Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Where There's A Will


A serial high-achiever who attracts success in whatever he turns his hand to, 110m hurdler Will Sharman spoke to Nicola Bamford after claiming his first national senior title recently.

Day to day, the 25-year-old sprint hurdles man effortlessly juggles training, travel and elite competition with new fatherhood and although currently ranked seventh in Europe, he is confident of a peak performance at the right time to claim European championship success later this month.

“I always get better as the season unfolds,” Sharman explains. “My training’s geared towards performing in the championships and I enjoy competition and building on my performances.”

World fourth

Born in Nigeria and currently based in Loughborough, Sharman is accustomed to showing belief in various accomplishments. A classically trained pianist and former member of the BBC youth orchestra, Sharman also boasts an economics degree and Masters in banking and finance.

With brawn as well as brains, the Belgrave Harrier was a national under23 champion in the decathlon before switching to the sprint hurdles in 2005 due to a shoulder injury. Initially coached by Gladiators timekeeper John Anderson, Sharman was his assistant in the UK television series and sport evidently runs in the family genes, as his brother Richard competed at the 2007 World bobsleigh championships and dad, David played rugby union for the Northampton Saints.

But without doubt, top of the pile of his triumphs is Sharman’s fourth place in the World championships in Berlin last summer. Coached by the Polish George Maciukiewicz, Sharman sensationally stormed to a 13.30 clocking over the barriers to just miss out on the medals – despite placing 103rd in the global rankings going into the event and receiving a late call-up to the GB squad.


His new personal best shot him to fifth on the British all-time lists behind former world-record holder Colin Jackson and came just weeks after only finishing in the same position in the British trials – a below-par run justified by the birth of his son Joshua two days prior.

“Berlin was a fantastic performance but it’s a new year now with new athletes. People may have forgotten me but will also want to beat me. I hope that will not be my defining moment in my athletics career – there’s opportunities in the next couple of years so I hope to excel further.”

Such a surprising breakthrough performance has since changed his life and though he suffered the set-back of breaking his wrist last winter, Sharman is back and hungry for more. Now with access to meetings on the European circuit, Sharman has collected some strong runs under his belt but none more so than his effort in the European trials last weekend.


Reeling in and dipping across the line ahead of European bronze medallist Andy Turner, Sharman sped to a smooth 13.45 clocking to mark his intentions for continental glory in Barcelona. Evidently thrilled with the scalp and his first national crown in the senior ranks, the charismatic runner kissed the television camera and gave an entertaining interview: “I try to be very open so my character comes out when I perform well,” Sharman revealed.

Surprisingly however, he still quoted Turner as “the man to beat” in the Spanish capital: “I’m really chuffed; the adrenaline’s pumping hard so it’s been so exciting. I respect my rivals so I won’t get caught off guard but I always focus on myself. I’m not the favourite for Barcelona – there are other athletes quicker than me.

“The wrist’s still very difficult to hold my weight; last weekend was the first time I could hold myself in the set position in the starting blocks without the wrist support so that’s an achievement – it’s slow progress but progressing well.”

Upward trend

Regardless of which of the British rivals come out on top, Sharman is sure to improve on his fourth place in his heat from the previous European event in 2006. Also fourth in the 2005 European under23 final, he went onto reach the semi-final stage of the World Student Games the following year then missed out on Olympic selection for the 2008 Beijing games – something Sharman is adamant will not happen again.

“My main aim’s Olympic gold,” he insisted. “I want a gradual upward trend; that’s what we’re always looking for since I’ve been on the scene from 2005. A medal at the World’s last year would have been fantastic but it’s kept me hungry.”

Sharman next heads to Madrid on Friday then onto another competition in Greece to sharpen up for his biggest challenge of the summer. Such a hectic schedule must be tough on the new dad? - “It’s not too bad being away, as I’m only ever away for two or three nights,” Sharman revealed. “They’ll support me from home during the Euro’s.”


Although reluctant to predict his placing in the event, the articulate athlete is still confident in ‘Team Sharman’ producing the goods:

“My coach’s English needs to improve but he’s cool and we have a lot of respect for each other. I’m the owner of this ‘company’ and everyone else is a consultant to me – I’m the boss, it’s a cut-throat nature. He’s made a huge difference to my performance; made a big transformation in me and my technique.

