure about Doha. I said last year that I only wanted to go to Champs if I could jump well and medal.”

Business as usual for Meadows

World 800m bronze-medallist Jenny Meadows showed the type of form which could see her medal in Doha in an impressive front-running display in the women’s 800m final.

Collecting her third-successive indoor national crown with consummate ease, the Wigan and District 28-year-old followed up her recent Glasgow International win and second-place 2:00.71 run in Russia with a fine gun-to-tape determined piece of running to clock 2:00.91; a new stadium record.

Evidently rounding into global gold-winning shape, Meadows – now a six-time winner of the event - said:

“It would have been nice to go under two-minutes but I know that I am in good shape and am in 1.59 shape. Glasgow, two weeks ago was about getting the rustiness out. Moscow last week, was better but I do think that I can hopefully run a 1.58 in Doha.”

Liverpool’s Vicky Griffiths showed a strong turn of speed on the final circuit to finish a clear second in a season’s best of 2:02.94. The 25-year-old is also under the Doha qualifier of 2:04 and should produce a fine performance on her senior international debut if selected.

Tough battle between Oni and Parsons

With Olympic finalist Martyn Bernard missing from the event – and making an unexpected 49.83 appearance for fifth in his 400m heat – the run-way was clear for a two-way challenge.

Samson Oni got the better of Olympic finalist, Tom Parsons in a thrilling high-jump battle, as both athletes took three attempts at 2.28m but ultimately, the 28-year-old Belgrave Harrier took the victory on count-back with 2.25m.

Oni had a first-time clearance of the height with Parson’s clearance coming on attempt three – albeit an indoor PB for the 25-year-old Birchfield Harrier, in a competition constantly interrupted by the hurdles and pole-vault proceedings.

Oni, sixth in last year’s trials and currently leading the UK rankings with 2.28m said:“I was having all sorts of problems today. I came here very tired because of the long drive up from London and then we were having all sorts of problems with the bed. So I wasn’t feeling my best and would definitely have liked to jump higher. But in the end it was most important to win today. I’ve got the qualifier already so that was the most important thing.

“The height was slightly disappointing. But I won the competition and I’m happy about that.”


Fresh from a morale-boosting victory at the Glasgow International, Enfield and Haringey’s 24-year-old Leon Baptiste continued his eye-catching winter form by blistering to a PB and European-leading 20.90 in the 200m final.

Baptiste said: “That was good, I’m really pleased. I would have liked to have gone quicker. I was in lane six and there was no one in lane five so I felt like I was running the race by myself.

“Last year I was disappointed, hopefully going into this season I can perform and make the European Championships, that’s the main thing for me; to come top two at the trials. To try and medal at the Europeans is the aim. I was having a look at the world rankings and I think that race will have put me up there- I’ll take that! Outdoors is obviously the main aim, we need to do the business.”

City of York’s Richard Buck composed himself well after being barged by Bedford’s Nigel Levine to capture his third 400m title. The 23-year-old European indoor 5th-placer from last year was struck as Bedford’s Levine (20) cut in sharply just after the bell but sprinted home in determined fashion to clock 47.54 with Levine registering 47.73. Buck is still yet to find the 47.00 Doha qualifier this season.

A frustrated Buck said: “That was messy and far from my best. I thought I had the break but Levine was like a rocket, he came out from nowhere – he was trying to get the inside line and I didn’t want to give it up. He wasn’t going to bail on it and neither was I, so we had to have a bit of a scrap in there.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better result, slightly disappointed with the time but I’m sure that’s down to what happened in the race and I hope to get better in Birmingham.”

Kim Wall (26, Basildon AC) took advantage of Vicky Barr’s withdrawal from the 400m final, to run the fastest time of the season ahead of Wigan and District’s 21-year-old former European junior 200m champion, Hayley Jones. The 2005 champion ran 53.07 to Jones’ 53.85.

Wall said: “I’m glad to get my national title back but I hadn’t really aimed for the indoor season. It wasn’t my personal best and I’m a bit gutted about that, but it was still close.

“I’ve got a new coach so will definitely be touching base with him to see what my next step will be.”
Harrow AC’s Andrew Osagie showed tactic nuance beyond his twenty-one years by tracking former champion, Ed Aston (21, Cambridge) and Paul Bradshaw (22, Blackburn) until blasting away in the final 50m of the 800m final. Osagie’s winning time of 1:50.21 was followed by Bradshaw’s PB of 1:50.55 and Aston’s 1:50.58 in third.

25-year-old Colin McCourt battled with Belgrave’s Tim Bayley (28) in a final 400m burn-up in a frustratingly slow 1500m final to win in 4:04.83; the slowest time in the history of the championships.

