Monday, 19 July 2010

Turn-er of Speed


Currently lying second on the 100m continental rankings list, Laura Turner finds herself in an unusual position heading into next weeks’ European Championships; but as Nicola Bamford found, the British sprinter is ready to step up onto the medal podium.

Coached by Linford Christie, Turner will be inspired as she steps out onto the very same Barcelona track in which her mentor strode to Olympic 100m glory on when she was just ten years old in 1992.

A transformed athlete since going under his tutelage last year, the 27-year-old will be aiming to take her first European championship medal over the same distance; a title Christie took three times during his career.

Fresh from a blistering 11.11 100m personal best in Switzerland last month, which took the Harrow-born athlete to third on the British all-time lists, Turner could soon to be her way to emulating such a sizeable record of achievements:

“The season started off very slowly for me but the plan was to race myself fit and the plan seems to be paying off!” an elated Turner revealed.

“I am happy with where it is going. I am feeling very happy with everything at the moment which reflects in my performances. My winter was fantastic up until Christmas when I got injured. I was unable to run for ten weeks, hence the ‘race myself fit’ strategy. Since I returned from injury it has gone really well and I am now starting to see the benefits of all this hard work.”


Hard work indeed; as Christie’s camp is notorious for undertaking a rigorous approach to training at their Brunel University base. Joined by Athens 4x100m relay gold-medallist Mark Lewis-Francis and a handful of British international sprinters, Turner’s tough regime has witnessed a marked improvement over the past season.

“It’s great (with Linford),” Turner explained. “He’s a really good person to be around. His energy rubs off on the group and as a result we all train really hard. We are always the loudest group at the track because we have a lot of laughs at training too.

My training week is pretty tough, I was quite daunted by it when I first joined the group, but I was soon able to handle it. We like at Brunel as it is quiet and I studied at Brunel University for six years (doing an MSc in physiology) so I feel at home there.”

The positive mental attitude instilled by her coach has helped Turner blossom this year to great effect. Victories at the BUPA Great Manchester City Games and in the ‘B’ race at the European Team Championships in Norway (to place third-fastest overall in the competition), were followed by a scintillating 100m and 200m double at the UK Championships and European trials earlier this month.

This far, it has been a season only blighted by her below-par eighth in her heat in the Gateshead leg of the IAAF Diamond League a fortnight ago but Turner is still in confident mood ahead of her Spanish test:

“My aim is always to win!” Turner exclaimed. “But with regards to the Championships, Linford tells me to make the final and anything can happen. But I am mega competitive so winning is always my main aim. I never put limits on my performances. I believe in Linford’s ability to get me ready and my ability to perform.”


Turner is indeed a new athlete; one with supreme confidence in her own ability and an athlete who realistically and patiently believes they will reach the top of their sport in time. It was not so long ago, for example, that she exited the heats of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Turner has spent the past five years on the cusp of making a global impression; having to make do with reaching the semi-final stage at best on many occasions. It was in 2006 that she first reached near-medal status with fourth place in both the World University Games and the Commonwealth Games but since, her major championship participation has mainly been reduced to making finals as part of the relay squads; the latest being sixth place in the 2009 World championships in Berlin.

She will again join her team-mates in an attempt to better their silver medal from the previous European championships in Gothenburg four years ago but this time, Turner’s priority will be making – and seriously impacting – on the 100m individual final.

“2009 was pretty disappointing really,” Turner explained. “I was injured for the majority of the winter so missed a lot of training. It was my first winter with Linford and I wasn’t able to do anything he had planned for me. It was very frustrating but I always say that it makes me stronger, and I think it has.”

Turner not only looks strong but fierce and hungry, too and it is clear that she is bubbling over with excitement at the prospect of potentially bringing home two medals this month:

“I just to be the best I can be. I never put limits on my ambition. I am excited for the women’s sprint relay this year. We have some promising juniors which is always exciting. Those of us at the top are striving to be the best we can be, that is all anyone can ask of us.”

With a new coaching relationship that is evidently working wonders, coupled with her forthcoming nuptials in the spring, it is little wonder that Turner is on cloud nine - and in a fortnight’s time, it may well have a sparkling gold trim to it, to boot.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Wheelie Good Show


Only three years since bursting onto the global wheelchair racing scene Shelly Woods smashed the 1500m world-record last month, as she continues to round into a genuine 2012 Paralympic gold medal contender, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 24-year-old Blackpool athlete has long been hailed as Britain’s brightest female disability athlete since her predecessor, eleven-time Paralympic champion Dame Tanni Gray-Thompson.