“I just want to affect my own placing so I wouldn’t want to say (where I’ll finish); especially in a technical event – I smashed the second hurdle in Rome and came last – that’s sport. The Commonwealth’s (in New Delhi in October) are an equal target for me and my aim for the season is to run a personal best – that’s all you can ever ask for. I just want to run to my potential in the Euro’s.”

And with potential as promising as his, Sharman has a strong chance to blast into the medals twice this year.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Jem of a Runner


In an effort to qualify for and hit this summer’s European championships in razor-sharp form, 800m runner Jemma Simpson has been sleeping in an altitude tent and had access to anti-gravity and underwater treadmills to improve her performance, writes Nicola Bamford.

Adapting to such unusual training methods is testament to the 26-year-old athlete’s dedication to propel herself from regular semi-finalist to medal contender for next month’s continental championships in Barcelona, in an event where Team GB could have two runners atop of the podium.

Simpson will this weekend attempt to qualify for the Spanish event alongside world outdoor bronze-medallist Jenny Meadows. Despite being crowned the 2007 and 2009 British champion, Simpson will be hard-pushed to take the scalp of her more be-medalled rival, though the Cornwall-born runner should provide a good race for her money:

“With two of us currently ranked in the top eight in the world, it’s better than any other country has got,” Simpson explained.

“There used to be a larger crop of us but people have been hampered with injuries and have struggled to progress. I'm happy with where I am at the moment; I constantly look at the bigger picture and always keep 2012 in my mind. This enables me to progress at a steady rate to the peak of my career.”

Indeed, Simpson’s career has been getting hotter as the weeks progress this summer; as she has recently catapulted herself into third-place on the current European rankings list. Solid clockings of 2:02.88 and 2:00.31 in Hengelo and Prague, respectively followed a 4:06.39 new personal best over 1500m in California before the two-lapper stormed to 1:59.58 in the Rome leg of the IAAF Diamond League for fifth place behind Meadows in third.


Coached by 1988 Olympic steeplechase bronze-medallist Mark Rowland in Oregon, USA for much of the year, Simpson gave her thoughts on her early-season promise:

“I am thrilled to have got off to a good start this year. My coach and I decided to do more 1500m training leading into the track season hence my new PB over 1500m. I went into Rome having barely touched speed-work yet; these races have given me the confidence that there is a lot more to come this year. With the 800m, I want to be dipping under two-minutes every time I race now; I was pleased to see a 1.59.5 great start.

My winter training has gone well, despite a few minor niggles. I am putting together year upon year of consistent training now which is building me a great foundation for the 2012 Olympics. Each year I hope to make consistent improvements mentally and physically in the build up to the games.”

Medal hopes

Simpson is certainly an excellent example of gradual progression, too. A natural talent, the Newquay and Par runner took a plethora of national junior titles in her youth and became the Commonwealth Youth champion in 2000.

With a mother who competed internationally at karate, strong sporting prowess is evidently in the family genes and Simpson went onto place fourth in the 2002 World junior championships before taking European bronze and silver medals at junior and under23 level, respectively.

As a senior, Simpson has completed her track apprenticeship in the last four-year cycle quite admirably. In the 2006 continental championships, she finished sixth in her semi-final and replicated that same position in the Commonwealth Games of that year and the World championships in 2007.

A minor blip on an otherwise impressive athletic CV was failing to make it through the heats of the 2008 Olympics but Simpson bounced back in 2009 to place fifth in her semi-final in a personal best of 1:59.07.

The girlfriend of GB 10,000m man Chris Thompson, Simpson revealed her thoughts on her 2009 campaign and her goals for 2010:

“My 2009 season was going very well; I was consistent and running better than ever before, but I fell at the last hurdle and didn't progress through to the final at the world champs. I hope to rectify that this year. I know I can run quicker I just need it to all come together at the right time. I really want to make the (European) final and get a medal. I’m undecided on the Commonwealths (in New Delhi in October) yet; it's a funny time of year to be competing at your best.”


Not in need of any extra motivation to finally make the step up into senior championship medal class, Simpson does have the added advantage of having the aforementioned Thompson for an additional source of inspiration.