Fresh from a plethora of domestic and international victories on the cross-country circuit, Aldershot, Farnham and District’s Andy Vernon took a mainly pedestrian 3,000m race up to another gear with a final 150m devastating kick to breeze past long-time leader, Tom Lancashire.

The 24-year-old bided his time whilst Bolton’s 24-year-old Lancashire took charge of the field after the 1,000m mark to claim his first national indoor title in 8:00.70 from Lancashire’s 8:04.07.

Vernon said: “With about six laps to go, I put a bit of a boot in but when he (Lancashire) came past me I thought, ‘Oh no, I’ve gone too early.’ But I managed to refocus and go after him. With about two laps to go I thought, ‘He’s not pushing it on any more. I can reel him back in.’ So I’m happy I did that.

“I said before I came here that I’d be happy with anything close to eight minutes – like 7-something to 8:03 – I’m pretty pleased with the time. The qualifying mark is not something I am concentrating on. If I get it, then that’s a bonus. I’ll be running in Birmingham next week now - I expect that race will go out a little quicker than this one! We’ll see what happens.”

GB 3,000m and steeplechase representative, Helen Clitheroe went back to her track roots by claiming gold in the 1500m. In a gun-to-tape victory, the 36-year-old Preston Harrier pulled clear of Ireland’s Rose-Anne Galligan (22) in the final circuit for a comfortable 4:13.90 win.

Clitheroe revealed: “It’s actually a lot of pressure coming to events like this knowing you’ve got the best time. It’s quite hard to go to the front to run hard and win. I wanted to try and run a decent pace and hope to pull some of the others to a good time. It’s great to come here and win though.

“I raced three times the week before last and this week I had to train really hard so it was a little bit of a risk coming into this. But I got a decent race out of it and now just have to hope the selectors like what they saw.

“I’ve done everything I can do – I got the qualifying time and won the trials, so I hope I’m picked. Then I’ll need to get a little nippier before I go to Doha.”

Gloucester’s Gemma Turtle captured the women’s 3,000m title. The 23-year-old, who has already run 8:56.14 this season in addition to 32:52 for 10km on the roads, stormed to a 9:02.81 victory over Stroud’s 20-year-old Emily Pidgeon (9:04.11).

In the absence of World fourth-placer, Will Sharman and British outdoor champion Andy Turner, European under23 110m hurdles bronze-medallist Callum Priestley added the British indoor 60m hurdles title to his resume with a 7.69 gun-to-tape run on his 21st birthday. The Woodford Green with Essex Ladies athlete beat Gianni Frankis; the man who beat him to the Euro silver medal, into second (7.76).

Priestley said: “I’m really pleased with that. I wanted to come and take the title and I was close to the (World indoor) qualifying standard. I hit a couple of hurdles as well so I know there’s more to come. I was only a hundredth off my PB today as well so I’m really happy I won the race.”

Gemma Bennett retained her 60m hurdles title in a season’s best of 8.20. The 26-year-old Shaftesbury Barnett Harrier finished shortly behind Irish international Derval O’Rourke.

Vicki Hubbard improved on her 2009 third place to win the high jump in 1m87. The 20-year-old Grantham athlete passed on her PB height of 1m89 to attempt 1m92 on three close occasions.

Hubbard revealed: “I really wanted that 92 [1.92m], but this indoor season has gone so well so far so I can’t really complain. I’m just coming back from two years of injuries so I’m happy with the win. I’m not going off my full run-up at the moment but I jumped a PB off that so I’m sticking to it for the rest of the indoors.”

World 7th-placer and reigning champion, Steve Lewis predictably took the men’s pole-vault final in 5.56m. The 23-year-old Newham, Essex and Beagles jumper does however, need to find another gear to feature in Doha.

Kate Dennison suffered a blip in her national-record-breaking filled season, as the 25-year-old Sale Harrier could only clear 4.40m in the pole-vault. Taking her fifth-consecutive title, Dennison took three attempts but could not improve on her national record of 4.57m.

She said: “I’m a bit gutted but you can’t win them all. Despite that, things are going well. I jumped alright today, I know I need to be jumping 4.60m in the final in Doha so making it might be tough with eight other girls to go through.”

“Training has helped me; winter training was great with no major hiccups. I had a few minor niggles but that’s how things go, so all is good,” Dennison continued.

Nadia Williams added the national indoor crown to her outdoor victory last summer, as the 28-year-old Shaftesbury Barnett Harrier produced a consistent series in the women’s triple jump to register 13m41; with a winning margin of 63cm.

“It’s great to get the UK title but obviously I wanted a better jump today. I’m feeling in really good form but I’m just waiting for everything to click into place so I can get that big jump out. I can feel it in me,” Williams explained.