Racing in the T54 category, Woods is enjoying a confidence-boosting 2010 following personal bests in distances from 200m all the way up to 5,000m. Coached by Pete Wyman on the track (who cycles ahead to push her on) and Adam Pratt in the gym, Woods has evidently put her demons from the London marathon last spring – where she suffered a flat tyre –firmly to bed.

World Record

Victory in the BUPA Great Manchester 10km put the wheels in motion for a superb summer for the former wheelchair basketball player, as she swiftly went onto break her 400m, 800m and 5,000m bests in the space of three days before capturing her first global mark – a scorching 3:21.22 in Switzerland:

“I’m really excited about my first world record and it feels great to have gone so fast, I’ve always wanted to own a world record. I was in the last race in 2007 when Chantal Petitclerc of Canada last set the world record of 3.24 and I remember finishing fourth about a second behind and thinking how fast and good she was to do that.

So for me to go 3:21 is fantastic and shows the training this season is going well and in the right direction and gives me some confidence. I knew I was capable of going fast and that the world record was a realistic thing for me to hit at some point; it was just a case of when and where, how fast and also winning the race. I was surprised to go under the record by three seconds though, as that’s quite a bit and it’s fast!” Woods exclaimed.

Medals Galore

That is Shelly Woods all over – modest and politely spoken but with a quiet steely determination to push the boundaries and one day emulate her illustrious aforementioned heroine. Indeed, the recently engaged athlete is no stranger to overcoming adversity.

She started using a wheelchair at the age of eleven after a heavy 20ft fall from a tree which injured her spinal cord yet Woods’ unwavering belief that she would go onto achieve the same as any other in life was recognised ten-fold when she found the sport of athletics.

Her considerable success includes 1500m silver and 5,000m bronze (in a race re-run after a six-woman pile-up) at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, three London marathon medals (including 2007 gold) as well as Paralympic World Cup 800m and 1500m bronze and BWAA International 400m and 1500m gold and 100m silver this year.

2009 was certainly another year with medals galore and kept Woods firmly on track for glory in 2012:

“2009 was good,” Woods explained. “I ranked in the top-three in the world rankings on the track and on the road and I had some good races like coming second in the New York Marathon.”

Targeting Gold

Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Woods is targeting the BUPA Great North Run – an event she won in 2005 – and the victory in the New York marathon this autumn:

“New York is one race I would love to win; having come second there three times,” Woods revealed. “I love travelling there and racing the marathon course - it suits me well but it’s tough with some monster climbs.”

With a slight fear of flying, such commitment to racing across the globe is testament to Woods’ determined approach to establish herself as more than a world-record holder and number one in just one event.

For the remainder of 2010, she will focus her energy on being in top shape for January’s World championships in New Zealand, where the target is understandably a gold medal:

“I’d love to win a gold medal and with the World’s being at an awkward time of year in our winter, I have had to plan things a bit differently,” Woods explained.


Planning is of extra importance now Woods has set a precedent with her world best, for she knows her rivals will now be gunning for her more than usual. But, ever the bubbly professional, Woods enjoys a friendly rivalry with her counterparts on the circuit:

“I love training and racing and representing my country, and I have a great relationship with my rivals,” she divulged.

“When I’m on the track and road, you have your game-face on and everything is about beating them so not so much niceness. But off the track, I’ve learned they are a bunch of great girls who I really respect and there is some good camaraderie.

But at the same time, all you want to do is beat them and make it really hard for them when racing, as they do to me. It’s what I get up train for everyday.”

And with that glimpse of spirited aggression to succeed, Woods is sure to capitalize on her recent form to forge deeper into the history books and capture that well-deserved gold in 2012.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Mr Versatile


Not many athletes can consistently perform at a world-class level over distances ranging from the 100m all the way up to the marathon but for Paralympic great David Weir, its second nature, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 31-year-old Londoner, who competes in the T54 category, is arguably Britain’s finest wheelchair racer and a global force to be reckoned with on the track and road; such is his determined, intelligent yet aggressive aptitude for the sport.

