Friday, 27 January 2012

Quest for Redemption


Despite being upgraded to the bronze medal in last years’ global final, the experience was bittersweet for sprint hurdler Andy Turner and so he plans to use the frustrating memory to spur him to an outright medal at the Olympics this summer, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 31-year-old from Nottingham has just returned from a three-month-long spell of warm-weather training in Florida, where the father of two uprooted his family in order to start his 2012 campaign in fine form.

Key to his progression and his search for redemption in this key Olympic year was the man who he has been training alongside and learning much from – his fierce rival and friend, Olympic bronze-medallist David Oliver.

By joining forces with the American for the past two seasons, Turner believes he has given himself the best shot to achieving his Olympic dream in London this August:

“Winter training has gone really well - training with David was cool and we get on really well and both have kids so while we were training, the kids were playing together,” he explained.

“We train well together and can really help one another - I'm a faster sprinter than him but his hurdles technique is better than mine so we work off each other. I think the three months will have benefited us both.”

Although generally in a positive mood, the London-based athlete admits to suffering from a reoccurrence of an injury which threatened much of his 2011 season:

“My old Achilles issue has come back so I'm due to have another injection that will get rid of the problem,” he revealed.

“I'm satisfied that I'm in decent shape despite this so I’ll run a few minor races over the next few weeks to test where I am them I'm due to go on warm-weather training from early March, which will be when I begin to see things coming together ahead of a pretty important date I've got at an event in London at the beginning of August!”


Guided by Lloyd Cowan at the Lee Valley high-performance centre, Turner will compete for Team GB at the Aviva International over the 60m barriers in Glasgow on Saturday after igniting his indoor season with a 7.79 clocking in London a week ago.

With March welcoming the World indoor Championships in Turkey, the seven-time national champion has decided to miss the event in order to focus on his third Olympic appearance:

“After Glasgow, I'm unsure what I'm doing as yet. I'll definitely compete indoors again but the World indoor’s aren't directly on my horizons at the moment - I'd rather finish indoors early and prepare myself for outdoors,” Turner revealed.

With the European and Commonwealth titles – both from the 2010 season – and the 200m outdoor hurdles world-record to his name, Turner is keen to move on from a year of mixed emotions.

Having endured an injury-plagued summer, the Sale Harriers Manchester sprinter was relieved to register a fine 13.22 life-time best in Switzerland in June to go to third on the British all-time lists before taking his first ever global medal, yet his Achilles woes and a groin tear hampered his season significantly:

“My season was very consistent which I was pleased with – the areas I'd been working on in training were being executed well in the race so I was happy and running a PB really showed that all the hard work was beginning to pay off,” Turner explained.

“My main problem was the ongoing Achilles injury but a cortisone injection sorted this and I managed every training session I needed to.”


Understandably eager for an injury-free year, Turner will use the memory of his Daegu drama to propel himself to greater achievements in 2012:

“The only part of the world champs I was satisfied with was my heat - I ran 13.32 and it felt so easy and so I wasn't happy with how I ran the semi and the final but I still managed to take home a medal and that is the main thing,” he revealed.

“Being upgraded to bronze was bittersweet - I had accepted fourth place and was content with that although I was disappointed with my time.

“Then to be told someone had been disqualified and I had a medal was a weird moment - I didn't really know how to feel, I just wanted to hide in a room by myself to try to comprehend things, it was a very surreal time.

“With the way that I ran the final, I didn't feel that I deserved a medal so I carried on training the next day and simply treated it like any other race - I just wanted to move on and get straight back into training - I think I have difficulty in comprehending the enormity of things, I still can’t get my head round it.”

What Turner can get his head around, though is the importance of performing to an even higher level in London this summer – especially after finishing last in his heat in Athens in 2004 and fifth at the quarter-final stage in Beijing four years later:

“The 2012 season will be no different to usual - I'm going back to train with David for seven weeks then I'll be off on the European circuit and I'll probably aim for seven or eight races outdoors before the Games,” he explained.