Doha selection standards:

The first-placed athlete at the Aviva World Indoor Trials achieving or already in possession of the standard will be selected. Up to two athletes per event can be chosen when the selection committee announces the Team GB squad for Doha on Monday the 22nd of February.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Jess set to cause some Sparkes in the National Cross


Few final year university students could find the time or energy to consistently perform on the domestic and international cross-country scene, but Woodford Green with Essex Ladies runner, Jess Sparke has been passing every test with first-class marks this year, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 22-year-old St Mary’s University strength and conditioning student has registered a plethora of scintillating runs this season and starts the Saucony English National cross-country Championships in Leeds later this month as one of the top contenders.

Euro bronze

Ahead of the Roundhay Park event on February 27th, the Mick Woods-coached athlete has already gathered on her impressive 2009/10 athletic resume, the European under23 cross-country Championship bronze medal from Dublin last December.

Prior to this outstanding achievement, the sister of talented running duo Katherine and Ronnie, placed second-fastest in the English cross relays and third in the Liverpool leg of the McCain UK Challenge incorporating the European trials, behind newly-crowned continental senior champion and tenth-placer, Hayley Yelling and Freya Murray, respectively.

After her scorching run in the Irish capital, Sparke then went onto place seventh in the BUPA Great Edinburgh international, third in the McCain UK Challenge Antrim international leg and took the Southern cross-country Championship title.

Pleasing performances

Sparke explained: “I’m really pleased with the results I’ve had so far. Obviously, the European’s were very pleasing and Edinburgh was a big step up for me. This has been a significant year for me as a senior.”

“Training’s been going well.” Sparke continued. “I’ve not been on high mileage really, just focusing on the quality sessions. I train with the St Mary’s squad, which is a great environment and also with Kat and Ronnie and also Steph Twell; the three-time European junior cross Champion, at weekends in Aldershot.”

Looking ahead

Evidently highly satisfied with her season so far and in confident mood, Sparke now intends to medal in the National where she will face stiff opposition from European senior cross-country Champion, Hayley Yelling-Higham and Twell.

A previous under-17 and junior winner of the event, Sparke revealed: “It’s a very strong field but I’d like to get in the mix; a medal would be nice.”

Sparke attributes her achievements down to “the hard work, commitment and advice that Mick gives me.”

Future aims

Next up will be the World cross-country Championship trials in Birmingham next month; with aspirations of possibly gaining the notoriously-tough selection for the global event itself in Poland.

As for the rest of 2010, Sparke hopes to break her track personal bests and achieve the qualifying standard for the Commonwealth Games (New Delhi, in October) in the 3,000m steeplechase and the 5,000m.

With Sparke flying in the form of her life, we could well see all her aims achieved in true firework style in the not too distant future.

Following famous footsteps


Bath-based sprinter Craig Pickering must feel the pressure to perform on the track more than most considering his coach is the man who guided two fellow male sprinters to global glory in recent years; yet the 23-year-old quiet man of British sprinting appears calm and collected in his patient quest for speed perfection; writes Nicola Bamford.

Coached by Malcolm Arnold; the man who masterminded the careers of former 110m hurdles world record-holder and two-time world champion, Colin Jackson and more recently Jason Gardener; the 2004 world indoor 60m and Olympic 4x100m relay gold-medallist, Pickering has amassed a collection of impressive accolades but has yet to truly make his mark on the world senior scene.

The Marshall Milton Keynes sprinter has been winning national titles since aged-15 and has captured World youth, European junior and continental Under-23 medals; improving his personal bests to 6.55 (60m indoors) and 10.14 (100m outdoors) in recent years.

Resurgence in British sprinting

But on the senior stage, the Bath University sport and exercise science graduate has found that; as is the strength in depth of British sprinting, maintaining your dominance is not easy.

The men’s discipline has enjoyed somewhat of resurgence in recent seasons, with the likes of Dwain Chambers, Simeon Williamson, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and Tyrone Edgar leading the charge and the mild-mannered Pickering has been quietly working his way to the top tier - albeit on a bumpy road.

“They are all very talented, but it’s good to have competition as it provides an incentive to train harder when you are on your own!” Pickering explained of his counterparts.

Springing to prominence in the indoor season of 2007, the self-confessed sprinting and science-obsessive has had a few rollercoaster years on the back of such strong rivalries.

National indoor 60m gold, European indoor 60m silver behind Gardener as-well as world 4x100m relay bronze that same year are among the highlights for Pickering.

Disappointing year

Struggling to maintain his stranglehold on the British sprinting mantle, however, Pickering was only sixth in the 2007 world 100m semi-final, fifth in his 2008 Beijing Olympic quarter-final, disqualified in the relay heat in Beijing, fifth in the 2009 continental indoors and fourth in last year’s world trials – thus missing World Championship selection.

