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He made headlines this summer for competing in baggy basketball shorts and dancing in the rain before the biggest event of the year, but high-jumper Martyn Bernard has still proven himself to be a medal contender despite his relaxed attitude, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 25-year-old first caught the media glare back in June when winning the European trials and UK championship whilst sporting the unusual attire, which many criticised for surely inhibiting his performance.
The second occasion where the Wakefield Harrier caused a stir, albeit producing a more entertaining display, was during the warm-up for the final of the European championship in Barcelona the following month.
In pouring rain, Bernard decided the best way to keep warm and to also keep the crowd in high spirits in the 1992 Olympic stadium was to give his best Gene Kelly impression by dancing to the classic tune ‘Singing in the Rain’ – accompanied of course, by a twirling umbrella.
Coached by Dan Pfaff in London, Bernard explained his unorthodox approach: “I’m just comfortable in basketball shorts. I sit around the house in them all day and sometimes train in them so I thought ‘why not jump in them?’ – they don’t get in the way or inhibit me in any way, as they’re so light.
Barcelona was great – I was relaxed and I had a fun time. Who’d have thought so many people would have been watching me?”
Many eyes have been on Bernard since 2005 in fact, when the tall Liverpool psychology graduate – who began high-jumping at aged 16 and has taken a bundle of national titles since he turned 18 -made his international breakthrough by placing third in the World University Games.
Subsequent years saw Bernard take Commonwealth silver at aged 21 (in 2006 with 2.26m) but also witnessed disappointing displays in the European championships that same year and fourteenth position (2.21m) in the 2007 World championships.
Slowly but surely, however, the outgoing athlete began to make his mark. First, he captured European indoor bronze (2.29m) in Birmingham 2007 then he produced a promising ninth place (2.25m) on his Olympic debut in Beijing 2008 – the same year in which he leapt to his current personal best of 2.30m.
Last year represented Bernard’s first major setback, though – an ankle injury which required an operation, resulting in him missing the World championships in Berlin but, staying as upbeat and determined as ever, Bernard has returned in 2010 in better form than ever.
Despite his ankle still ‘looking like a pin cushion after so much acupuncture treatment’ Bernard leapt 2.29m in Spain this summer to claim a much-deserved bronze medal in the continental championships. His heel, too, was suffering, as he was forced to have an injection for a bruise but Bernard had had his fill of disappointments.
Making a bold tactical decision to pass on the opening height of 2.19m, the British number one had two failures at 2.23m and another at 2.26m before gambling on his medal-winning height, which temporarily landed him the gold before a Russian duo pulled ahead.
After failing to make the 2006 European final, it was a performance to savour – especially after all of the heartache and Bernard continued to capitalise on his fine form by replicating the same position (with 2.25m) in the IAAF Continental Cup whilst representing Europe in Split, Croatia earlier this month.
“2010’s gone really well and I’m excited about what’s to come,” Bernard revealed.
“It’s a crazy season – it’s rare having two championships. There’s pro’s and con’s to it, with the Commonwealth’s being so late but also providing the opportunity to get another medal. I’m excited and looking forward to it and the experience over there.
This season’s been about coming back from the operation and trying to get the best out of myself. It’s all about patience and it was great to get a medal this season. Now, I’m training hard to hopefully do well in the World’s (in Daegu, South Korea) next summer.”
With only one competition remaining – the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi next month –Bernard has another score to settle. In the 2006 event, despite being happy with his silver-medal-winning 2.26m jump, Bernard fell into a dispute with the officials, which somewhat soured the occasion.
Angry after first his take-off mark was moved and then experiencing more anguish over a misunderstanding about which height he next wanted to attempt, Bernard did well to remain cool and calm to perform admirably under the pressure.
Using the memory as motivation to go one better in India, Bernard explained:
“It would be fantastic to go one better – I see 2006 as a happy time when I was young so it was a surprise that I got the medal. Now, I’m older and wiser so the gold would be a dream-come-true. There won’t be any Russians out in Delhi so the competition won’t be as strong but it will be hard regardless.
The competition season’s dried up now so it will be interesting to see how people fare after not competing for a month or so. I’ve just got to try to make the most of the situation – I’ve had a break and I’m now preparing for October with technical sessions. I’m probably in better shape now than I was in Barcelona.”
Joining English team-mates Samson Oni and Tom Parsons out in Delhi, Bernard’s big date with gold-medal destiny falls on October 8th. Training with European 200m silver-medallist Christian Malcolm and former British long-jump record-holder Greg Rutherford for extra speed, Bernard explained:
“It’s good that high jump’s doing so well – we’ve got three or four Brits on the world stage. The domestic pressure’s helping us to prepare for international championships.
Obviously my big aim’s London 2012 and to make the best of that, to hopefully be in the best shape of my career. After high-jump, I’ll see if I can give back to the sport in some shape or form.”