“Obviously, I have to aim high for the Games so I'm targeting a medal. As fantastic as it is for the Games to be in London, I have to just treat it as a normal competition so I'm just keeping my head down and getting on with the most important thing and that's training.

“I'm not worried about the pressure of a 'Home Olympics' - I'm experienced enough now to be able to channel that pressure into something positive and I'm sure that with the fantastic British crowd behind me in London, I can pull out something special and win a medal.”

Green Shoots for Gold


Inspired by his training partner and namesake’s world title victory last season, one-lap hurdler Jack Green is determined to emerge from the shadows and enjoy his own success on the Olympic stage this summer, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 20-year-old from Kent is currently nearing the end of a month-long warm-weather training stint in South Africa with coach, Malcolm Arnold and his fiercest foe and friend, global number-one Dai Greene.

Intent on reversing the pecking order in the training group despite finishing fifth in the semi-final stage on his senior championship debut at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea last August, Green insists 2012 is a year of ‘establishing himself’:

“2011 was for experience but in 2012, I want to be on top,” the 400m hurdler declared.

“A lot of people dislike the way I approach things mentally and the confidence I possess, but unless you believe it, you won't achieve it and I know what I'm doing on the track and what I'm capable of so I'm not shy to put myself out there.

“Long-term wise, my aims are simple – to be the best ever - not just in my event but in the sport. Why give yourself boundaries?”


Such remarkable self-belief evidently derives from plying his trade on a daily basis with hurdles guru, Arnold and with constantly having the global, European and Commonwealth champion there for bait.

Yet Green – who is based in Bath, where he studies Sports Performance at university – finds the pressure a help more than a hindrance:

“Training always has a good atmosphere which can only help us train better,” he explained.

“Myself and Dai are good friends - he's a joker but then is very professional and I'm still learning a lot from him, whereas Malcolm is the enforcer - he's a strong character and I need that.

“I've always had strong characters in my life and I'm very lucky that I have Malcolm coaching me and the rest of the group - I kind of see him like my granddad, I get on very well with him but I wouldn't dare upset him as I'm scared of him really - I'm sure he will love hearing that.”

With certainly no lack of motivation, the European under23 champion is now enjoying his second year in Bath under Malcolm’s tutelage and Green is relishing the shift up in training:

“This winter is very exciting for me as the foundations are there and I can move onto the elite stuff,” he revealed.

“I've been able to start lifting heavy in the gym and I feel more comfortable within myself when I'm training as I'm used to the workload and intensity.”


Now in his sixth season in the event, Green – whose progression has seen him move from sixteenth to third on the British rankings in the past three years – is targeting a spot on Team GB’s Olympic squad for London this August.

After reducing his lifetime best by a second and a half to a scintillating 48.98 at the Aviva British Grand Prix in Birmingham in July, where he elevated himself to eleventh on the national all-time list, Green is eager to further progress and make his Olympic later this year:

“In April, I go away again with my group before kicking off the season in May and I
cannot wait to see where things are at,” he explained.

“I feel I have made a lot of progress from last year and hopefully that means I can kick off 2012 with a personal best like I did in 2011.

“Last year was a great year for me - I achieved nearly everything I had planned on achieving so I'd say I was content with my season but I'll always want more.

“The European’s were brilliant for me - to have a title next to my name was the plan for the whole season but the World Championships were disappointing - I have high hopes, big dreams and I didn't reach them.”

Determined to give himself another shot at making a final against the world’s finest, Green is intent on joining his training partner in the Olympic 400m hurdles final in London:

“The British 400m hurdlers have really taken off in the past year - there was a time that 49.5 would allow you to become an Olympian but the way things are going, it could be 48.5 and below to make an Olympic team,” he revealed.

“It's great for the athletes, myself and the country - it will bring everyone on and the nation will be able to put their hopes and confidence into whoever is chosen, as they will be able to deliver.”

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Sky-High Ambitions


Welcoming the Olympic year as the second-best pole-vaulter on the world rankings, Holly Bleasdale is relishing what the next eight months could potentially hold for Team GB’s hottest prospect, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 20-year-old Blackburn Harrier began the indoor season in sparkling form when revising her own British record with an impressive 4.71m leap in France last month – a feat which bettered her previous winter’s best by a remarkable 20cm margin.