Pickering explained his take on last year: “2009 was fairly disappointing - I didn’t make the World Champs team in the 100m and was left out of the final 4x100m squad. One positive was that I ran 10.08, although just slightly wind assisted, and ran well in the British and Crystal Palaces Grand Prix’s.”

Outdoors the objective

Understandably, the Adidas-sponsored athlete hopes for better fortunes and performances in 2010. He has already collected his fourth-consecutive 60m Glasgow international victory this season in addition to placing third in the same event in the UK indoor championships and World trials last weekend behind Chambers and Harry A-A – both times clocked at 6.66.

Drug-cheat turned reformed character, Chambers set a world-leading 6.50, whilst 21-year-old Harry A-A registered a surprising 6.55.

“Obviously, I am disappointed that Harry ran so quick as one of my competitors, but fair play to him. I would have liked to have run a bit quicker. I was never working towards Doha (the World Championships next month) but I would have liked to have been in a position to have said, No, I don’t want to go.” Pickering explained.

“But at the end of the day I think it’s been worthwhile running indoors. And now I’ve got some things to improve for outdoors. It’s good to have people running quickly because you know you’ve got to pull out your best performance; it’s positive for the sport.”

Working obsessively

Pickering insists his training is going well and has added plyometrics to his busy regime which includes thrice-weekly gym, track and conditioning work.

He is known for his immense hard-work ethic and having an obsessive approach to his sport; understandable considering the achievements of his contemporaries and former training partners.

“I see it as being given an opportunity, and I don’t want to look back in 20-years time and think ‘I could have tried harder’.” Pickering explained.

“I want to look back and know I gave it my best shot. I also know there are athletes out there more talented than me, and so I know I need to work harder than them. I’d like to become a coach of some sort one day, ideally in athletics to pass on what I have learnt to others”

Positive outlook

With such a determined positive mental attitude, Pickering will surely get his just rewards for the years of graft and patience. In the short-term, he contests the Aviva Birmingham international grand-prix this Saturday to resume his rivalry with Harry A-A.

Long-term, Pickering wants to “go as far as I can go and hopefully run under 10-seconds” in addition to stating his goals for 2010 as “getting an individual spot on Team GB for both the European Championships (Barcelona in July) and Commonwealth Games (New Delhi, October).”

Should Pickering achieve his 2010 and beyond aspirations, he will progress another step on the ladder to replicating the achievements of those who have so sublimely ran before him .

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Fine Team England performances in International Cross Cup - Hannut, Belgium report


Team England runners proved their love of distance running on Valentine’s Day with some superb performances, including top-three domination in the junior men’s and women’s races, respectively, at the International Cross Cup in Hannut, Belgium, writes Nicola Bamford.

Junior women

European under20 cross-country bronze-medallist, Kate Avery was the English runner of the day, when taking the junior women’s 4.6km event by 18-seconds from team-mate Grace Nicholls.

Shildon AC’s 18-year-old Avery; recently eleventh in the senior race at the Antrim International clocked 15:13 to the 18-year-old Tonbridge runner’s 15:31. The latter athlete’s performance follows a third-place in the Southern Championships last month.

Providing strong support, Hannah Walker (18, Dacorum and Tring); the Southern cross Champion, finished third shortly behind in 15:37, whilst Hannah Bateson; 18 and runner-up in the Northern, placed fifth 16:06.

Junior menThe junior men had equal success with Ronnie Sparke leading the way with a fine nine-second victory over the 6.6km course. The 18-year-old Woodford Green with Essex Ladies runner; fourth in the Southern cross and the younger brother of European under23 bronze-medallist, Jess Sparke, registered 21:13 ahead of second-placed team-mate Ben Norris.

Norris; 18 of Notts AC and second in the Midland championships, pipped Karl Billington (17, Blackburn Harriers) in 21:24 to Billington’s 21:28. The latter was third in the Northern cross and the squad was completed by OWLS AC’s 18-year-old Josh Norman (third in the Midlands) in 21:53.

Senior women

Hallamshire Harrier’s reigning National and Northern cross-country champion, Hatti Dean (28) finished a strong fourth behind her Ethiopian, Ukranian and Belgium counterparts in 19:42 over the 6.1km route.

Bristol and West’s 26-year-old Midland runner-up, Claire Hallissey finished in tenth in 20:28 with the Midland champion, Gemma Steele coming home in fifteenth on her international debut in 20:43.

24-year-old Steele was the third and final counter after the aforementioned Jess Sparke (22, Woodford Green with Essex Ladies); the Southern champion withdrew from the competition at short notice.

Senior men

Bedford and County’s Neilson Hall was the top English counter in the men’s 10.6km course. Behind a trio of African’s and a Belgium, the 27-year-old Southern champion placed fifth in 32:06.

