WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
With a background in modelling, it is little surprise that high-jumper Steph Pywell is leaping to success competing in an event which requires elegance and poise, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 23-year-old Sale Harrier jumped to third on the British rankings this year to place seventeenth on the UK all-time lists, in an impressive comeback season
following a career-threatening injury last winter.
Based at the High Performance centre at Loughborough University and coached by
Graham Ravenscroft and Steve Hughes, Pywell enjoyed a stellar 2010 campaign which began with a third victory at the Loughborough International in May with a lifetime best-equalling 1.90m – in her first competition for eleven months.
Buoyed by her return to form and fitness, Pywell went onto place ninth in the European Team championships for Team GB the following month with 1.85m and also won her second UK crown - following her 2008 win – with a 1.84m leap in Birmingham last July.
Eager to gain more international experience, the Loughborough University graduate finished seventh in the Aviva IAAF Diamond League Grand Prix at Crystal Palace with 1.85m before making her senior major championship debut at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last October, placing sixth with a 1.78m effort.
“Jumping 1.90m at Loughborough was a great start to the season despite only having had two months of training due to the serious back injury the year before,” Pywell explained.
I was delighted to jump 1.90m but the lack of training did come back to haunt me and I was disappointed not to jump higher later in the season.
I was hoping for a medal at the Commonwealth Games but it wasn’t to be – it was an amazing experience though and will no doubt help in my journey to London 2012.”
Indeed, it was the thought of participating for her country in the Olympic Games eighteen months from now which spurred Pywell to recovery during her darkest days last winter.
Diagnosed with a double stress fracture of the lower spine, the Manchester athlete was told that she may have never jumped again:
“It was heartbreaking and I found it difficult to cope with knowing that there wasn’t much I could do except wait,” Pywell revealed.
“My recovery was just going to be down to how well my body reacted to rest and recuperation. I was out of action for almost a year and during this time did very little training.
The driving force all the time was that I didn't (and still don't) feel that I have achieved my potential yet. I want to be in the Olympic final in London 2012 and I ultimately want to be the best female British high-jumper ever.”
In terms of domestic rivalry, Pywell has two main competitors to battle for the coveted spots on the British Olympic squad next summer - with one being World and European heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis and the other her training partner, Vicky Hubbard.
With the former solely focused on achieving 2012 glory in the combined events competition despite being the UK’s number one high-jumper, Pywell has a strong opportunity to realise her Olympic but first wants to raise the profile of her beloved event:
“Women’s high-jump is not well known as one of the most successful events in the UK and I am determined to change that view,” Pywell explained.
“The only way this can happen is by jumping high and winning medals. On a whole, the competition was not a very good standard and my performance was no exception.
(Making the Commonwealth’s) did provide me with the opportunity to spend some time away in a holding camp and at a major games, and it has helped to drive me forwards and understand what I need to do to succeed in 2012.”
Choosing to bypass the majority of the indoor season with an exception to the UK championships in Sheffield next month, Pywell’s training regime is focused on the summer outdoor campaign - with a view to qualifying for the World championships in Daegu, South Korea in August.
Sponsored by Asics and Maxinutrition, and managed by MaceSport management, Pywell’s ability has come a long way since failing to qualify for the final of the European under-23 championships in Hungary three years ago.
Blessed with natural talent, Pywell won the 2001 English Schools championships at aged fourteen with 1.75m and in recent years, has found another calling – fitness modelling:
“I have done quite a bit of modelling for the sportswear and the fitness industry as this suits my look best,” Pywell revealed.
“Reaching the final of Miss England (last year) has definitely brought a lot of enquiries recently. I want to show that it is possible to be both feminine and a successful sportswoman.
At the moment, modelling is a way of funding my ambitions within athletics and we manage the amount I do very carefully. But who knows, in the future I could definitely see myself modelling more and would love to try my hand at TV presenting.”
In addition to harbouring these glamorous dreams, Pywell has aspirations to operate a business in the leisure industry and to become a coach but the athlete with the beauty to match her talent, is not quite finished with her own sporting career just yet:
“I just love the sport and I hope that I can in some way help young athletes on their own journeys to success whatever that may be.
(My long-term goal in the sport) is fairly simple really - I want to jump high - high enough to hold the British record - and to win medals.”