Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Ticking Over the Miles


Having already gained selection for the Olympic marathon on the streets of London this summer, Scott Overall is showing encouraging form just four months out from his Games debut, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 29-year-old was named on Team GB’s squad for the 26.2-mile event back in December, courtesy of his promising 2:10.55 debut in Berlin last autumn and validated his qualification recently by taking almost two-minutes off his half-marathon best.

Guided by US-based Robert Chapman, Overall clocked a swift 61:25 in New York earlier this month to leap to ninth on the British all-time list for the distance, showing positive signs ahead of his Olympic test in August:

“New York was a very good race for me - I went there with a target in mind and that is what I achieved,” explained Overall.

“I wanted to run between sixty-one and sixty-two minutes as that is the sort of half-marathon time I would need to be looking at running a faster marathon.”

Having only begun marathon training a mere ten months ago, the Londoner used his frustrations in track racing to propel him to long distance-running success by recording the quickest marathon time by a British man for four years.

A former training partner to world 5,000m champion Mo Farah in their teenage years, Overall’s recent change in direction in the sport has also seen him register a swift 28:57 10km in the Netherlands and victory in the Silverstone half-marathon last month.

“I was based in the UK for the whole winter like I did before Berlin,” he revealed.

“The first part of 2012 was just to keep my fitness up and have a solid run at the half-marathon without going into really hard marathon training.”


Set to enjoy a month-long spell of high-altitude training in Arizona to hone his marathon preparations, Overall will first tackle the London Marathon one month from now.

Unusually, however, the 2009 UK 5,000m champion will participate in pace-making duties for his fellow countrymen, eager to aid their quest to join him on the Olympic team:

“I will be pacing to help the British guys run the qualifying time - of two hours, twelve minutes - and I will help pace them with two other pace-makers through to about twenty miles and then after that they are on their own!” Overall explained.

“Hopefully there will be at least one other British representative on the marathon start-line on the 12th of August.”

Sitting in twenty-fourth position on the national all-time list, the Blackheath and Bromley AC runner continued:

“The marathon in the UK on the men's side isn't as strong as it could be and I'm not really sure of the reason for this.

“A lot of men - and women - run a marathon coming from a track background and therefore they are generally a lot older.

“I think many athletes really want to compete on the track and with the home Olympics they have decided to go that route, rather than the roads so I think after the Olympics you will start to see many more guys breaking 2hrs 12.”

Keen to persevere with his one-man British breakthrough for the distance, Overall has his long-term sights on the twenty-five-year-old 2:07.13 national record, yet for the 2012 season, he will be content on a top-ten placing in the Olympic event:

“My goal for the Olympics is obviously to finish as high as possible - with it being a championship race anything can happen,” he revealed.

“There are no pacemakers and it won’t be a fast course like the big city marathons - the Olympics is all about where you finish - no one remembers what time the marathon was won in, just who won it.”

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Grab-bing for Gold


As he makes his senior global championship debut in Turkey this weekend, high-jumper Robbie Grabarz is in with a shout of a medal – a far cry from his form twelve months earlier, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 24-year-old from Essex is currently sat in fourth place on the world rankings heading into the World indoor Championships in Istanbul this weekend, courtesy of a breakthrough 2.34m lifetime best leap in Germany in January and looks set to drastically improve on his performance at the European event a year ago, where he finished a lowly twenty-third in the qualifying round with 2.12m in Paris.

Guided by Fuzz Ahmed at his Birmingham base, Grabarz’s finest performance of the winter so far not only improved his previous indoor best by an impressive nine centimetres but also took six centimetres from his outdoor best set last summer.

Now ranked as third on the British all-time list for indoors and out, the Loughborough University graduate is savouring his rise in development:

“My indoor season so far has almost gone to plan, with a blip at the UK championships where I under-performed (in second place with 2.23m) and didn't meet the targets I had set for myself.

“Other than that, I have met my targets this far and am looking forward to competing this coming weekend at the World indoor’s in Turkey,” Grabarz explained.

Six years since finishing twelfth in the World junior outdoor Championships, he continued:

“My winter training has been great - the best winter I have ever had.

“I moved to Birmingham in October as part of my new-found commitment and focus to share the same base as my coach and two main training partners and shall be heading into the championships with the aim of first making the final, followed by a battle for the medals in the final the following day.”


A recent winner of the world-class Aviva Grand Prix with a 2.32m clearance on home turf, Grabarz contributes his new lease of athletic life to a change in his mental attitude towards the sport.