A mere one second behind in sixth was Enfield and Haringey’s 21-year-old Jon Pepper; the Southern runner-up.

Four-time Midland cross-country champion, James Walsh (28, Leeds City AC) finished in twelfth in 32:40 with Bristol and West’s 14-year-old Rob Budgen; the Midland silver-medallist, in twentieth with 33:22.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Hannah Nuttall: Following in her parents' footsteps


Though she may be a new name on the winter circuit, the under-13 star of the cross season so far must be Charnwood AC’s Hannah Nuttall. With a familiar surname in athletics circles considering the talented family genes and despite only having five races under her belt, Hannah is already a contender for the National cross-country Championships later this month. Nicola Bamford spoke to the speedy clan from which she hails.

The 13-year-old has made a sensational start to her athletics career, following eleventh place in the Liverpool leg of the McCain UK Cross Challenge last November, victory in the Leicestershire and Rutland county cross-country championships last month and a glorious win in the Midland Championships in Stafford a fortnight ago – in only her fifth competitive appearance.

Most parents would understandably be very impressed by their offspring’s eye-catching potential and success, but perhaps Hannah’s mother and father, Alison Wyeth and John Nuttall are even more elated since due to their past glory days, they have been keen to not pile on the pressure too soon.

Proud parents

Hannah certainly comes from talented pedigree. Alison, 45, used to compete for Parkside (Harrow) AC and boasts impressive track personal bests of 4:03.17 (1500m), 8:38.32 (3000m) and 15:00.37 from the mid-nineties, whilst John, 43 represented Preston Harriers and achieved 13:16.70 (5000m) and 28:07 (10,000m), respectively in his day; also making a comeback in the 2007 London marathon with 2hrs57.

The proud parents each respectively won the National cross senior titles in the 1996 event in Newark and evidently, the talented trio are eager to focus on Hannah’s enjoyment and progression. Yet after her resounding regional victory of late, more success in the Saucony English National in Leeds’ Roundhay Park on February 27th would not be so much as a surprise.
Nuttall junior: starting out

On how she got into the sport she now loves Hannah explained: “I’ve always wanted to join a club but mum and dad wouldn’t let me because they said I was too young. When I was little I used to run round the block with mum when she came back from training and when we went on warm-weather training camps with dad’s training group, I sometimes used to join in with the jogging. Mum and dad let me go down to Charnwood in October. I did win the North East Leicestershire schools 800m last summer but I didn’t do any training for it!”

Hannah also divulged how she has settled into her new training group: “I have been training for four months with Derrick Green at Charnwood AC. There’s a really big training group with up to forty runners turning up on some nights. Derrick coaches all the girls who won the U13 team prize at the Midlands Champs as well as Sophie Coldwell who won the U15 girls and James Hatton who was second in the U13 boys. The group is good fun - I do two track sessions a week with them and don’t do any other training for running.”

Mum and dad’s memories

Alison and John reminisced about their National victories back in their hey-days: “For me,” Alison explained, “the National Cross Country was a great team experience but an individual nightmare! We won the national cross country team title eight times but I can’t remember how many times I finished second as an individual. Even the time that I was awarded the title, I had actually finished second but then the title was awarded to me at a later date due to irregularities with the winner.”

“My best memory is winning in Newark in 1996 and coming third as a Youth in 1985,” John revealed, “On both occasions we got lost on the way to the course to add to the excitement!”

Careers over running

The pair – who run three-to-four times per week – discussed the current athletics-related careers which must further reinforce Hannah’s love for running:

“I have worked in athletics virtually all of my working days. I started at the IAAF and I now work for UKA project managing the Commonwealth Games for England Athletics. As part of my work I was also lucky enough to be the Team Leader for the U20 team at the European Junior Champs in Serbia last year and to be one of the Team Managers for the World Champs in Berlin. I have now also started coaching as a volunteer (but not with Hannah), as I would like to get into that area more,” Alison explained.

John meanwhile, is an endurance coach at Loughborough, working with athletes located at the National Performance Centre. “I work with George Gandy to ensure that some of our best endurance athletes get the very best support leading up to London 2012,” he added.

Focus on enjoyment

Like most parents with a prodigiously talented daughter, Alison and John are keen to keep the emphasis in Hannah’s sporting endeavours on enjoyment:

“I just want Hannah to enjoy the sport and achieve her potential. She has achieved some success relatively easily and I am all too aware of the number of great young runners who don’t make it to the seniors. I would like to see Hannah make it to the senior ranks and achieve her best performances there,” Alison explained.

John continued: “I like Hannah to take part in several sports and enjoy them. I hope that she continues to enjoy her running and I want to encourage her to enjoy any success, as this helps build self-confidence in all aspects of life. Hopefully, later on she will find a sport that she is successful and able to pursue that interest further - I hope that this is athletics.”