Currently enjoying a month’s spell of training alongside the men’s European champion Renaud Lavillenie, Bleasdale was overjoyed with her latest accomplishment, which additionally catapulted her to thirteenth position on the global all-time list:

“I thought I would do a test competition to break up my winter training and see if all the hard work was paying off,” she explained.

“The competition for me couldn’t have gone any better - I knew I had been jumping well in training but when I cleared 4.71m off only twelve strides, it was a big step up for me and I know that if I keep training hard then the rest of the season will bring higher heights.”

Coached by Julien-Raffalli-Ebezant at their Manchester base, the Lancashire athlete – who last year turned down the lure of university to devote all of her time to the discipline – is now looking ahead to competing in the World indoor Championships in Turkey in March, where she intends to assert her Olympic credentials for the summer:

“I am looking forward to competing in Turkey and this competition will be a good marker for what I can achieve in the year of the Olympics,” Bleasdale revealed.

“I’ve made a lot of changes again this year - training is more intense and specific to things I need to work on such as improving my technique, lifting heavier and working on fitness.

“This seems to have come on so much since September and I’m really excited for this year - there has been so much hype for the Olympics and it just makes it more and more exciting for me.”


Despite entering only her fourth season in the event, the former heptathlete is certainly comfortable with making fairly regular staggering progressions.

After her breakthrough in 2010 – the year in which she jumped a 30cm lifetime best of 4.35m and grabbed the bronze medal at the World junior Championships – Bleasdale’s star shot higher and higher as she shifted from outside the top-twenty in the UK to being the undisputed number-one.

With shockingly bright potential still undoubtedly being tapped into, the young athlete is quite understandably excited about the future after yet another glorious outdoor campaign last summer:

“My 2011 season went better than expected when I planned my goals at the being of 2011,” she explained of the year in which she improved her personal best on fifteen occasions and made both the European indoor and World outdoor Championships.”

Despite having placed only eleventh in qualifying with 4.45m indoors in Paris last March and failing to register a valid height outdoors in Daegu in August, Bleasdale’s summer was one to remember.

After impressing with a huge 4.70m outdoor lifetime best in Germany in July, which improved her best mark by 9cm, placed her tenth in the world, shot her to nineteenth on the global all-time list and registered as a world age-19 record, she captured the European under23 crown in Ostrava with 4.55m a fortnight later, to boot.
Continuing, Bleasdale said:

“I was so pleased to jump a new British record last year - training went so well in the winter and I knew I could potentially break the record but when I did, I was so delighted and a little shocked.

“My main aim was to come top three in the European U23’s which I exceeded so I was thrilled with that and it was the highlight of my year.

“Everyone may think I was so disappointed with how the World’s turned out and I was at the time, but now I realise that it was a small speed bump in my career and it has made me a much stronger athlete and has given me lots of valuable experience I needed ahead of London 2012.”


Holding the national records as a senior indoors and out as well as the UK under23 best mark - all by a margin of 10cm or more - Bleasdale competed in her first competition of the year last weekend in France, with a winning 4.52m display.

Participating again – in Lyon – this weekend, the UK indoor and outdoor champion is set for a tantalising performance in Turkey this spring but she admits to saving her best efforts for the London Games this summer, where she hopes to not only make her Olympic debut but also the pole-vault final:

“My aims for 2012 aren’t clear yet as I have made big improvements in my training and I’m not sure what I am capable of off a full run-up (of sixteen strides),” she revealed.

“I’m going to keep an open mind about what height I can achieve and take every competition as it comes - the height I get will be a surprise to everyone, even me.”

“My sole aim is the Olympics and I will be happy qualifying for the final and whatever happens after that will be a bonus - for a British athlete, coping with the pressure is the main thing and if you can deal with this then you can tackle anything.”

