Thursday, 31 May 2012

Murray's Shock Breakthrough


After a whirlwind early season track campaign has propelled him to the cusp of Olympic selection, 1500m prodigy Ross Murray admits to being in a state of shock following a less-than-professional build-up to London 2012, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 21-year-old from Gateshead confessed to being so disillusioned with the sport last summer that he succumbed to the university stereotype of surrounding himself with parties and alcohol, causing him to gain 7kg in weight and lose his passion for athletics in the process.

But now – following an injury-free winter – the St Mary’s university undergraduate finds himself as a key contender for Team GB ahead of Augusts’ Olympic Games in the British capital, after speeding to a remarkable 3:34.66 clocking last weekend.

Guided by Craig Winrow, Murray – who has now improved from 3:43.51 since 2010 and from 3:40.34 in the space of just five weeks – revealed:

“This year has been a bit mental to be honest!

“At the start of the year, I didn't think I would run that quick - I thought maybe 3:36 at best so to run it on a cold windy day and win the race by five seconds was a bit of a shock!

“After that, I thought I would have a shot at running the Olympic ‘A’ standard but I wasn't exactly sure how quick I could go.”


Opening his outdoor campaign with a solid 3:40.34 in Stretford at the end of April, Murray then went on to register his breakthrough 3:36.69 Olympic ‘B’ standard at the BMC Grand Prix in Manchester in mid-May, before unleashing a shock 3:34.76 clocking when finishing ninth against a top international field at the Fanny Blankers-Koen Games in Hengelo in the Netherlands just eight days

Murray – who did not compete over the metric mile at all in 2011 – currently sits as second on the British rankings for the season behind World 5,000m champion Mo Farah (3:34.66) and in twenty-first position on the UK all-time senior list.

Now ranked as the fifth-fastest u23 of all-time, Murray explained the reasoning behind his sudden metamorphosis: 

“2011 wasn't a great year for me – I was training quite well early in the year but then I got ill and injured and it all fell to bits,” he said of the year in which he dabbled in the 5,000m event, resulting in a best of only 15:16.76.

“I was trying to live the university lifestyle as well as the athlete lifestyle and it just couldn't work.

“Once I got injured, I got very disillusioned with the sport and went off the rails for a bit - I was out partying way too much, drinking too much - I put on about 6/7kgs and wasn't sure if I wanted to get back involved in athletics.

“I was even organizing to go and work abroad in one of the club 18-30 resorts but luckily, things worked out and I feel like a very lucky boy right now.”

On the winter which saw him place ninth in the British universities cross-country championships and seventh in the UK indoor 3,000m championship final, Murray continued:

“My winter wasn't a perfect build-up - through September and October, I was still trying to build up into full training after my Achilles injury.

“I had a calf problem in November but by the end of December, I was almost at full training and since then, I've been lucky enough to get some consistent training in without too many issues.” 


A sixth-place finisher at the 2009 European junior championships, Murray plans to next tackle either an 800m or another 1,500m competition before heading to the Olympic trials in Birmingham at the end of June, where he hopes to seal his place on the British Olympic squad.

Understandably excited about the prospect of making his Olympic debut on home turf, at a young age and on the back of such an eye-catching revival, Murray revealed:

“The main goal now is to just make that Olympic team - I'm not thinking much beyond that as I don't want to get ahead of myself.

“It has been a crazy year so far as it is so, I just want to take it all one step at a time, stay relaxed, keep having fun and hopefully things will go well.”

With a refreshingly laid-back attitude to his second chance in the sport, Murray – who is known for his love of pizza and admits to craving an appearance in reality TV show Geordie Shore – added:

“I love chilling in the beer garden with the boys and girls, relaxing and having fun - I think people can sometimes take sport too seriously, the main thing is to enjoy it - if you don't then what's the point!?”

Aiming for a top-two position in the trials next month, the 2011 UK 3,000m indoor silver-medalist continued:

“If I made the London Olympics, I would be absolutely buzzing!