Hannah’s hopes

On her current success and hopes for the future Hannah – who also plays sweeper for Barrow Belles F.C said: “I really enjoyed the Midlands race and liked the course. I went to the front quite early on and it didn’t seem too hard. I’ve got three races left - the National, Inter-counties and English Schools if I am selected.

“I haven’t run the National Cross Country before so I’m just going to go along and enjoy the race. I don’t really know what to expect but I’m excited about running. Paula Radcliffe is my role model - we went to see her when we’ve were on holiday in France and I’ve got a big picture of her and me on my wall. I want to run on the track this summer but I just want to enjoy it. One day I want to win the Olympics!” exclaimed the enthusiastic and hugely talented Hannah.

Here’s to following in some familiar and successful footsteps...

Monday, 8 February 2010

Vernon's navigation set for National XC glory


In the form of his life following years of injury nightmares, Stockport Harrier Steve Vernon has been the comeback story of the season and is speeding into this month’s National cross-country Championships as the red-hot favourite, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 29-year-old 2003 and 2005 UK 4km cross-country Champion has been looking forward to the February 27th event in Leeds’ Roundhay Park all winter, since a remarkable comeback season has witnessed a major resurgence in form for the Dave Turnbull-coached runner.

And now, the North of England British Orienteering Federation participation manager has set his compass to gold in his attempt to improve on his 2009 runner-up position.

Vernon explains: “I am in good shape but this has come from a lot of steady running and tempo based sessions - I have only been on the track once. I have learnt that high volume aerobic training gets you 90% of the way there so lung busting sessions aren't always necessary.

Defending my Northern title was great!” On whether he is surprised about his recent form, the Nike-sponsored runner continued: “Not really, as I had done six-weeks of 90 miles-plus leading up until the Edinburgh 4km. I don't tend to race if I'm not ready to compete at the front end of domestic races so I knew I would be competitive going into the race.

“I was surprised however, at how easy the pace felt after doing very few race-pace sessions. Before that I had built up my mileage over 6 weeks following a 5 week complete break from running after my stomach operation in August. I have a very supportive girlfriend in Elle Baker who has had injury nightmares since 2007. She is extremely tough though and will no doubt bounce back during 2010.”

Despite spending the autumn on the sidelines with a rare calf and stomach ailment – the latter of which resulted in surgery – Vernon has found the same form that saw him place thirteenth in the World Mountain Trophy back in 2008 to bounce back onto the domestic scene.

Training with former GB marathon man, Pete Riley – who has also blasted back onto the radar this year – and internationals, Stuart Stokes and Dave Norman around his Cheshire base and the Peak District, Vernon surprised British athletics in his comeback race last month after a five-month competitive absence.

Placing second behind promising miler, Ricky Stevenson in the BUPA Great Edinburgh International televised 4km cross-country race, Vernon beat the likes of world-class runners, Mo Farah and Andy Baddeley to ignite his unprecedented success streak.

Full of confidence and turning down an England international call-up in Antrim to continue his progression on home-turf, Vernon then took a gun-to-tape convincing victory by a very comfortable margin in the North of England cross-country Championships to rack up his third victory in the event, following wins in 2006 and 2009.

Ahead of the Leeds event, Vernon said: “I have had two bronze and one silver in the last four-years so a gold would be nice. It will be very tough, though and all depends on my performance on the day.”

Stating his season goals as being victorious in the aforementioned event in addition to the Inter-Counties and World cross-country Championship selection race, Vernon also harbours an ambition to finally tackle the tarmac in search for representation in the 2012 Olympic marathon – depending on whether he can cure a vascular problem in his calf which stops him running on road: “that could change my future dramatically,” Vernon admits.

But of course, the National comes first and following such a superb start to his 2010 campaign, few would bet against this outgoing, determined athlete achieving all of his targets this year.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Jess of all Trades


Undoubtedly the comeback queen of 2009, multi-events star Jessica Ennis has started the year where she finished off; by capitalising – and improving – on the scintillating form that took her to world heptathlon glory last summer. With the world at the feet of the diminutive, yet super-athletic poster girl of the London 2012 Olympics, Nicola Bamford caught up her in between the hectic daily graft of training and promotional duties.

Fresh from shocking herself and the world by storming to a new British record and taking the scalp of World indoor 60m hurdles Champion, Lo-Lo Jones of America in the Aviva Glasgow International last weekend, Ennis in evidently on cloud nine.

Composing herself enough to take top points for the GB squad with a personal best-breaking high-jump victory in the same event, the 24-year-old’s indoor campaign has truly started off with a very loud bang with a capital ‘B’.

PB’s galore

In only a handful of competitions this winter since enduring a solid block of training after taking the global heptathlon crown in Berlin last August, the Toni Minichello-coached athlete has twice improved her 60m flat and hurdles bests, as well as taking her high-jump mark to within a centimetre of the national record.

