WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
Having under-performed over the past two years, British high-jumper Tom Parsons has finally hit peak form just in time for the first of two important events in the countdown to the 2012 Olympic Games, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 26-year-old Birchfield Harrier has won five of the past six competitions this season and will go to the European indoor championships in Paris next weekend as a medal contender after jumping his highest height since the 2008 Beijing Games.
Registering an impressive 2.31m in Sheffield when taking the UK title earlier this month, the West-Midlands athlete extended his lead in the national rankings to 6cm and leapt to fourth on the all-time British list in the process.
Guided by Fuzz Ahmed at their Birmingham and Loughborough bases, Parsons has jumped higher than his 2010 2.28m best in half of his competitive appearances so far in his 2011 campaign and despite a blip at the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham last weekend - where he won with a height of only 2.21m – he is still confident of performing well in France.
“For once, I’ll be going into a championship as a medal contender and I feel I can really push on,” Parsons explained.
“There will be a world-class field in Paris, what with the Russians and a few others, so there will be around eight of us challenging for the medals.
I’ll need to jump well to even make the final and maybe around 2.28m to get a medal. I’d also like another PB and I now have peace of mind that I can deliver on the day.”
A sixteen-time national medallist across the past nine years, Parsons credits the part-time move to Loughborough to train alongside other elite high-jumpers and a change in his run-up as the key factors in his progression this winter.
Working with English champion Robbie Grabarz, who will make his senior international championship debut in Paris and British indoor bronze-medallist Matt Roberts, Parsons has also moved from an eight to ten-stride run-up in order to find a better rhythm before reaching the bar.
“This season’s gone almost to plan – I wanted to beat my personal best and to re-invent myself by getting over the injuries and finding a nice rhythm on my run-up,” revealed Parsons.
“The change is really helping me to get the consistency right and progress quite well.
I’ve been doing some psychological work with the British record-holder, Steve Smith (2.38, 1994) for help on my game plan.
I’m more focused and the quality of my training has improved.”
An avid Aston Villa fan, Parsons has suffered two years of frustration since placing eighth with 2.25m in the Olympic final three summers ago.
Missing out on selection for the 2009 World championships, he failed to progress beyond the heats of the World indoor championships in Doha (with 2.26m) at the start of 2010, no-marked in the European Championship final in Barcelona last summer and finished only fifth in the Commonwealth Games last autumn (with 2.23m).
“The low-lights were not jumping well in the finals of the two major championships last year,” Parsons explained.
“Though, I did quite well in the European trials and UK Championships and was happy with my first European Team Championship performance – coming second in both.
In Barcelona, I wasn’t getting the best out of myself and we were still chopping and changing my run-up in Delhi.
A six-stride run-up didn’t work and I was out of control but I’m now using my ability more and I’m feeling more comfortable.”
After tackling the continental championships, Parsons intends to train in the warmth of LA for a month and will then fly out to Italy to train with his group in preparation for the outdoor season.
With aspirations of improving on his tenth position from the 2007 global event, Augusts’ World championships in Daegu, South Korea will provide Parson’s main aim of the year and with several British men on his heels, the pressure is on even to qualify.
“Five or six of us are jumping qualifying times for championships and the standard’s been raised since Germaine (Mason) got silver in Beijing,” revealed Parsons.
“Martyn Bernard (European bronze-medallist), Samson Oni (UK number-one in 2010) and Robbie are jumping well, too but we’re all friends as the main rival is the bar.”
Indeed, the high-jump bar has not been too kind to him in the past but this year, Parsons hopes to finally break into world-class as he continues to chase his Olympic dream:
“My target is top-five in Daegu as I’ll need to do that if I want to medal in London,” Parsons explained.
“I don’t see why I can’t achieve that as I know I’m capable of jumping 2.35m – it’s all about raising my base level and winning as many competitions as possible for experience.”
With his major target only a little over five-hundred days away, Parsons will be keeping his fingers crossed that the changes he is making now will reap the rewards when it matters most next summer:
“My goal is to make the 2012 Olympic final and improve on eighth from Beijing,” he revealed.
“I’ll be in my prime then but it would also be good to make the team for Rio in 2016 – going to three Olympic Games would be a good achievement.”