“To step out in front of a home crowd would be something that may never be matched in your career again - I would just want to do myself, my family, my friends and the whole country proud!”

Friday, 25 May 2012

Sanya Chasing Missing Gold


Despite taking world indoor and outdoor gold over the past three seasons, 400m sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross will not be content with her illustrious track career until she claims the elusive Olympic crown in London this summer, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 27-year-old American has been among the top tier of global one-lap running for eight years now and having been stripped of her 4x400m relay victory from the 2004 Athens Games, due to a doping admission from team-mate Crystal Cox, Richards-Ross is eager to grab the top Olympic prize once more.

Guided by Clyde Hart - the man who coached world 400m record-holder, Michael Johnson to two Olympic quarter-mile glories – Richards-Ross started her 2012 campaign in fine form, winning the world indoor title with 50.79 in Turkey in March, before opening her outdoor season in Jamaica earlier this month.

Based in Texas for most of the year, she opened with an impressive 50.11 clocking and then went onto win the 200m at last weekend’s Great Manchester CityGames in 22.71 on the straightaway surface.

Speaking exclusively after the North-West event, Richards-Ross explained:

“It felt good – it was fun to run 200m on the straightaway and it didn’t seem that far so I had a great run today and I’m happy.

“I wanted to run under 23-seconds - my coach told me to be patient for the first 100m so I’m very satisfied as it was kind of cold and into a head-wind.

“It was a fantastic experience, I wish they had more events like this and in the States, where the fans can get really close to us and experience the great atmosphere – I had a great time and I definitely want to come back.”


Born in Kingston, Jamaica and a US citizen since 2002, Richards-Ross is relieved to be back to top form following a below-par summer last year due to a flare up of Behcets disease, a form of vasculitis which she now has under control.

Finishing seventh in the World outdoor Championship final in Daegu, South Korea, the 48.70 runner managed to salvage her 2011 with a gold medal-winning performance in the 4x400m relay final – both events which she won in the 2009 Berlin edition.

Next competing in Ostrava on Friday, Richards-Ross will then travel to Eugene for the Diamond League event in early June before aiming to seal her Olympic selection at the US trials late next month.

Confident of making her third consecutive Olympic appearance, Richards-Ross revealed:

“My health is the best it’s been for a long time – I feel like I’m past it now and my doctors have me on medication so I’m really happy that I’m physically healthy.

“I was really pleased with my indoor training – at the start of the year, I wasn’t sure if I was going to run indoors but my coach didn’t tweak my training too much and I ran great and I was happy to win my first World indoor title.

“Outdoor’s started off pretty well - I had a good race in Jamaica so I’m really excited as I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for a really long time – I’m healthy and I think it’s going to be a great year.”

An Edge

Married to NFL player Aaron Ross, the 2008 Olympic bronze-medallist and 4x400m champion from the Beijing Games has found an unusual distraction from the sport to keep the nerves and pressure at bay.

Owning and running a beauty salon in her home county, Richards-Ross explained:

“My sister and my mom and I run the business together and it’s one of my favourite pastimes when I’m not training.

“I really enjoy the business side of it and also fashion, hair and beauty and we started out own hair-line which has a range of luxury extensions so it’s really fun for me - I call myself a silent partner but I’m not really that silent,” she joked.

With constant globe-trotting commitments necessary in order to hone her craft ahead of the biggest competition of the year, family support is vital to her success, she continued:

“Aaron’s coach has given him time off to watch the Games and it will be his first time watching me in a major championship so I hope having him there will help give me an edge!”

Due to be based in Birmingham from mid-July in the Team USA preparation camp, Richards-Ross revealed:

“I’m so looking forward to feeling the energy and excitement beforehand, I just can’t wait – I think the Olympics will start at our training camp and then really build up from there.

“I’m focusing on the 400m as I’ve wanted to win the Olympic gold in that event for such a long time, which is so hard to accomplish, though I’m not sure if my coach will want to enter me in the 200m as well.

