WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
Her performance was one of Team GB’s biggest surprises at the European Championships but 3,000m steeplechaser Hatti Dean was more shocked than anyone after her fourth place-finish and huge personal best in the Barcelona final recently, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 28-year-old Sheffield-based runner ran the race of her life to scorch to an impressive 9:30.19 in the Spanish city; taking more than eight seconds off her lifetime best performance and missing the British record by only one second in the process.
While a top-eight finish was a strong possibility, few expected the Bud Baldaro-coached athlete to get so close to the medals, especially as her 2010 season came two-years after her last attempts over the barriers before conceding to injury.
A glittering example of how to bounce back from adversity, Dean did not even win the British trial prior to Barcelona but rose to the occasion when it mattered most in scintillating style.
In last position on the first lap, Dean gradually moved up the field to settle into sixth place with four laps to go before finding an extra gear on the final circuit. Still clearly overwhelmed with excitement after failing to get a medal by only 0.37 seconds, the Oxford-born runner exclaimed:
“I still can’t believe it. The time was a real confidence boost and it was great to raise my game and not be fazed by a major competition. I have never raced in front of that size of crowd before.
I’m really happy; a bit surprised and very satisfied. A bit annoyed that I just missed out but not disappointed in myself at all. It's made me want more though, and I want to run even better now. Barcelona as a trip was a great experience, the whole team did so well and there was a very positive atmosphere which motivated me even more to run well. I really enjoy going to the stadium and watching live athletics as well so I had a brilliant time after my race.”
Her genuine surprise is of little wonder, too, for the Hallamshire Harrier missed the 2008 Beijing Olympics through injury and the Berlin World Championships last summer; the results of a couple of rollercoaster years for the Sheffield Hallam MA graduate.
After taking her first national title on the track in 2006 ahead of finishing eighth in the continental championships in the same year, Dean exited the heats of the World championships in Osaka - after breaking the national steeplechase record three times in the build-up and missing the final by less than one second – before placing eighth in the European cross-country championships during the following two years.
For Dean, who played lacrosse for England in her youth, the lowest point came in the summer of 2008 when tragedy struck - a stress fracture forced her to withdraw from the Olympic squad; shattering her Olympic dream in the process.
But now, Dean, who works flexible hours as a statistician for the civil service, is on cloud nine at last and may be able to train full-time from the autumn, should UK Athletics decide to fund her on the back of her recent international breakthrough.
“I’m really, really pleased with my performance at the championship and I was fairly tired when I first got back but I’m excited to race again. My season has been up and down - I got injured in late May and had to have two-three weeks off running, but after I started running again, training has gone really well,” Dean explained as she recalled her turbulent summer.
“I did have to go into the trials having done only a few running sessions and no hurdle work but I surprised myself there and have been surprised by each race since then.”
Further testament to Dean’s success after injury is her commitment to travelling from Sheffield to Birmingham twice each week to train with Budaro’s top-class group – in addition to frequently training alone in the Yorkshire hills.
Her next appearance on the track will be on home turf in the ‘homecoming’ for Team GB at the London IAAF Diamond League meeting in Crystal Palace this Saturday, following outings in Brussels and Croatia; the latter where Dean will have the honour of representing Europe in the Inter-Continental Cup.
Evidently thrilled with her form and hungry to tackle the international stage as often as possible, Dean quotes her latest ‘Hatt’s off’ run as her biggest achievement so far:
“The Europeans steeplechase final is definitely up there and just in general this whole season as I've come back from a slight injury and raced really well despite possibly not the best preparation, and I'm pleased that I've cross-trained really hard and kept my fitness.”
Kept her fitness she has and in the countdown to 2012, Team GB may well have found a diamond in the rough; eager to hone her sparkle with a little more experience and step up into medal class where she clearly has the potential to belong.