Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Leaping the Class Barrier


It is quite unusual to find an athlete from such a privileged aristocracy in professional track and field yet promising 110m hurdler Lawrence Clarke is literally leaping the class barrier to prove his worth through sheer hard graft, rather than by name alone, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 20-year-old from Berkshire is heir to a baronetcy and will one day become a Sir but Clarke wants to make a name for himself in his own right - as a winner of titles rather than as an inheritor of one.

With his father, grandfather and great-grandfather boasting the title of Sir, the third-year Bristol university student takes his prestigious heritage as seriously as his duties on the track:

“I obviously have a bizarrely alien background to the traditional athletic character but I don’t believe that has any bearing on my career or talent as a runner,” Clarke insists.

“I am proud of my heritage but it is often the subject of scrutiny. I am glad that I am from a background that has been, most of the time, a hard working one.

I may have had Presidents and Prime Ministers in the family back in the mists of time but that has only inspired me to be successful myself. I have always been in reverence of my ancestors and I feel I must do justice to the heritage they have left me.”


Justice he is indeed doing to the family name, and in scintillating style of late, too. Having only taken up the event four years ago, Clarke has enjoyed a dramatic improvement in form in the past year which has propelled him into senior international status despite his age and relative inexperience.

A member of Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow, Clarke has been transformed into a potential Olympian since training under the tutelage of hurdles-coach extraordinaire Malcolm Arnold at their Bath base since 2008.

After claiming European junior gold over 110m hurdles in the summer of 2009, Clarke has blossomed and his finest achievement to date arrived just a fortnight ago in India with a marvelous Commonwealth bronze on his senior major championship debut.

Completing an unprecedented English 1-2-3 behind Andy Turner and Will Sharman, Clarke sped to a 13.70 clocking to capture a hard-fought bronze following a freak injury in his heat earlier in the day.

Remarkably, despite tearing his hip flexor muscle, Clarke decided to by-pass a warm-up to enjoy his first senior international final and piece of silverware as the risk against further injury certainly paid off and in dividends to boot.

“I had a major low but I was able to fight through the pain and pull a medal out of the bag so I am ecstatic,” Clarke explains.

“The season didn’t really go to plan as I got injured at the end of July but it meant I could solely focus on the races in Delhi. I didn’t run the times I wanted but I got the medal I wanted so I am pleased with that.”

Emerging Force

Interestingly, his finest hour was in the same country and at a similar event where Clarke made his junior international debut where, at aged 18, he finished fourth in the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games.

Two years on as a stronger, more developed athlete, Clarke is an emerging force in high hurdles and this is partly courtesy of training amongst the best of British.

In addition to working alongside Sharman, the 7.72 60m indoor hurdler also joins Welsh duo Dai Greene and Rhys Williams – European and Commonwealth 400m hurdlers - in Arnold’s stable.

“Malcolm is seriously experienced and knows how to handle athletes who like to act like prima donnas,” Clarke reveals.

“He is the brains behind the group’s success but expects the athletes to work out solutions to their own technical problems through asking searching questions about what they are doing.”

In a season where Clarke has scorched to a 13.69 lifetime best – which has taken him to twenty-second on the British all-time list behind another of Arnold’s talents, former World-record holder Colin Jackson – Clarke has also impressed with bronze in the UK and gold in the English senior championships.

Improving from 13.91 last year - which placed him fifth on the British all-time under-20 rankings - Clarke has now truly established himself on the senior stage:

“Ideally, I want a major world medal and to break the 13-second barrier in my career, as that is where all my heroes have been,” Clarke explains of his long-term goals.

“Although that is ambitious and will be more than difficult, I couldn’t be in better hands with Malcolm, and who knows in six or seven years time I will hopefully be a much faster and stronger athlete with the potential to do that.”

With plans to miss the forthcoming indoor season in order to focus on recovering from injury and winning a medal at next summer’s European under-23 championships, Clarke may indeed surprise himself again by making the Great Britain senior team for Augusts’ World championships to further make his ancestors proud.

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