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Paving a New Direction


As she enters her fifteenth year as a world-class athlete, long-distance runner Jo Pavey finds her international career at a cross-road – unsure whether her Olympic fate will lead her to either the marathon or 10,000m at the Games in London this summer, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 38-year-old established herself as a fine exponent over the 26.2-mile distance in 2011, running a swift 2:28.24 on her debut in the London marathon in April but despite lying third on the British rankings in the event, Pavey was controversially omitted from the first wave of Olympic selections last month and now faces a dilemma.

With the official British trial to grab the third and final spot on the team - behind world-record-holder Paula Radcliffe and Mara Yamauchi - incorporated into the capital’s event this spring, the Devon-based runner is torn whether to participate or simply spectate and hope for no British woman to run quicker than her best mark.

The quandary derives from the fact that only fifteen weeks separate the race from the Olympic marathon in early August – leaving questionable recovery time in order to compete amongst the World’s finest.

Guided by her husband and coach, Gavin and mother to two-year-old Jacob, Pavey explained:

“I’m leaving my options open until the spring - I’m not ruling out running the London marathon but I would have less time than ideal to recover for the Olympics if I were selected after the trial.

“I was only just ready to race in the Bupa London 10km (which she won in 32:22 in May ahead of a below-par Radcliffe) after the last London marathon – it was a rushed recovery and we’d be pushed for time this time around.

“The situation I was in was to do my best in New York (where she ran 2:28.42 in November) as I was on the comeback trail from injury in the autumn so I couldn’t race any sooner and on an easier course.”


Pavey - who originally intended to make her marathon debut in spring of 2009 before falling pregnant – is well aware of her five countrywomen also hoping to impress the British selectors come springtime but the Exeter Harrier refuses to feel the burden
of pressure:

“I’ve got no hard feelings towards Paula and Mara – I don’t want to moan, I’ll just see how things pan out over the next few months in training and accept the position I’m in,” she insisted.

“Although I’m in the third qualifying spot at the moment, I’ll leave it all up to fate - the focus is getting in a high volume of hard training anyway so I don’t feel I’m jeopardising my chances by not having chose my racing path for the summer yet.”

Having competed in the past three Olympic Games – placing twelfth in the 5,000m in Sydney 2000, fifth in the 5,000m in Athens 2004 and twelfth in the 10,000m in Beijing 2008 – Pavey does not fear a potential return to the track, should she need to chase the 10,000m qualifying time in a back-up plan to making her fourth Olympic appearance:

“I’m not complacent as to my chances of selection – there’s so many girls running really well in both events,” she revealed.

“I’ve been racing on the track internationally since 1997 so I’m more experienced on that but there’s possibly only one race to chase the 10,000m qualifying time in early summer.

“My speed’s still there – I’ve not competed in a major track championships since Beijing but I still enjoy it and really wish I could do both.”


Having returned from a spell of altitude training in Tenerife in early December, Pavey hopes to contest a half-marathon in March before making her decision on the London marathon ahead of another altitude stint in the mountains of Albuquerque.

The 2007 World 10,000m fourth-placer knows that consistent, solid blocks of training are key to racing well in an Olympic year, yet perhaps not quite as vital as staying injury-free – especially after her summer was ruined by a reoccurring stress fracture:

“I’ve done two marathons now off the back of stress fractures to the left foot,” Pavey explained:

“I’m not prone to them – it’s a mechanical problem as it just got really stiff from the workload and it was really frustrating as I had to withdraw from the World Championships after being diagnosed at the end of June, so it was really pleasing to compete and run so well in New York.”

Approaching 100-miles a week in training now, the 2006 Commonwealth 5,000m silver-medallist revealed:

“Every day’s really busy but we love family life and having Jacob makes me more motivated to run well – the different priorities distract me from the pressures of running so I love the challenge of running and motherhood and also the challenge of a new event to learn and master.”

Currently seventh on the national all-time marathon list, Pavey continued:

“To have the opportunity to compete on home soil in the Olympics would be amazing – I’m really excited and hope I can get there.

“I hope to have another child in the future but the Olympics wouldn’t necessary mean my retirement – I’m still enjoying it so I’ll just keep going.

“I’m fortunate to have been to three Games but I really want to be part of London – it’s keeping me going and I will try my hardest to be there.”