Back in May, the 29-year-old registered the third-fastest time ever for 10,000m by a British man when clocking a scintillating 27:29.61 in America after years of injury woes – Simpson, too hopes that 2010 will be the year in which she makes her own breakthrough:

“We have been together for two years now. We make a great team; supporting each other and helping each other out whilst trying to equally pursue international athletic careers. So far, so good; we are both on the up.

He is everything to me including my personal comedian. He's hilarious, a great quality in a guy, a pleasure to have around. Much of my steady running is done with Chris; we usually chat away on our runs and get much of it done without even thinking about it.”

Sponsorship giant Nike have put their faith in Simpson for the past seven years and this belief may well be rewarded in spades this year, as this ‘Jem of a runner’ attempts to crash the Spanish party en route to achieving her ultimate goal of gold in 2012.

Friday, 18 June 2010

London Calling


With the London 2012 Olympic Games a mere 25-months away, pressure to perform is building and reigning 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu faces a constant reminder of that pressure more than most; as the Olympic Park is currently being built on her doorstep, writes Nicola Bamford.

For 26-year-old Ohuruogu, 2012 is all about expectation; the expectation put on her broad shoulders by a nation who views her as a poster girl of the Games and her own instilled faith that believes she is destined to retain her Olympic crown on home turf in two years’ time.

As each day passes, the 2012 arena looms larger as developments continue and Ohuruogu channels the backdrop into an intense source of inspiration. On the awe-inspiring environment in which she trains daily, the one-lap athlete; one of eight children in the Ohuruogu clan, explained:

“Our family home is very close to the Olympic stadium; it will feel like running in my back garden. I would like to defend my Olympic title in 2012. I love running in London – it is my home city and I always get great support from the fans. The Olympic stadium is a stone’s throw away from my family home and it will be a very special event.”

Growing pressure

Based at the Mile End stadium in Stratford with her coach Lloyd Cowan and training partners Simeon Williamson and Andy Turner; both members of Team GB, Ohuruogu is confident of bouncing back into top form following a dip in performance of late.

Experienced in returning to the track with a bang from testing times in the past, the quarter-miler is superb at remaining positive and focused in the face of critics and pressure:

“It’s always good to be positive!” Ohuruogu exclaimed. “I like to keep my head up with a smile on my face. Critics will always be there and the pressures will continue to grow in the run up to 2012, but I simply focus on what needs to be done and make sure that I am in the best shape to do so. That is the best way for me to approach any seemingly difficult challenge.”


A member of Newham and Essex Beagles, Ohuruogu has had an unremarkable start to her 2010 campaign but appears to start each season in lacklustre fashion before rounding into world-beating form at the right time.

Fifth place in the Doha leg of the Diamond League in 50.88 was followed by 11.44 and 17.07 100m and 150m runs in Manchester. The come June, Ohuruogu ran solid 200m and 400m outings in Hengelo and Ostrava and a 50.98 in the Oslo Diamond League. Her times are significantly behind the 49.61 personal best registered when winning the world title in Osaka, 2007 but Ohuruogu is patiently optimistic.

“I opened uncustomarily early this season and was able to run my fastest opening time with 50.88. I have faced high-quality competition in all of my races - not something I am used to but it is great preparation for the European Championships and Commonwealth Games. Everything has gone well in training. I have had some fantastic experiences training in different countries and environments.”

Indeed, in search of the ‘X factor’ Ohuruogu trained with sprint superstar Usain Bolt; the multiple world-record holder also managed by Ricky Simms of Pace Sports Management, in his homeland of Jamaica in April. His laid-back, ‘enjoyment is key’ attitude has evidently rubbed off on his British female counterpart but do not be fooled, as Ohuruogu is still the same fearsome competitor when it comes to the business end of the season.

When asked whether she feels confident of returning to top form in time for victory in the continental championships in Spain next month, the sprinter simply replied ‘yes’ and few would doubt her master-plan to reach her peak when it really counts.