Speaking after speeding to the fastest time in the world so far this year over the barriers, Ennis said: “I’m shocked, absolutely shocked. The season’s started up really well and beating Lo-Lo – that’s mad! I feel everything’s slotting in nicely for Doha.”

The aforementioned capital of Qatar represents the big target of the indoor season for Ennis, as the mid-March event provides an opportunity for the Sheffield-born and based Ennis to capture more silver-ware; albeit preferably of the gold variety to keep with the trend she has now become accustomed to.


The road to Doha appears as smooth as Ennis glides in action and the next stops en route are appearances at the Aviva International Grand Prix in Birmingham and the world indoor championship trials in Sheffield. The latter competition in particular, should witness some fireworks for the home-crowd of the Sheffield University psychology graduate.

Fans of the feisty athlete; known for her tempestuous yet uber-successful relationship with coach Minichello, know her form has a reputation for peaking perfectly for major championships and, like the entire nation, are keeping their fingers firmly crossed for a bump-free and medal-full journey to 2012.

Ennis, who lives with her boyfriend Andy and their chocolate Labrador Myla, has had a rollercoaster career with more ups than downs and has proved her steely nerve and determination in the past couple of seasons.

Back from heartbreak

Sidelined from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing with a stress fracture to her ankle, Ennis was understandably heartbroken. Stuck with a support-cast and the daunting task of regaining fitness and swapping take-off leg in the long-jump to prevent more issues, Ennis bounced back from such trauma to transform into a new, improved woman.

Nicknamed ‘Tadpole’ in the past due to her small stature, the 2006 Commonwealth heptathlon bronze-medallist and 2007 World Championship fourth-placer, grew in confidence to swim rather than sink in the global elite arena last summer in the German capital.

Going into the event as a warm favourite, following a big personal best multi-events score in the countdown and taking the British hurdles and high-jump titles at the trials, Ennis duly lived up to expectations by taking the heptathlon by the scruff of the neck from the outset.


Her first day score was the third-best in history after greats, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Carolina Kluft and Ennis relentlessly charged to a lifetime best of 6731 points to go second on the UK all-time lists behind 2000 Olympic Champion, Denise Lewis en route to a dominating victory.

It was the ultimate satisfying source of redemption for the queen of comeback and an achievement which led to her being named as the Sports Journalist Association’s Sportswoman of the Year and third-place at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.

Unique experiences

Such success and exposure also led to a few unique experiences for the smiling face of British athletics, who trains six days a week in Sheffield, Leeds and Loughborough:

“I have had so many exciting opportunities and have made the most of them – the MOBO’s (where Ennis presented an award) were brilliant and winning the Cosmo Sportswoman of the Year was great. I had a fantastic evening at the BBC awards and to win third place was amazing considering the calibre of nominees.”

Ennis used some of her winnings from Berlin to set up home, though in her own words “with training being so focused, I do not have time to think about money and how I might spend it.”
2009 saw the Adidas-sponsored athlete smash her bests over 100m, 800m, 100m-hurdles, long-jump, shot and javelin, and with her bubbly personality and model-looks, Ennis became the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics set for an even brighter 2010.

“It’s been an amazing year and to win the world champs was a great way to finish it, especially having come back from such a serious injury last year,” Ennis explained. “Afterwards, I had a great two-week holiday; totally relaxing with my boyfriend and then it was pretty much back to full training.”

Golden aims

Ever ambitious and tenacious, Ennis intends to achieve a double-whammy of championship glory this year in Doha and Barcelona in the continental outdoor championships this summer:
“I aim to win both the World indoors pentathlon and European outdoors heptathlon,” she explained. “So far, my competitions have gone really well and I have clocked a few indoor personal bests which is encouraging.”

Dealing with pressure

On how life has changed since Berlin on and off the track and how she copes with the 2012 pressure, she continued:

“Toni and I learnt a few things from reviewing Berlin and will put those into practice. Our relationship and my support team is still the same; we have a new set of goals to achieve so it is business as usual. I interact on a daily basis now with my management teams as there has been so much interest in me – both from fans and potential sponsors and media.”

“There is definitely more pressure now but I suppose that comes with doing well in any sport. I’m just really looking forward to it (London 2012) and want to make the most it by training hard and taking advantage of all the support. Obviously my main focus is to stay fit and healthy and perform to the best of my ability.”

