Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Back to Basics


Despite a disappointing championship season, Tom Lancashire bounced back to record the fastest 1500m time by a British man in five years and by spending the winter in
the mud, he hopes to get closer to the medals this summer, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 25-year-old Bolton runner finished a frustrating tenth and eighth, respectively, in last year’s European championship and Commonwealth Games finals following injury and poor tactical decisions, but enjoyed a trio of confidence-boosting performances in between the two biggest tests of the summer.

In Brussels last August, Lancashire registered a scintillating 3:33.96 lifetime best over the metric mile to not only head the national rankings but to also jump to twelfth on the British all-time list for the distance.

Only a week earlier did the Florida State university graduate speed to a 3:53.39 mile at Crystal Palace in London, to reach the British number-one spot before racing to a 3:55.22 road mile in New York for second on the national all-time rankings – all of which went some way to making up for the two championship blips in his 2010 campaign.

Guided by Norman Poole in Manchester, Lancashire explained:

“Last season was mixed – I was happy with my time progressions and making two finals but I didn’t run as well as I should have done due to tactics, not running my own races and also getting injured earlier in the summer.

But I’ve not focused on it and I hope I can give a lot more this year.”


Training alongside European 800m silver-medallist Michael Rimmer and 19-year-old Commonwealth Games 800m semi-finalist Niall Brooks, Lancashire turned down the chance to study medicine three years ago in order to become a full-time athlete.

With the desire to fulfil his second passion after his athletic career, Lancashire may have made the correct decision considering his success in recent years.

A five-time national 1500m champion in his teens, the Northern runner captured 2003 European junior silver and placed sixth in the 2004 World junior final before breaking through onto the senior middle-distance scene four years later.

Reducing his 3:38.92 best to 3:35.33, Lancashire won the 2008 Olympic trials and UK championships at finished seventh in his heat in Beijing at aged twenty-three.

A big Manchester United fan, Lancashire went on to place eighth in the World championship final the following year in Berlin before the recent blemishes in his athletic CV.

Using the often-thought unusual method of cross-country racing to gain strength for the summer, Lancashire revealed:

“Things are going really well, it’s definitely the best winter I’ve ever had.

The main difference this year is that I’ve managed to stay clear of illness and injury so I’ve been able to do more endurance work and it’s paying off.

I’ve always loved cross-country and it fits in with our approach of building a strong base for the summer. I hope to maintain my endurance longer than in the past.

I did the same last winter, getting strong through cross-country and I think I’ve moved on again this year so I hope my 1500m performances will as well – the two are closely linked.”


After placing an encouraging fifth in the Bupa Great Edinburgh cross-country international and winning the northern cross-country championships last month,
Lancashire will next target the national cross-country championships in Staffordshire this weekend before tacking the Inter-Counties championships and World trials in Birmingham in early March:

“Steve Cram (1983 World 1500m champion) won the northern in 1985 so if it’s good enough for him, it shows cross-country is important,” Lancashire explained.

“I hope to run as well as I did in the northern champs and to get in the medals. As a 1500m athlete, running over 12km and medalling would make me happy, it would be a big achievement.”

Seventh and fourth, respectively, in the 2009 events, Lancashire recently bought a house which he shares with Brooks and his partner, former GB 800m runner Laura Finucane and is keen to praise his training environment:

“It’s a good group - we’re all helping each other a lot,” he revealed.

“Norman’s great to have around – I started with him while I was still at university in America. He’s really proactive and it works really well.”

With plans to train in Florida for a fortnight after the cross-country season, the 2010 UK indoor 3,000m silver-medallist will open his outdoor track season in April and is determined to lead an upsurge in British performances this summer:

“Men’s middle-distance running in Britain is crying out for someone to break through and get major medals,” Lancashire explained.

“Mike got closer last year with his European medal and I’d really like to get there soon.

There was a big gap in times from myself and Andy Baddeley (2008 Olympic 1500m finalist) so the depth is missing really, but young people like Niall are coming through and keeping me on my toes.”

In a year where the World outdoor championships in Daegu, South Korea is the key priority, Lancashire is well aware of the pressure to produce the placing, rather than times alone when it matters most:

“I need to get my times down but my goal is to reach the world final,” he revealed.