Rollercoaster year

It was the last European championships in 2006 when it was announced that Ohuruogu had failed three out-of-competition drugs tests and would subsequently miss a year of competition and receive a lifetime Olympic ban. Four years on and the outgoing athlete is more disciplined and ready to pounce on the opportunity she missed out on at that Gothenburg event. The European title is, after all, the only missing crown from her collection.

After returning from her competition ban, Ohuruogu showed a steely mental fortitude to claim a shock gold medal in the 2007 World championships in Osaka, with a personal best to boot, and after successfully overturning her Olympic veto, the Londoner captured the 2008 Beijing Olympic title in 49.62.

Sponsored by Adidas; official supporters of 2012, Ohuruogu is a marketing dream and added to her 2006 Commonwealth victory, the two global titles are Ohuruogu claims, her most precious achievements to date.

Going onto achieve from adversity, Ohuruogu will now be hoping to continue her luck this year after finishing a disappointing fifth in the 2009 World championships in Berlin last August. Recovered from the injury that held her back at that event, she is currently nursing a slight quad issue after a rollercoaster year that has forced her to withdraw from this weekend’s European Team Cup in Norway – but Ohuruogu is not worried in the slightest.

“I had some highs and lows (in 2009 also but) I improved my 200m PB and set a British Record at 150m. I will run in the Super 8 meeting in Glasgow and the AVIVA Grand Prix in Gateshead,” the former England junior netballer explained on her preparation for Barcelona.

She additionally hopes to continue her form until October in order to retain her Commonwealth crown in New Delhi.


Ohuruogu just missed the Athens Olympic final in 2004 as a twenty-year-old and has since then shown a dogged determination to ensure she never misses out on her shot at the medal rostrum again.

Another athlete in the family; 17-year-old Victoria, is showing the same ‘never-say-die’ attitude; evident in her recent fourth-place in the European Youth Olympic Trials in 54.17 – a time faster than her elder, more illustrious sibling at the same age.

But for now, ‘Chrissy O’ is the centre of sporting attention in the busy Ohuruogu network and should her competitions go according to plan this summer and next, she will certainly require a large bundle of spectator tickets for her Olympic defence in their back-yard.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Greene Light to Go


Only half a second separates 400m hurdler David Greene from the top spot on the British all-time lists and the Welshman is set to capitalise on a breakthrough 2009 by smashing his times and medal hopes this season, writes Nicola Bamford.

Currently the British number four in hurdling history, Greene is in fine form of late following a 48.96 clocking in Poland last week to inch closer to his 48.27 personal best set at the World championships in Berlin last summer; where he finished a surprising seventh.

The 24-year-old opened his 2010 campaign by registering two solid runs behind world-class opposition on the IAAF Diamond League circuit in Ostrava and Oslo before annihilating his 400m flat best with 46.38 to take his native championship recently.
A player for Swansea City FC as a youth, Greene revealed his thoughts on his early-season form:

“I was pleased with different aspects of the hurdles races so far this year but feel I can do faster. I’m just biding my time for Barcelona, really.
I had one or two injuries earlier on this year but managed to shake them off, luckily, so it’s great to be running faster.”

Focused on gold

Next the Bath-based athlete will compete for Team GB in the European Team Cup in Norway this weekend before tackling the British trials; where he will start as hot favourite to retain his title ahead of the European championships in Barcelona in July.

It is the continental championships which are a huge target and opportunity to capture his first senior international gold for the man coached by coaching legend Malcolm Arnold; the brains behind Ugandan John Akii-Bua’s 1972 Olympic 400m hurdles victory and Brit Colin Jackson’s 110m hurdles former world-record.

Greene took the European under23 title in 2007 but will certainly be hoping to dramatically improve on his last European performance; third in his heat at the 2006 event.

“The Euro Team Cup will be a good preview for the European champs and it will be good to gauge where I am,” explained Greene; who is managed commercially by 1999 World indoor 400m champion Jamie Baulch of Definitive Sports Management.

“I’m not worried about the times, I want to win both. It would be negative of me to think anything other than the gold; that’s my mentality.” Greene explained of his ambition to take both European and Commonwealth gold this year.

“The Commonwealth’s (in New Delhi this October) are only every four years so I want to run very well for Wales. Peaking won’t be an issue for me as I’m very endurance based rather than pure speed.”

