WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
For 36-year-old steeplechase and 1500m runner Helen Clitheroe, age certainly is no barrier to achieving success on the international scene. Fresh from the metric-mile final at the World indoor Championships, t he stalwart of British athletics spoke to Nicola Bamford about feeling stronger and speedier than ever.
Currently in her tenth year of international representation, Clitheroe is one for bucking trends. Not only has the Preston Harrier returned to her first love; the 1500m with eye-catching success, but she is also defying the critics who say the event is only for spring chickens.
With a mixture of scintillating speed and endurance honed from years of middle-distance and steeplechase running, Clitheroe finished a highly-respectable eighth in the World indoor Championships in Doha with 4:10.38 earlier this month to prove she’s not ready to hang up her spikes just yet.
Consistent and reliable
Over a long and distinguished career which has seen Clitheroe capture fifteen national titles over 1500m and the steeplechase indoors and out, major championship medals have been few and far between – yet consistency and reliability were always guaranteed from this gutsy runner.
Starting out as a 1500m-specialist, Clitheroe competed in the Sydney 2000 Olympics for experience before progressing onto 4th place in the 2005 and 2007 European indoor Championships. She even dabbled in cross-country for strength and over-distance work; making the Great Britain team for the World Championships on eight consecutive occasions – her best being 19th in the 2004 short-course event.
Such versatility saw Clitheroe win a dancing event in her home-town in 2008, where she had to learn the Quick-step and Samba in just six-weeks; raising £1,300 for charity in the process.
Believing she had reached a plateau with her speed, Clitheroe turned to the 3,000m steeplechase in 2007 and placed ninth in the World indoor Championships the following spring. With refreshed passion in her new event, she went on to set a British record of 9:29.14 in the Beijing Olympics but failed to qualify for the final by a mere one placing.
Finishing ninth in her heat and missing the final again; this time at the World outdoor Championships in Berlin last summer, encouraged Clitheroe to return to the metric mile but even she did not expect such success.
A need for speed
Upon joining World 800m bronze-medallist Jenny Meadow’s husband and coach, Trevor Painter’s training group in Wigan, Clitheroe found her need – and passion – for speed was rejuvenated; as were her track times.
Training alongside Meadows; who went on to claim World indoor 800m silver in Doha, Clitheroe has found immediate success after going back to her roots. She kicked off the indoor season with a 9:05.87 3,000m victory at the Aviva Glasgow international, shortly followed by the UK indoor 1,500m title in Sheffield.
Keen to test her re-energized speed against a world-class field, Clitheroe progressed to seventh in the Birmingham international Grand-Prix with 4:29.46 for the mile, before finishing eighth in the global championships.
A revitalised Clitheroe explained: “Doha was the most brilliant atmosphere to run in, I wish I had been closer to the pack because I had such a strong finish. That shows me that I am reasonably competitive in this world-class field. I always want more and that race has given me confidence, shown me I have got speed and that kick for the end.”
Needed a change
Evidently in fine form in her twilight years on the track, Clitheroe commented on her 2010 season: “I have really enjoyed competing indoors this winter, I have enjoyed stepping back down to my original event of the 1500m and am delighted to have been as competitive as I have been through the season."
On her new coach and training partner, Clitheroe continued: “I have thoroughly enjoyed training with Trevor since October; it was a time in my career where I felt a change was needed and the opportunity to train with a coach locally was very appealing to me.
It is amazing to be able to train with Jenny, we have been friends for a few years now and share a lot of the same values when it come to our athletics so it works very well training together for both of us.”
After a short break, Clitheroe’s aims for the year to compete in the steeplechase at the European Championships in Barcelona in July and to tackle her fourth Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October: “I would be extremely proud to achieve this,” she explained.
Such championships occur every four years; highlighting Citheroe’s longevity at the top of the sport: “I am very proud to have competed for GB and England as many times as I,” she revealed. I would never have believed in 1998 when I did my first World Cross country that I would be able to have such a long career.
The standout moments are winning the European cup in 2000 in Gateshead, getting my bronze medal at the Manchester Commonwealths was awesome, too and also getting to two Olympics in different events.”
“I feel I am strong and still in very good shape. I have to respect my age but am still doing the training I would have been doing a few years ago and am able to cope with it. I might feel the need to stretch a bit more now!”