Forced to miss out on the World outdoor Championships in Daegu, South Korea last August, he chose to instil a new sense of professionalism in order to achieve his Olympic ambitions in 2012:

“I was disappointed with an unsuccessful 2011 season so once that ended, I took myself aside and questioned myself and why I was under performing, and decided I never wanted to let this happen again,” Grabarz revealed.

“I took a new approach to my training through the winter leading into this indoor season, which has been a success so far – I decided to bring 100% of myself to every training session and competition in the future, mentally and physically, leaving any distractions in my car as I set foot toward the track.”

“Last year was an unsuccessful season for me but I look at it as the inspiration for a great winters training and a successful indoor season so far - in the future I will not be looking for negative prompts as inspiration to move forwards but in this case it helped spur me on.”


Upon the close of the indoor season, Grabarz will head for a spell of warm-weather training in Italy in May in order to prepare for his Olympic qualification assault in the summer.

With places on Team GB for the London Games in August set to be hotly-contested, he is ready for high-pressured outdoor campaign:

“The main aim for 2012 is to keep improving, jump consistently at 2.30m and above and ensure I qualify for the Games,” he explained.

“My event in the UK right now is very strong - there is a lot of depth in the event with possibly six guys fighting for the three spots at the Games and I expect, come the summer, everyone to be fighting fit and very competitive ahead of Olympic qualification.”

Understandably eager to transform his current eye-catching form into the outdoor season for when it matters most, Grabarz is keen to make an impact on his Olympic debut:

“My aims for the Olympics are first to qualify then to make the final, and once there contend for a medal,” he revealed.

“I am dealing with pressure by applying the same principles to competition as I have for the past ten years of high jumping - keeping it as simple as possible and controlling the things I have the power to control.

“I know that what I am doing in training and competition right now is working so I will work with my coach to tweak a few things ahead of the summer and to remain focused on what I am doing is the most important thing I can do to ensure I achieve my goals at the Games.”

Friday, 2 March 2012

Steel-ing the Headines


Despite enjoying her first taste of international success in only the past few months, long-distance runner Gemma Steel is on a track to make her Olympic debut in London this summer, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 26-year-old Leicestershire runner has transformed from a relative unknown outside the top-forty in the country to a full-time athlete and prolific major race winner this winter and – on the back of her whirlwind development – she now has her sights firmly set on a place on Team GB’s squad for the 2012 Games.

Guided by John Nuttall at the Loughborough University campus, Steel will focus on achieving the qualifying time for either the 5,000m or 10,000m and judging by her form of late, such lofty ambitions should not be too far from her grasp.

A member of Charnwood AC in the East Midlands, Steel has enjoyed a dramatic breakthrough on the national and international scene of late, culminating in her first national cross-country title in London last weekend.

Proving her great versatility over varying distances and terrains in the past nine months, she has shown fine form over cross-country, indoor and outdoor tracks and on the road ranging from 3,000m to the half-marathon and explained:

“My training is going well - I am now training more with the group at Loughborough, where there is a great group of lads and girls that really pull me along and get the best out of me, which can be the difference between winning and losing.

“I'm still doing seventy to eighty miles a week max so there’s still plenty of room for improvement.”


Steel began her 2012 campaign following a superb third-place finish - her first major international medal and a vast improvement on her twenty-seventh place in 2010 - at the European cross-country Championships in Slovenia in December.

Riding on the crest of a wave, she has since validated her fine form with runner-up positions in the Bupa Great Edinburgh International and Atrim International cross-country events – each to European champion Fionnuala Britton of Ireland – and competed admirably indoors.

Fourth place at the Aviva European indoor trials and UK Championships on her debut on the boards followed a nine-second improvement over 3,000m – with a 9:01.86 clocking – for sixth place against a world-class field at the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham earlier this month.

Next, following her English victory on the field, Steel will look to take the British equivalent in Birmingham next weekend before ending her season and attending a warm-weather training camp in Portugal and then a stint at high-altitude in Font Romeu the following month:

“The Euro cross was a highlight as it was my first major international medal and it proved that I can perform well in a GB vest in a championship race by running a mature race,” she revealed.

“Coming close to winning with a lap to go was surreal and the national was a title I really wanted to win this year as it has always been an ambition of mine.”