Life at the Top

If confidence and determination was enough to win gold, then Greene would be certain of grabbing the top honours but he is well aware of the need to train hard in order to keep his place among the world’s elite.

“2009 was a big step up and very pleasing; it gave me a taste of life at the top and I couldn’t wait to get back into winter training afterwards,” Greene explained.

“I’ve been with Malcolm for a year now; he keeps me on my toes and it’s a great relationship. I’m not even the fastest hurdler he’s ever coached so if I can achieve anywhere near what those guys did, I’ll be doing well for myself.”

Training with 2006 European 400m hurdles bronze-medallist Rhys Williams, Greene urges his fellow Brit-pack to up their game in championship year:

“We should have more people going under 50-seconds, really. Rhys is a really good athlete and my closest competitor but I’m very confident of keeping my British number one spot.”

Indeed, Greene is not only looking as a good bet for gold in Spain and India this year but also; after another year under Arnold’s tutelage, should find himself as a top contender for the World championships next summer and ultimately, his longer-term goal.

“I’ll be older and more experienced by 2012 so I’m definitely aiming for the gold (in the London Olympics). I’ll need to be better than the Americans and I like to think that I can progress every year.”

Progress every year he certainly has done - and then some, so that British all-time top ranking and global gold may not be too far away for this Welsh wonder.

Life's a Beach for Volleyball Babe


She’s a Bournemouth beauty with the brains to match and this summer, GB beach volleyball star Zara Dampney is set to raise more temperatures on the court judging by her recent eye-catching form, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 24-year-old – with Scottish partner Shauna Mullen – recently placed 25th in the inaugural FIVB World Tour in Brazil and went onto to finish 17th in the Shanghai leg of the tour, before below-par performances in Rome, Moscow and Korea; but the well-travelled house-mates are in confident mood ahead of their first Grand Prix event in Norway next month.

“We’ve been training really hard and want to finish consistently among the top-25 teams in the World this year, with a few top-10’s like in 2009 to put ourselves in a good position for the World’s next year,” revealed the Morph Bowes-coached athlete.
Born in Poole and now based in Bath, Dampney and Mullen are hot prospects for glory in the fast-approaching London 2012 Olympics but face an even bigger challenge to promote their beloved sport on British shores.

Despite the glamorous, bikini-clad portrayal of beach volleyball, Brits tend not to follow and support the sport in a nation not exactly known for its’ humid temperatures and plethora of white sandy terrain. Nevertheless, Dampney is determined to change the sport’s image with her promising performances:

“The British public don’t seem to realise we’re professional athletes who are just as dedicated as others. Hopefully people will be more open after seeing us compete in 2012,” explained the Sheffield Law graduate, who also has a Master’s degree from Bath University.

Surprisingly, Dampney and Mullen have another battle on their hands in the unlikely form of persuading funding chiefs to build the UK’s only indoor beach court. Currently with only an outdoor court in Bath, the duo are reduced to almost permanently living abroad all over Europe during the winter months in order to gain access to adequate facilities.

“It’s crazy being away so much during the winter,” Dampney exclaims, “We’ve been away pretty much all the time since January then travel everywhere for the season for those five-months so we’re rarely home.”

Originally an international indoor volleyball player, Dampney –who with Mullen placed ninth in the 2009 World Tour in Norway – is no stranger to the high life, as her family home is none other than a grand Georgian manor in which the premises are rented out for outdoor pursuits and weddings.

Such lavish surroundings also boast a flock of peacocks but it is this Bournemouth babe who has the most breathtaking colours to her personality and skills on and off the beach.

- Dampney and Mullen are currently seeking a sponsor so if you feel you could help, please contact morph@britishvolleyball.org

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

On the B-Rim of Success


Fresh from scintillating form on the European circuit, British 800m man Michael Rimmer spoke to Nicola Bamford about his quest for gold in this summer’s European Championships...

Training hard to quash the critics’ view that British middle-distance running will never return to the eighties glory days of the likes of Coe, Ovett and Cram, a young, modest, whippet-like runner with bags of confidence and a steely determination is ready to prove them wrong.