Having taken up disability athletics at the age of eight, Weir went on to compete at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics aged just 17 before dropping out of the sport for a few years, only to return in time for the 2004 Athens Games where he took 100m silver and 200m bronze.


His years of dedication and honing of talent has to date rewarded him with an impressive collection of twenty major championship medals, including multiple British and World records over both terrains - but Weir is not finished with the sport yet, as he continues to create sparks in the lead up to his ultimate goal of claiming gold in the London 2012 Paralympics:

“2012’s the biggie for me,” Weir explained. “And I obviously want to do well in the Worlds in January but it’ll be tough to peak then for the champs in New Zealand – I’m not normally very good at peaking early but it’s an important stepping stone to the London Games and it will probably be my last Paralympics.”

A repeat of his Beijing 2008 accomplishments would indeed provide the ultimate swansong for Weir, who as a stalwart in British disability sport, has become a British Paralympic hero and earned himself an MBE in 2009 for his athletic achievements.


On his superb sporting CV and longevity, Weir revealed: “2009 was an off-year for me – there was no major focus so it was a funny year. I wanted a break from the sport; I’ve been racing competitively since I was 20 so I’ve been doing it for a long time. 2009 was good away from racing, what with the MBE and being given freedom of my local borough and recognised by the community.

“The achievements I’m most proud of are my three world golds and one silver and Beijing was special also, as I was frightened after having glandular fever in 2007 – it was tough to come back from it but I still won (800m and 1500m gold, 400m silver and 5,000m bronze).”

Bouncing back from adversity, too, is certainly is one of Weir’s specialities. A four-time winner of the London marathon, Weir was devastated to suffer two flat tyres in the closing stages of this year’s race whilst enjoying a huge lead but returned with vigour to win the BUPA Great Manchester 10km title the following month; showing eye-catching form.

Personal Bests

Coached by Jenny Archer and joined by his personal trainer on a bike to push him during sessions in the capital’s Richmond Park and Kingston track, Weir’s season has progressed with consummate ease and at confidence-boosting rate after capitalising on his triple gold medal-winning display in BWAA International and World Cup 1500m gold last year to speed to three personal bests recently.

During a visit to Switzerland earlier this month, Weir battled with his great Swiss rival Marcel Hug to go beneath his world records in the 1500m and 5,000m but agonisingly, still narrowly lost the two global bests to his compatriot.

In fields that resembled Paralympic final start-lists, Weir clocked 1:32.66 in the 800m before breaking the world bests – albeit in second place – with 2:55.25 and 9:53.15, respectively.

On his form this year, Weir said: “I’m really pleased with my season so far. London wasn’t good but it wasn’t my fault and then getting a virus around the time of the World Cup – my times were bad but we sorted out my medication.

In Switzerland my times were very fast – it was a shame I didn’t win, though. I was very happy with those PB’s but frustrated – I wish I’d had more training time since the virus before the races but that’s the way it turned out.”

New Territory

Hoping to get revenge and even quicker, Weir will now drive into new territory as he takes part in three consecutive IAAF Diamond League demonstration races this summer. Tomorrow, he will contest the 1500m in Lausanne before tackling the same event as well as the 100m and 800m “for fun” in Gateshead this Saturday.

“Training’s been consistent recently, which is good to know. I just need to keep it up until the end of season races in Paris, Crystal Palace and Zurich,” Weir explained.

“I don’t focus on the sprints anymore – more the 800m, 1500m and the 5,000m – the latter two are my favourite events. The speed-work in the summer really helps my longer races in the autumn/winter.”

Dogged Obsession

Weir’s speed-endurance will be tested to the maximum this autumn; too, as after a competition break in August, he has aspirations of glory in either the Great North Run (a title he claimed in 2003 and 2005) or the Berlin marathon in September, with a view to adding to his 2005 victory in the New York marathon.

And with 2012 fast on the horizon, each competition holds more importance than ever and although focused on the climax of his Paralympic dream, Weir is already looking to the future away from the racing chair:

“I want to get into coaching after my athletics career and I would like to do more DJ’ing – I do it at home as a hobby to unwind; I’ve always been into the underground music scene. Also when I retire, I’d like to get into breeding French bulldogs with my partner.”

