WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
A month ago at the Commonwealth Games, Louise Hazel had the competition of her life to lift the heptathlon title and in the process, joined a special group of mutli-eventers from her local club to have taken the very same crown, writes Nicola Bamford.
In the international breakthrough performance of her career, the 25-year-old captured gold in scintillating style, following lifetime bests in the 200m (24.10), 100m hurdles (13.25), long-jump (6.44m) and javelin (44.42m) to smash her previous seven-event best by 113-points, moving to sixth on the British all-time lists with a 6156 score in New Delhi, India.
Remarkably, Hazel is the fourth woman from the Birchfield Harriers club to win the competition, following the successes of Judy Simpson in 1986, Denise Lewis in 1998 and Kelly Sotherton in 2006, and judging by the manner in which she performed this autumn, the outgoing athlete should become used to the limelight in years to come.
“I didn’t realise there had been so many winners from Birchfield,” Hazel revealed.
“It’s a complete honour and I’m overwhelmed that I’ve kept up the tradition. My season wasn’t great - I changed coaches four times which is unheard of and I trained myself a lot so to see that my hard work came into fruition at the right time, was a huge emotional relief.
I thought I could have maybe got the bronze - it was a testament to all of my hard work. I put the time of the year and the negative press (surrounding Delhi) to the back of my mind to focus on doing my best – it was a really proud moment for me.”
Guided by Aston Moore for the past two months at her Birmingham base, Hazel has had a rollercoaster few years in the sport. As experienced by most hepathletes, she has had her fare share of injury woes but Hazel has also overcome adversity across several areas of her life.
Born in London, Hazel began competing in 2000, winning English schools and UK age-group pentathlon titles from the offset before making her international debut in her mid-teens.
Her athletic breakthrough soon came in 2006 where, at the European championships in Gothenburg, the then 21-year-old placed 17th with a promising 5894 lifetime best but it suffered much heartache during the following two seasons.
Working in France as part of her French Studies degree, Hazel was forced to spend much of 2007 on the sidelines through injury and was devastated to finish only 17th in the European under-23 championships that summer.
Before her luck would improve it got worse, as in the space of a few months during 2008, Hazel then suffered the loss of her father, the withdrawal of her Lottery support and the opportunity to attend the Beijing Olympics due to lack in form – all whilst coping with the stress of final-year university exams.
“Being away in 2007, I was lost in terms of guidance and support from coaches and in 2008, the tragedy, losing my funding and the pressures of exams were really tough but it only made me a better athlete in the long run,” Hazel explained.
Indeed, Hazel bounced back in impressive style to qualify for the World Championships in Berlin in the summer of 2009 with a 150-point lifetime best to place 14th and then went onto claim two UK championship medals over the hurdles this year.
The first was an 60m hurdle indoor bronze in Sheffield back in February with a 8.27 personal best, before she stormed to the UK outdoor crown over the 100m barriers with 13.32 this summer.
The performance pointed towards possible qualification for the European’s in Barcelona last July but instead of chasing the times and distances for that competition, Hazel preferred to focus her attentions on improving her form in time for her Commonwealth test – which she of course, passed with flying colours.
Ending the season only second behind the reigning World and European champion Jessica Ennis (6823) on the British rankings, Hazel revealed:
“In previous years, we’ve had Denise versus Kelly then Kelly and Jess, and now me and Jess.
We’re at completely different stages of our careers – I’m proud of her and have respect for her. She won Commonwealth bronze when Kelly won and also came back from injury. I hope we can both do very well in 2012.”
Having just returned from a well-earned break in Barbados, Hazel is now looking ahead to another winter of hard graft:
“Luckily, I’ve escaped having knee surgery so I’ve got a lot of rehab to do now. As the 2010 season was so long, I won’t compete indoors over the winter – I’ll go warm-weather training and build a really good base to see what I can produce next year, I’m looking forward to it.
I have the ‘A’ standard for the Worlds (in Daegu, South Korea next summer) so that’s a huge weight off my shoulders. My first heptathlon will be at the end of May.
My goals are to make top-ten in the World’s and top-eight in the (London 2012) Olympics – with my extra energy, I love the occasion and the big stage – my passion will help me pull out a big performance.”
With ambitions to buy a pair of Christian Louboutin heels and to work in sports commentary after her career, Hazel is clearly a woman with a taste for the high life and should she achieve her goals in the count-down to 2012, then surely more gold will be coming her way in the years to come.