Rimmer; the 24-year-old Liverpool Harrier, recently clocked a swift 1:44.98 over two-laps in the IAAF Diamond League in Oslo to place himself as the current European number-two on the season’s rankings and also squeeze into the global top-ten.

The time edged him ever closer to his best of 1:44.68; dating back to the 2008 season where he reached the Olympic semi-final in Beijing aged-22, and followed a big 1500m personal best of 3:41.1 and a collection of consistent performances in the 1:46/7 range in Dakar, Doha and Ostrava, respectively.

Rimmer; a seven-time national junior and four-time senior champion on the track, explained how his latest competition unravelled:

“It’s really nice to run the time but it was quite strange as it was like two different races,” Rimmer revealed on the race which also witnessed a world-leading 1:42.04 from Kenyan David Rudisha.


“The pace at the front was so hot but I hung back so I did well to do a good time. I did even laps so there’s hopefully more to come. It’s pleasing to run the time in early June so it bodes well for the rest of the summer.”

Coached by Norman Poole in Manchester; where he regularly commutes to from his home in Liverpool for training several times per week, Rimmer explained how months of hard graft after an injury-ravaged 2009 is paying dividends:

“Training’s been really good. I had a shocking past season with injuries and illness but I’m now on top of it. I’ve been getting a good endurance base from lots of morning runs and cross-training and I go in the gym twice a week and on the track three times a week.

“2008 was quite disappointing; I went to Beijing really confident - I wanted to make the final after running 1:44 in Monaco shortly before. It took quite a while to get over Beijing actually; it was gutting and very frustrating,” Rimmer said of his Olympic debut in which he lost half a stone through food poisoning on the eve of the event.

“Then I was pulling my hair out last year so I’m grateful now. I’ve put the bad times behind me and I’m looking forward.”

Euro medal

The 800m event in Britain has suffered of late; with no athlete bar Rimmer making an impact on European - let alone World - level in the past three seasons. With few domestic battles to drive him onto better times, Rimmer has performed admirably since his breakthrough 2006 season, thanks to the international opportunities provided by his agent, Ricky Simms; the man who guides the career of Jamaican sprint superstar Usain Bolt.

“It’s (the British 800m scene) a bit up and down now,” Rimmer explained. “I’ve been lucky. Sam Ellis and Richard Hill have had their troubles; it’d be good if we could all push on and it would help me to run better and feel more satisfied to be pushed domestically.”

Rimmer; who always wears his trademark t-shirt under his racing vest “for comfort rather than a lucky charm like it was” in his younger days, jumped onto the international athletics scene when finishing eighth in European championships four years ago, aged 20 and it is the very same continental championships this summer which the former part-time DJ hopes to make a further step up in class:

“My main objective for the year is the Euro’s then I’ll evaluate to see if the Commonwealth’s are an option,” Rimmer explained on the Barcelona event next month and the New Delhi competition this coming October.

“I’d like to do it (the Commonwealth’s), as I think I can get a medal but it’s tough to peak twice in July and then again in October. Getting to the final in Barcelona and getting a medal is the target, as I got there in 2006. I’ll need to get myself into 1:43 shape to get the gold but it’s my job to get into great shape.”

Genuine goal

Rimmer has so far done a very good job of reaching peak form in time for championships, too; as the avid Liverpool FC fan has reached the semi-final stage of each global and Olympic event since 2007.

“2012’s obviously the big aim,” Rimmer insisted looking ahead to his longer-term aspiration. “I’ll be 26 and hopefully hitting my peak. The aim is to get into 1:42 shape; I believe it’s a genuine goal. I think I have a strong chance in global finals and it’ll be unreal in London; I’ll hopefully get a medal.”

Supported by national funding and the Barry Wells Sports Foundation, Rimmer next takes to the track in Norway on June 19th to compete for the Great Britain team in his specialist event at the European Team Cup.

Following this, the UK Athletics ambassador; who works in schools to promote the sport and would like to coach after his track career, will compete in the Paris and Monaco Diamond League races to sharpen his form and tactical awareness in advance of the bigger European test in Spain.

Evidently on the b-Rim of success, Rimmer has certainly plied his trade over the few short years in his promising young career and may well be set to finally land his first major championship medal next month, should his rate of progression and maturity this year be anything to go by.