“The Olympic gold is the only thing missing from my resume so I really want to get that gold medal.

“Christine Ohuruogu will be one of my toughest challengers – she’s going to be competing on home soil, which I think will help her and Novlene Williams-Mills has started off the season really strong as well as Amantle Montsho who won the title last year so I think it’s one of the most exciting races at the Olympic Games.

“Anything less than the gold would be a disappointment for me because that’s what I train for - every sportsman wants to win, that’s why we train so hard.”

Helsinki a great opportunity for medals, believes former two-time European 4x400m relay champ, Baulch


Fourteen years on from collecting continental gold in the long relay with Great Britain and Northern Ireland team-mates Mark Hylton, Iwan Thomas and Mark Richardson, Welshman Jamie Baulch believes the new biennial format of the European Championships is a change for the better, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 38-year-old from Cardiff – who pipped Poland and Spain in the 1998 contest in Budapest and went on to retain the 4x400m crown in Munich four years later from Russia and France with compatriots Jared Deacon, Matt Elias and Daniel Caines – has fond memories of the event and explained:

“Championships are what we’re all after so generally it’s a good thing that the European’s is now every two years, as elite athletes have a short lifespan at the top so they want to get as many medals as they can.”

With the 2012 European event set to be staged in the Finnish capital of Helsinki between June 27th and July 1st fast-approaching, athletes across the continent are opening their seasons early to reach sharp mid-season form.

A winner of eleven major championship medals including the 1999 World indoor individual 400m gold from Japan and the 1996 Olympic relay silver in Atlanta, Baulch knows first-hand how a European title is not to be sniffed at:

“I have great memories of both occasions in my career,” he revealed.

“1998 was so special to me - I have fond memories of the track, the feeling of getting that gold medal and at the time, European 400m running was at its highest peak – we had such an amazing team and it was a tough race.

“I preferred Budapest to Munich as it was drizzling rain compared to the boiling heat of four years earlier.”

The holder of the British indoor record with a 45.39 clocking from the 1997 season, the father of two boys hung up his spikes in 2005 with an outdoor best of 44.57, which still ranks him as seventh on an illustrious British all-time list.

In 2010, Baulch and his team-mates were finally upgraded as the true 1997 World champions, a full thirteen years after the event, leaving the founder of Definitive Sports Management and the Jamie Baulch Academy with a bitter taste.

Keen to utilise his expertise on the global athletics circuit, Baulch manages the likes of World 400m hurdles champion Dai Greene and recalls watching his charge storm to European glory in the 2010 Barcelona event as one of his finest memories as an agent.

On his opinion of the event now only ten weeks way, Baulch explained:

“I think Helsinki will be a successful championship - lots of athletes will contest the 400m, just not the top British sprinters as they have to be a lot more selective this year, what with the home Games approaching and it also comes just a few days after the British Olympic trials. Helsinki’s a great place and it’s somewhere I can’t believe I haven’t been to before.”

Still running regularly – with a fine 3:51:44 clocking in the 2011 London Marathon to his name – Baulch will be seen on British television in July contesting ITV’s “Dancing on Ice – Going for Gold” celebrity competition alongside fellow British compatriots, four-time European 110m hurdles champion Colin Jackson and 1984 Olympic javelin champion Tessa Sanderson on the eve of the London Olympic Games.

Whether he can ice-skate as well as he can run and manage elite athletes remains to be seen...

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Cathartic Return for Chambers


Having today competed in his first race on UK soil since hearing the news that his Olympic dream could still be alive, sprinter Dwain Chambers has declared his relief after receiving a positive reception from the British public and fans of the sport, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 34-year-old 100m specialist finished second in the 150m event at the annual Great Manchester CityGames behind two-time World 200m bronze-medallist Wallace Spearman of the USA in 15.27 to the victor’s 14.87, whilst British 150m record-holder Marlon Devonish was third with 15.37.

