WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
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.
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.
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!”