“It’s been a struggle before and I’ll be disappointed if I don’t – to have more major championship experience is important before Olympic year.

Nerves are good to push yourself and the pressure will drive me on. I’m working on my championship racing – I need to be nearer to the medals. Times are a nice side-product but the aim is to perform.”

With the 2012 Olympics fast-approaching, Britain’s top 1500m man is hoping his going the extra mile, quite literally, will help him reap the rewards on home turf next summer:

“I’m definitely aiming for more than just making the Olympic team,” Lancashire explained.

“There’s definitely pressure but it’s more from myself. To make the world final would reassure myself and others that support me things are going well for 2012.

There’s a lot more to come – my target over the next few years is to break the British 1500m record (3:29.67). I’m hoping I can move on a lot and I think I have a really good chance to get within reach of it.”

By going back to basics in an effort to break through into world-class, Lancashire
may soon become as famous as his namesake region where he hails from.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Wheely Impressive


Series: England Athletics national volunteer award-winners

Services to Disability Athletics – Ian Thompson.

Nicola Bamford profiles the winner of the Services to Disability Athletics award from the 2010 England Athletics national volunteer awards ceremony last autumn...

Immersed in the sport for the past twenty-five years, Dr Robert Ian George Thompson is a key face in disability athletics through a variety of platforms.

The husband of eleven-time Paralympic gold medallist Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Thompson currently works as a consultant in disability sport and wheelchair racing technology as well as a company director in sport science and management.

The 47-year-old from Stockton-on-Tees has amassed an impressive array of achievements ranging from international competitor to coach, administrator, sports scientist, bio-mechanist and wheelchair designer.

A current UKA level three performance coach, working on his level four grade at present, Thompson was unable to attend the England Athletics awards gala due to participating in a development day in Scotland but was genuinely surprised to hear of his win, despite his long list of achievements:

“I was not able to get to the awards evening as I was up in the Scottish borders and I was obviously very happy to receive such a recognition,” Thompson explained.

A father of one – to nine-year-old Carys – Thompson enjoyed success in other sports such as basketball and cycling in his youth, however, following a spinal injury after crashing his bike in 1984, found great satisfaction in an introduction to his now-beloved athletics.

Racing in the T54 category as a wheelchair athlete, Thompson can boast an impressive athletic CV of with highlights which include being a two-time Paralympian and a two-time World and Commonwealth representative in the 1990’s.

A member of New Marske Harriers and Manchester Kestrels, Thompson additionally held the British records from 200m to 5,000m and today, is still ranked third for the half-marathon (with 45:03 from 1997) on the British all-time lists.

Since his competitive retirement, Thompson has failed to slow down, holding many positions in prestigious bodies across the sport including:

BWRA Sport Science Coordinator from 1993-1999, BWRA Secretary from 1994-1996 and UK Athletics World Class Performance - Wheelchair Racing Event Group Head Coach from 2001-2006.

In recent years, too, Thompson has headed the disability portfolio for the England Athletics North East Regional Council from 2007-present, sat on the BWSF Sports Management Committee from 2008-present, sat on the England Athletics National Council from 2009 – 2010 and also on the BWSF Executive Council form 2010-present.

“One of the most satisfying areas I was involved in was the Wheelchair Racing Sport
Science Support Project, running from 1994 through to 1998 (and continued in various forms until recently),” Thompson revealed, when questioned on his finest working memories.

I was able to develop this work further when I became the UK Athletics Wheelchair Racing Coach in 2001, as part of the team on the World Class Programme developing the squad of athletes for the Athens Paralympics.”

His personal roles over the past decade as an individual have been even more noticeable with Thompson’s career taking in several top duties such as:

UKA wheelchair racing head coach from 2001-2006, wheelchair racing coach for Olympic exhibition races in Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 and more famously as coach, adviser and training partner to his be-medalled partner.

“From 2001 to 2006, I was her boss and this actually worked very quite well,” Thompson explained.

“Though, some thought it was quite tough of me to set her (plus the rest of the squad) a series of time trials on the first day of a training camp in Spain - three weeks after she gave birth to our daughter.