On the start to her Olympic year, Steel continued:

“I ran the indoors with a view to gaining some information to where I was at in terms of my speed over the shorter distance - the plan is that the faster I can run 3,000m, the quicker I will go over the 5,000m and the 10,000m when I attempt it in the summer.

“The time of just over nine minutes reflected the fact that if I can go through at this pace and keep it going then it would bring me in around fifteen minutes which would be well inside the (5,000m) qualification time for the Olympics.”


Having debuted over twelve and a half laps with 15:47.21 in Watford last June and having never competed over the twenty-five lap distance, Steel is aware of the need to maintain her steep development curve well into the summer months.

Taking the notable scalps of World marathon record-holder Paula Radcliffe and 2012 marathon hopeful Jo Pavey in the Bupa London 10,000m and Bupa Great Yorkshire Run road races last July and October, respectively, has certainly boosted her confidence but it is yet to be seen whether the British revelation of the winter can transfer her performances onto the track in time for the biggest event of the year.

“John, my coach, thinks that I have got as good a chance as anyone (to qualify) so I am going to give it my best shot,” Steel explained.

“I think that it would be just a great achievement to be there as an Olympian in London and top eight would be great, although at the minute I am not looking beyond qualifying as it would be just a dream to get there.

“I think it will be hard not to be overwhelmed as it will be in front of thousands of screaming Brits in a home Olympics so of course there will be some pressure but hopefully if I did qualify, there would be plenty of people to help me to handle it all, although this would be all new to me.”

No Passing the Buck


One year on since clinching a surprise bronze medal at the European indoor Championships in Paris, 400m runner Richard Buck is hoping to cause another revelation at the global event in Turkey a fortnight from now, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 25-year-old from York improved his four-lap lifetime best by over three-tenths of a second to register an impressive 45.88 when taking the domestic race at the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham earlier this month, subsequently shooting to eighth-place on the British all-time list in the process.

Following a bronze medal-winning display at the UK indoor Championships in Sheffield the week before, Buck was relieved to enjoy his debut sub-forty-six second run ahead of the winter season’s main focus in Istanbul:

“So far, the indoor season has been going okay - I have known that I was in good shape but it seemed like I wasn’t able to get it out on track at the right times,” the seven-time national champion explained.

“Birmingham was just a case of deciding to go for it - I ran hard to the break and just hoped that I could bring it home.

“I’d just like to go there (at the World indoor’s) and repeat the form I found in Birmingham - I also think as a relay team, we have a really good shot at a medal.”


Guided by Steve Fudge at his Loughborough base, Buck is usually better known as an established regular fixture on the British 4x400m relay squad – which he also anchored to the silver medal during a magical weekend in the French capital in 2011 for the Yorkshire-man.

However, after finally bursting into the individual spotlight when capturing his first senior international medal, Buck is keen to further enhance his growing reputation as a championship finalist on his own merit.

Only fifth in his semi-final at the last World indoor event in Doha in 2010 – where he collected relay bronze – Buck is also eager to move on from a promising yet mixed 2011:

“2011 was probably my best year so far - I won the bronze and silver at the Euro indoors and I ran what were three of my fastest times ever and had my first sub-46 second race,” he revealed.

Despite finishing only sixth at the UK outdoor Championships and ranking only eleventh in Britain at the end of the 2011 outdoor season, Buck remained positive on reflection:

“It was a good year where I showed that I could be competitive on an international level and I showed signs of improvement.”


Determined to replicate the current form he is producing on the boards into the summer and return to the shape which saw run 45.99 in France last July, Buck does not enjoy the luxury of being a full-time athlete either:

“Since my exit form relay funding, I have been forced to take on employment at my local Tesco Extra so I’ve not had the freedom to go on any training camps,” he explained.

“We are presently deciding as a (training) group what our best chances for success are in the outdoor season and if we should travel to a camp to get a block of training in.”

It is an unenviable position to find himself in during the key Olympic year, yet Buck is avid in his chase of a spot on the British team for what could be his Olympic debut in London come August:

“Anything in 2012 is aimed at the Olympics - any competitions are only there to aid me in my chances of a successful Olympics,” he revealed.

“I owe it to myself to give myself every chance at getting to the Games - I realise there is a lot of support and pressure around that but I don’t think anyone can top my own expectations of myself.

“If we’re honest, our best chances of a medal are in the relay and although personally I’m aiming to make it an individual and do as well as I can in that, we’ll all pull together as a team and share our goal of winning an Olympic medal.”