And with Weir’s dogged, terrier-like obsession of achieving on the global stage, it is little wonder he is fascinated with producing such creatures in order to continue those trademark winning traits long after retirement.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Golf's No Handicap for Hockey Stars


It is a well-known fact that many international sports stars enjoy a round of golf from time to time for purposes of relaxation, escapism and team-bonding, but five members of Team GB’s hockey squad are pretty nifty at their second-claim sporting pastime, writes Nicola Bamford.

Top of the pile when it comes to showing off their driving and putting skills is 29-year-old Rob Moore. A member of Team GB since 2003, the midfielder has racked up over 170 international caps on the hockey court as well as performing in the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Working part-time as a hockey and cricket coach, Moore picks out the team’s 2009 European gold and fourth place from the World Cup last March as his career highlights but he also boasts an impressive golfing resume:

“I’m not bad, I’ve got a low handicap of three,” Moore modestly reveals. “I play a lot – it’s great for relaxation purposes. I like to play with the other squad members - we try to fit a game in when we’re away on trips or when we’re back in the UK.

I’m a member of the Berkshire golf club near Ascot which I really enjoy being part of – it’s a very long and difficult process to get into so I’m lucky to be a member of such a nice place. I play a lot when there are no games or training to be done and we get to play on so pretty nice courses around the world.”

Unsurprisingly, the hockey lads all agree that Moore’s the top golfer on the team but 22-year-old Ashley Jackson is a close runner-up on the course.

The 2009 World young hockey player of the year plays off a handicap of six and is a member of Sweetwood Park golf club in Sussex.

The 85-capped midfielder is a full-time athlete and despite his relative youth, made the Olympic, European and World Cup squads.

On his golfing endeavours, Jackson explained: “I play whenever I can do for a challenge and to be with friends and my team-mates. I can’t go (to Sweetwood Park) often but when it’s the off-season, I usually go two or three times a week.”

Proving golf’s not just for the male hockey professionals, is 25-year-old Chloe Rogers; a former national university golf champion and county champion.

As an attacking midfielder, Rogers has an impressive 106 international caps since her GB debut in 2003 and states Commonwealth Games bronze (2006) and European and World Cup bronze (in 2007 and 2009, respectively) as her best hockey achievements.
Another stand-out accomplishment was placing sixth in the Beijing Olympics despite the team being ranked tenth prior to the Games.

A full-time athlete who occasionally coaches and gives motivational talks in schools, Rogers however, could have easily gone down the route of chasing a career as a professional golfer:

“I won the BUSA (British University - now BUCS) singles title in 2007 and I played in many English and British amateur competitions in the 2003/4 seasons and was the Essex champion in 2003.” Rogers revealed.

“I’m a member of the Braintree golf club in Essex – I try to play there when I can; I do county competitions when I have the time. I really enjoy playing golf - I would have liked to have tried to become a pro if it were not for hockey.

It’s nice to do another sport occasionally – it doesn’t tire you out and it’s nice especially in the sunny weather. Not many of our women play so I don’t usually play when we’re abroad but we’ll sometimes go to a driving range.”

Providing more opposition on the course for Moore and Jackson is part-time PE teacher and hockey coach Matt Daly. The 26-year-old has notched up 135 caps as an up-front attacker and was in the squad that took continental glory last summer.

On why he plays golf, Daly explained: “I’m not a member of a golf club, I’m a social golfer in the nice summer days. I play off a handicap between ten and twelve.

Because we’re all either full or part-time athletes, it’s nice that we can go for a round of golf occasionally – we do more at home than abroad. We occasionally get the chance to play before the start of a big tournament abroad; we’re fortunate we get those opportunities and it’s nice with my team-mates.”

With a handicap of 14; still quite an admirable score, is the fifth golf enthusiast from the hockey world; Simon Mantell.

Aged 26, the hockey forward owns 90-odd caps and has scored 28 goals in his international career. Mantell is another full-time athlete and was sidelined with a fractured metatarsal for two months from March this year before returning to full-fitness after an operation where a pin was inserted.

Golf, he says, is the only other sport the team’s physio allows them to play: “I like playing against the squad and I’m a member of the Mendit golf club in Somerset,” Mantell revealed.

“I play when I can, it’s a great sport - great for active-recovery on our rest days. It’s great for mental toughness – you can be competitive with yourself and also your friends. My favourite course was when we were away in the 2008 Olympic holding-camp in Macau – the golf and country club there was great. I’m not the best golfer in the squad – that would be Rob.”