WRITTEN FOR TEAM 2012 VISA (FEB 6TH)
She was tragically forced to relinquish her place in the Beijing Games four years ago through injury but now, Britain’s top steeplechaser Hatti Dean is on course to realise – and make an impact on - her Olympic dream in London next summer, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 29-year-old had the season of her career last year when, after two years out of her specialist event, she caused the biggest surprise of Team GB’s fortnight at the European championships in Barcelona by finishing fourth in a lifetime best of 9:30.19.
Such a remarkable performance for the Sheffield-based runner was all the more impressive, as Dean not only carved an astonishing eight seconds off her best time but also crossed the finish-line within a second of the British record.
Her 2010 campaign was topped off with seventh position for Europe in the IAAF/VTB World Cup in Split last September before placing seventh again and top British woman in the European cross-country championships in Portugal at the end of the year.
Eager to further progress from her breakthrough year, Dean has just returned from a month-long spell in Kenya on a UK Athletics endurance camp and is already feeling the benefits:
“Kenya was really good – we had a really nice group of athletes and a great atmosphere,” Dean explained.
“I think I adapted quicker to the altitude this time after going before in October.
I got some good mileage and sessions in, and got the work done in such a hard environment – it was great having the time to do all the little things as a full-time athlete.
We’d always run at sunrise which was beautiful and very warm even at that time, then have breakfast, go to the gym, have lunch and relax. In the afternoons, we’d do a harder session – it was mostly eat, sleep, train.”
Having finished a respectable fifth in a world-class field in the Bupa Great Edinburgh cross-country international at the turn of the year, Dean is targeting the English and British national crowns before an attempt at the global edition.
The English champion in 2009, Dean revealed:
“I’d like at least a medal in both but my aim’s to win them. If I make the World’s (in Spain in March) then I’d like top twenty-five.”
Guided by Bud Baldaro in frequent visits to his Birmingham base, Dean finished fifteenth in the 2007 event in the season in which she broke the national 3,000m steeplechase record three times in the build-up to the World championship final - which in turn, she agonisingly missed by less than a second.
This time around, the former England junior lacrosse player is determined to make the final cut:
“My aim for 2011 is to run sub-9:25 and to make the final of the World’s,” Dean explained.
“I also want to get my flat times down for the 1500m and 3,000m (currently 4:16.57 and 8:58.77).”
Despite being on UK Sport funding, Dean works part-time as statistician for the civil service and is seeking additional sponsorship to the help she currently receives from sportswear company Puma.
A master’s graduate of Sheffield Hallam University, she is aware of the pressures to become a full-time athlete but also to remain sensible away from the sole focus of her sporting ambitions.
After all, there is no guarantee for any athlete with dreams of making the Olympics so Dean is keen to give the pressure off in case the disaster of China repeats itself:
“I want to make the final but I don’t want to get too carried away,” she revealed.
“I know I’ve got a lot more progressing to do as I’m still not full-time and I’ve only been to high-altitude twice.”
Praising the provision of sports psychologists and media training in the countdown to the big event, Dean continued:
“The atmosphere in Barcelona was amazing so to have a home crowd would be awesome and really inspiring and motivating - but also nerve-wracking.
I feel I’m getting fitter all the time and there are still improvements to be made – it’s quite exciting to see how much better I can get.”