But, that was part of the plan in the run up to Athens – if she was going to go well in Athens, there was not going to be very much time to rest!” – indeed, the plan did work as his wife went onto capture 100m and 400m gold at aged thirty-five.

“Training together has always helped us both,” Thompson continued.

“Sessions of Tanni trying to stay in my slipstream and me trying to drop her worked very well. (As a toddler) hooking Carys’ cycle trailer to the back of Tanni’s racing chair, made the best of resistance training and child-care. Tanni and I still keep fit and race occasionally.”

In addition to his illustrious partner, Thompson has also guided top internationals such as Nicola Jarvis, Jack McKenna and Kevin Papworth over the years and more recently, guides multiple World junior champion Jade Jones and other top juniors including Nikki Emerson and Simon Lawson.

“I’m still enjoying the challenge!” Thompson revealed.

“I prefer to train along with the athletes I coach as much as possible (using a hand-cycle now) as this allows me to also give close monitoring of technique, and to provide feedback and encouragement.”

Away from the track, Thompson also delivers courses and materials to coaches on wheelchair racing and athlete training camps in the UK and abroad, presents at sport science conferences on wheelchair racing technique analysis and evaluation and was recently the co-author (with Tanni) of a chapter on coaching wheelchair racing in the Human Kinetics book ‘Wheelchair Sport’ (2010).

“I have also been manufacturing high-end wheelchair racing gloves, am in the process of redesigning our light-weight training roller system, and in progressing the power measurement tool,” explained Thompson – arguably one of the busiest men in disability sport.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Pole Position


Beginning only her third year as a pole-vault specialist, Holly Bleasdale is jumping from strength to strength after shattering her best marks and shooting up the national record lists, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 19-year-old Blackburn Harrier started to train seriously for the event in the autumn of 2008 and progressed from 2.80m to an impressive 4.05m leap to break the national junior record on numerous occasions in her debut season.

A Team GB call-up for the 2009 European junior championships subsequently arrived but an ill-timed broken bone in the foot put paid to her international aspirations, as she required surgery and six-months out from training.

Fast-forward twelve months, however and Bleasdale is riding on the crest of a wave following an unprecedented highly-successful comeback in the sport after claiming World junior bronze (with 4.15m) in Canada last summer and is currently poised to claim the British senior number-one mantel in thrilling fashion.


In a glorious 2011 indoor campaign so far, Bleasdale’s rate of progression is scintillating.

Having begun the year with a 7.94 indoor 60m personal best, she went on to register twenty-two centimetre lifetime best mark of 4.28m before improving further a week
later with 4.32m in Manchester to break the British under23 record.

Refusing to rest on her laurels, Bleasdale continued her fine form in the following weeks to leap 4.40m in France and 4.48m in Glasgow - representing the Commonwealth Select squad at the Aviva International - which took her to second on the British indoor all-time lists behind Kate Dennison’s 4.60m.

Coached by Julien Raffalli-Ebezant at SportCity in Manchester, the relative beginner to arguably athletics’ toughest technical event improved yet again last weekend to register 4.50m in Sheffield to lead the national rankings and gain the ‘A’ qualifier for this summer’s World outdoor championships.

A mere six centimeters away from breaking two-time Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva’s world age-19 best, Bleasdale will target the British record in Sheffield this weekend at the UK indoor championships, where she also hopes to book her spot on the team for next month’s European event.

“I feel happy that my outdoor season went so well and the start to the new indoor season is going great too,” Bleasdale explained.

“It makes all the training and hard work I put in throughout the season all feel worthwhile when I achieve personal bests and medals at major championships.

My current indoor season is going well too, I knew during my winter training that I was feeling fit and strong, so to see the results in competitions is great.

I stayed focused and positive during my injury and I worked on other weakness in my body such as core strength and upper body strength.

To be honest, if I could go back I wouldn’t change my injury - it did me good, as it changed the way I thought about athletics and has really helped me.”


After having added two strength and conditioning sessions, a gym workout and a gymnastics session to her weekly routine, it is little wonder that Bleasdale is reaping the rewards.

Currently on a gap year before beginning her university studies, the former heptathlete has transformed over the winter months into an exciting international contender on the senior scene.

