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.

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