Admitting the racing experience on home turf left him with a feeling of relief, Chambers – who was recently declared fit to attempt qualification for this summer’s London Olympic Games following an original lifetime ban after a doping expansion dating back to 2003 – laid his emotions bare in a honest post-race stint with reporters: 

“Today was a great feeling – I wasn’t sure what kind of reception I was going to get and I got a good one so I’m happy,” he said.

“It was a lot of fun and a great atmosphere – being able to compete in front of a home crowd has been the missing piece in my puzzle for so long and having them so close was a great idea, so it was a nice experience.”

Clocking a 10.26 100m split during his exertions, the London-based runner continued:

“I’ll take that time - I’m in good shape and I’m better than the 10.52 (which he recorded in Puerto Rico last weekend) - dancing at the start was unusual for me yet it made it fun but I probably won’t do it next to (world 100m and 200m record-holder Usain) Bolt anytime!

“The crowd seemed genuine so I hope to continue to receive that kind of reception throughout the summer - I was scared beforehand to be honest.”


Comparing his days’ work to a somewhat cathartic experience, the father of two – with a 100m best of 9.97 from the 1999 season, where he took world 100m bronze - will face Bolt in Ostrava on Friday in a long-awaited return to the global international outdoor circuit.

A bronze medallist over 60m from March’s World indoor Championships in Turkey, Chambers explained:

“It will be a massive difference - the level of competition I’ve been running at for the last few years well, you’ve got to compete against the highest quality of athletes in order to be amongst the best.

“Now those opportunities are available to me, I’ve got to get my mind in a different mindset, going up against guys who are 9.8 runners and I haven’t been in that calibre for a long time.

“So I’ve got to make my mind sharp, get my moves quicker – the intensity increases, the pressure increases and your expectations increase as well - I’m looking forward to racing the fastest in the world more often now.”

Now working as an anti-drugs campaigner in schools in between his training, racing and travelling commitments, Chambers continued:

“I’m optimistic and happy but I can’t take for granted what I’ve had to endure because of my actions.

“It takes a bit of time (to digest and improve) – I had a lot of weight on my shoulders before so now that’s been lifted, I need to find something else to draw off and that’s what makes it difficult.”

Admitting that he has recently started seeing a sports psychologist in order to mentally recover from his Olympic fate upheaval, the UK indoor 60m and UK outdoor 100m champion revealed:

 “It’s definitely helping – I turned it down for a long time but boy, do I need it.

“I’ve taken it upon myself since I’ve been back (from training with former 100m world record-holder Asafa Powell in Jamaica) and it’s important for me – externally I look fine but internally it’s tough.

“I keep relaxed, socialising with the athletes and walking the streets to get a feel for how the public are with me but all those worries were put to one side once the crowd were cheering me on the start-line, it made it more relaxing for me to do my job.”


Still ranked as the second-fastest British man of all-time, Chambers is understandably relieved to now have the chance to qualify for Team GB ahead of Augusts’ Olympic cauldron.

A former World and European indoor 60m champion, Chambers is unlikely to approach the form which saw him speed to a fourth-place finish in the 100m final in the 2004 Athens Games but he appears content at just having the opportunity to attend after missing the 2008 edition:

“A lot of people have said you must be over the moon but this is a road we’ve been travelling for nine years and I didn’t know what emotions I’ll be going through – it still hasn’t sunk in yet,” he explained.

“So for something to be going on for nine years, I can’t expect it to be normal after just two weeks – my kids haven’t got a clue what’s going on – they’re too young to understand but they’ve given me the boost to go out and perform.

“Today’s been a special day for me – I was nervous about the reception but it turned out really well - I’m just trying to get on with the athletes and do the best I can to perform.

“No chance did I ever think this time would come - it’s been hard mentally and I’m very grateful to have the chance to do my best in front of a home crowd – that’s something I’ve been waiting for a long time.

“I believe the momentum is definitely changing – my mind is at ease now – that’s one of the main things that was making it difficult to perform, you need a clear mind to perform but now I’ve got a free mind so I can concentrate on running and enjoy it.”