In 2010, the Lancashire athlete claimed the senior UK outdoor silver medal with 4.35m, which remains the British junior record today but this summer, Bleasdale will expect to be jump around 20-30cm higher and may well be picked for the World championships in Daegu, South Korea in August.

“My main aims for 2011 are to gain experience at the European indoors and outdoors, I aim to medal at the European under23 championships (in Ostrava in July) and to jump a height of 4.56m for the world age-19 record,” Bleasdale revealed.

“I feel this is within my capabilities and it would be an amazing achievement.

My long term goals are to compete in all the major championships and the ultimate aim in my career is to get close to five metres and win the Olympics.
This is an ultimate goal and I have a long way to go before I reach this but I feel aiming high is the key to ensure motivation.”

With the aim of working as a physiotherapist in the future, Bleasdale for now has her sights firmly on establishing herself on the global scene in the senior ranks and judging by her current rate of progression, she will most likely be one to watch in 2012 and beyond.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Costello Can’t Say ‘No’


Series: England Athletics national volunteer award-winners

Services to Volunteering – Neil Costello.

Nicola Bamford profiles the winner of the 2010 Services to Volunteering award from the England Athletics national volunteer awards ceremony last autumn.

Having completed his level-one coaching qualifications in 1984, Costello now leads a road-running group at Cambridge & Coleridge AC and enjoys taking part himself:

“I have never been a star athlete, I was a pretty good miler as a schoolboy and enjoyed cross country running. - a long run has often kept me sane when I’ve had pressures elsewhere,” Costello explained.

Indeed, many would feel under immense pressure if they held as many important voluntary roles within the sport but Costello takes it all in his stride – contributing to his recent accolade:

“The (awards) evening was very enjoyable – great company and a great atmosphere,” Costello revealed.

“I felt a bit embarrassed to receive an award when I know how much many other people do, proud to be seen as someone who is worthy of something like this and very aware of how much I rely on other people – it is an award for my wife, Ginny, and the team of people at C&C and elsewhere not just for me.”

Ever a modest man, Costello entered the volunteering world over two-decades ago when his local club required a new cross-country secretary and the duties spiralled from then on.

Introduced by the then club secretary, Peter Chaplin, Costello answered his plea for more people to be involved with the club’s growth and has been inspired by the work
of other volunteers around him since his foray into the sport:

“I get pleasure out of watching anyone who is excellent at the things they do, not just in athletics,” Costello explained.

“We have some athletes who are a delight to watch in the club, and nationally, of course. People who get the best out of themselves are inspirational too, whatever their standard.”

Having coached many English Schools’ finalists and internationals such as Sam Boden and Will Clarke, Costello names his work with tri-athlete Rachel Horn as his biggest thrill to date and has his hand in many events in an organisational capacity:

“I’ve organised cross country events up to regional championships and a number of road races,” Costello revealed.

“I also help out at track and field events, usually as one of the scorers or announcer, occasionally wielding a rake or tape measure.

I enjoy working on endurance events. The Cambridge Festival of Running, now in its third year, gives me a buzz. It’s run entirely by volunteers and in the last two years we’ve raised £18,000 for charity.”

Impressive feats indeed for the man who additionally holds various other roles including Chair of C&C, Chair of the Greater Cambridge Athletics Network and also Chair of the Cambridge Festival of Running.

“I’m on the England Athletics Regional Council and some national groups, too,” Costello explained.

“I value the work of the county association highly. It’s the bedrock for competition and very important.

“I agreed to join the England Athletics Regional Council as a co-opted member and things developed from there.

I like a challenge and I’m appallingly bad at saying, ‘No’ - that’s not modesty; saying ‘no’ is a skill and I haven’t got it. I’m trying to acquire it.”

There’s no pressure there, though – Costello’s loss is certainly Cambridgeshire’s gain.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Brit Abroad


Tired of the bleak British weather, Angelita Broadbelt-Blake uprooted to the country of her birth last autumn in an attempt to get faster in the Florida heat and the sprint hurdler has no regrets so far, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 25-year-old was born in New York and joined Thames Valley Harriers in London five years ago before attending Brunel University, as she plied her trade in her specialist event, the 100m hurdles in a battle to represent her new home on Team GB.