At this rate of progression, more gold and adulation is surely fast on its’ way.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Overlooked to Eye-Catching


Imagine exceeding the qualifying standard for a major global championship and finishing inside your nations top-three metric milers in the trial, only to miss out on gracing the biggest international arena – two years running. Many athletes would be unhappy to say the least but Hannah England bounced back from such consecutive setbacks to ensure her performances developed from being overlooked to eye-catching, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 22-year-old Oxford-born 1500m runner first burst onto the senior international scene in 2008 when, during a year studying at Florida State University, England sensationally took the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) indoor mile and outdoor 1500m titles with huge personal best performances.

The Bud Baldaro, Jim and Karen Harvey-coached athlete; with five years of National age-group titles and medals under her belt, thereafter justifiably hoped her rich vein of form was enough to thrust herself into the hot-seat of contenders for Olympic selection.

Overlooked for Beijing

Despite finishing third in the trial for Beijing however, the Biochemistry graduate from Birmingham University, was overlooked for sport’s biggest representative honour ahead of 2008 World junior 1500m Champion, Steph Twell.

A year her junior, Twell and Scotland’s Susan Scott both failed to progress beyond the heats in the Chinese capital, whilst 2006 Commonwealth Champion and last years’ global silver-medallist, Lisa Dobriskey was the best of the Brits in an agonising fourth.

Attending the Games as a reserve proved immense experience for the Oxford City AC athlete but ultimately, it provided a source of strong determination for England – and she had double-Olympic Champion, Dame Kelly Holmes to call upon for advice.


No stranger to obstacles in her own long, distinguished athletic career, Holmes – who has mentored England on her ‘On Camp with Kelly’ scheme since her majestic gold medal-winning displays in Athens 2004 – evidently provided a sterling source of inspiration England, as the young starlet set out for redemption in the summer 2009 season.

Despite a tactical blip due to major championship inexperience at the European indoors, where the Nike-sponsored-England finished seventh in her heat, last year was certainly filled with more highs than lows for the grade eight-trained ballet dancer.

After claiming National senior silver indoors, England surprised the GB selectors and media with two fourth-place finishes in the European Team Championships in Portugal last June. Shining on her senior international debuts, England set a huge personal best in her less-favoured event, the 800m with 1:59.94, followed by another fine display in the metric mile to truly establish herself on the senior international scene.

Scuppered again

Flying and in the form of her life, England was ready to make the squad for the World Championships in Berlin; where Dobriskey went on to claim silver - but her fate was scuppered at the hands of the GB selectors again, following another tense Trial and England was overlooked in favour of Twell once more.

The bigger Championships were appearing to be a stumbling point for the athlete who finished seventh in her heat of the 2006 World Juniors but she had experience of success in the 2007 European Under23’s with fifth-position to call upon once given the opportunity.

“Failing to get selected for Beijing and Berlin were both very disappointing. 2008 and was a tremendous year for me, I didn’t go into it thinking I had a chance at going to the Olympics and to come so close was a big surprise,” England explained.

“Not being selected for Berlin was perhaps more upsetting as 2009 was my first track season targeting a senior championships, and it was hard to deal with putting in another year of hard training only to end up in the same position as the year before.”

Instead of wallowing in grief and losing her way in the sport, England chose to prove a point by running another best performance of 4:04.29 in Europe and ending the season as one of the top-twelve time-ranked metric-milers in the World; culminating in an invitation to the prestigious World Athletics Final in Greece last September; in which she finished a magnificent runner-up and collected $20,000 for her efforts.

The 1500m supremo revealed: “I was very happy with the majority of my performances in 2009. I was balancing the final year of my degree and I feel I came out a stronger athlete physically and mentally. 2009 was also my first year travelling abroad for races, I found this really exciting and love being able to visit different countries and also think I learnt how to cope with travelling and competing.”


It was not revenge; it was liberation for the tall, elegant athlete – yet another boost to her confidence in the face of adversity, and no-one deserved it more.

During the autumn and winter, instead of an extended break or warm-weather training like her rivals, England showed her desire to continue her improvement by taking fifth-place in the esteemed Fifth-Avenue mile in New York and victory in the BUPA Great North City Games mile. Not one to fear embarrassment, England also took in the UK European cross-country trial in thick mud last November for over-distance work.

2010 aims

In contrast to the typically-British winter climate, England is currently preparing for 2010 in the heat of Florida and has started 2010 as she means to go on. Taking a fine international win in the women’s mile at the 103rd edition of the legendary Millrose Games in New York, England has the European Championships in Barcelona this summer and the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October, firmly in her sights.

“Training has been going well so far this winter,” England explained. “As much as a love the set up in Birmingham, I wasn’t relishing the prospect of sitting out the big freeze there so I have come to Florida for five-weeks so that I can be in a climate which doesn’t interfere with my training.

“I’m racing in Boston over 3,000m this weekend (Feb 6th) but after that I’m having a long training period in the lead up to the outdoor season. I’d love to make the Europeans and the Commonwealth championships this year but with my selection record we’ll have to see!”