WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
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.”