Originally a 400m hurdler, Broadbelt-Blake registered a solid 61.46 in the 2006 season before switching her focus to the shorter event the following year and placing in the top six in the UK as an under-23 athlete.

Her Olympic year was quiet but remaining patient under the guidance of her then coach Michael Afilaka, Broadbelt-Blake progressed to fourth in the 2009 UK outdoor championships and World trials before finally breaking through in 2010.


Starting the summer with a strong 12.27 100m personal best, the then London-based athlete went on to win the Loughborough international with another lifetime best mark of 13.29 in the short hurdles.

Riding on the crest of a wave, she then made her Great Britain debut in the ‘B’ race at the European Team Championships in Norway, clocking 13.33 before placing runner-up behind World heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis in the UK championships with 13.38 in July.

Although disappointed to miss out on her first national crown and selection for the European championships in Barcelona, Broadbelt-Blake showed determination to capitalise on her fine form the following weekend, by setting an impressive 13.20 personal best in France to place her as twenty-fourth on the British all-time lists and second on the UK season list.

It was a fine performance but the ‘Yankee’ was still disappointed, so following her final race of the season – finishing second for Team England in the Great North CityGames in Newcastle last September – Broadbelt-Blake headed off to warmer and sunnier climes – to hone her skills in the USA.

“For me 2010 was not a great season,” she explained.

“It was quite frustrating as I expected to run at least 13.0 by the end of season, but only managed 13.20.

I opened up with a PB and I was ecstatic when I found out that I had been chosen to represent GB in the Europa cup. I competed in my first IAAF Diamond League and just before the season finished, I was invited to compete for England in the Newcastle street race.

However, the disappointment from 2010 comes from me knowing what I am capable of. I set goals for myself and failed to reach some of them. I had a slight hip injury that bugged me for almost the whole season. However, 2011 is a new year and a new focus.”


Now coached by Dennis Green, Broadbelt-Blake has no escape from the sweltering sun and heat whilst training among a large group of international-class sprinters and hurdlers but she would not have it any other way:

“I love America, this has and always will be, home for me,” she revealed.

“The reason I chose Florida is because it's the sunshine state and I wanted to be somewhere hot! Also, I didn't want to be in a city where I could have lots of activities to choose from outside of training. Florida is quite boring - you have to find stuff to do.”

Eager to make big improvements on her 2010 form, the outgoing athlete is thriving off the tough training schedules and opened up her 2011 campaign with a swift 8.02 indoors in nearby Gainsville in the rarely-run 55m hurdles.

“Sprinting is one of my least favourite sessions, as I hate running fast,” Broadbelt-
Blake explained.

“I am a hurdler, not a sprinter. When I run fast without a hurdle in the way, I feel like every muscle in my body is rotting away!”

On her new set-up she continued:

“I have a very good relationship with all the people I am surrounded by out here. My coach is a really cool guy and he is at all times, a professional and a
perfectionist. Everything has to be perfect and if it isn't you're not going home.

Already, he is one of few who knows me quite well and he knows what to say to me to get me running.

The relationships with my rivals are great. We all hang out outside of practice and I even live with one of them. I have a private sponsor, who helps me a lot. If it wasn’t for him, I would have no choice but to work out here. I am grateful for all his help and belief in me. We speak at least twice a month so I can keep him updated with my progress.”


Although evidently relishing life ‘over the Pond’ Broadbelt-Blake is still as keen as ever to make an impact at international level as part of the British squad.
“I think the hurdles event is one of the weakest events that Britain has,” she revealed.

“No one, including myself, is consistently running sub-13. We need to step our game up! I'm really happy to have Tiffany Offili (another American-born Brit) run for us now - the more competition the better.”

With her next few races uncertain as yet, Broadbelt-Blake is sure of her first outdoor appearance – the Florida Relays meeting in early April, an event which she hopes will set her on a road to further success in 2011 and possibly even a place in the World championship team for Daegu, South Korea in August.

“My long time goal is to be an Olympic medallist,” she explained before further revealing that she would like to write a book after her athletic career.

“I want to be known and remembered as one of the best hurdlers of all time.”