Assuming he qualifies for the British squad at the Olympic trials in Birmingham next month, Chambers – who was disqualified for a false-start in the semi-final stage of the World outdoor Championships last summer - continued:

“Once I can hopefully qualify for the team, that’s when it will all set in.

“I’m still on a rollercoaster, trying to find my feet and preparing for competitions I never expected to be in - now that I’ve got them, I’m enthusiastic, I’m feeling like a little kid again, I mean I’m 34!

“It’s nice to just be able to concentrate on one thing, running and I’d like my kids to come to watch in London – it will be a milestone in my career.”

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Jackson Welcomes Invites


Enjoying a fresh batch of invitations to some of the top meetings across the globe, 800m runner Emma Jackson is relishing the new opportunities her pre-London form is attracting ahead of a potential Olympic debut, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 23-year-old Staffordshire runner has her eyes firmly set on a spot in Team GB for this summer’s Games in London and having already recorded two lifetime bests on the track, has got her 2012 campaign off to an impressive start.
Guided by Alan Morris in Stoke, Jackson opened her season in Doha earlier this month at the prestigious Diamond League event – her first invitation to such since a breakthrough year in 2011.
Storming to an eye-catching fifth place in a 1:59.37 personal best, Jackson now sits as eleventh the British all-time list and later went on to register a fine 4:11.54 clocking with victory at the Loughborough International last weekend:
“I'm thrilled to open my season with a PB and an Olympic ‘A’ Standard - it means that I don't have to chase the standard, just race the races and see what happens,” the 2007 European junior silver-medallist explained.

“It's such a good feeling to open with a PB - I knew I was training well but you never quite know how that will translate into a race until you get out there and do it.
“It (Doha) was a bit of a scary season opener but I think I perform best with a bit of fear in me sometimes! - If you ever need a kick up the backside in training, knowing you're going to be running against the best in the world is a good way to get it!

“My PB in Loughborough was nice as well - I didn't even feel like I'd raced at the end so I know there's a lot more to come there, it just proves to me that my endurance is better than ever and it gives me an extra confidence boost going into these next few races.”

Having now broken the two-minute barrier on four occasions – the first in August last year – Jackson is excited in becoming a now regular feature on the top-tier international circuit.

Admitting that she sometimes has to pinch herself at such opportunities, the 2010 Commonwealth fourth-placer will next compete in Hengelo on Sunday and another Diamond League in Rome four days later.

“This year, I'm hoping to get more consistent around 1.59.00 and if I can  run closer to that and hopefully sneak under it, then I would be very happy,” Jackson revealed.
Mentored by 2004 double Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes, Jackson is surprised by her recent form due to giving spent much of the winter plagued by injuries:
The winter was a bit of a disaster - I had a freak injury where I whacked my knee on my front door of my house and the resulting bone bruise meant I had six weeks of no running.
“It was so frustrating to injure myself that way and it lingered on and on and got to the point where the physio’s just told me to take painkillers and run through the pain, as it was literally just a bruise and I wasn't doing myself any harm.
“I pushed myself so hard trying to get back fit after the knee problem that I then strained my calf - it wasn't too bad but it meant another four weeks out when I'd already missed so much.
“I was so upset at the time but, unlike with my knee bruise, I could still aqua jog, bike and cross train with this injury - I spoke to Kelly as soon as I'd done it and she gave me some priceless advice on how to get the injury healed and how to stay fit, it worked wonders and somehow I came back fitter than before!”

Having reached the semi-final stage of the World outdoor Championships in Daegu, South Korea last summer, the two-lap runner revealed how useful her first global senior championship experience had been:
“2011 was fantastic - going to the World’s definitely changed something inside me - it gave me a hunger to go to more and more of those major champs and I loved every second of Daegu.
“I also had a chance to go out on the European circuit quite a bit last year which was all fairly new to me - it was a real learning curve, going out to races abroad without Alan or my parents but I was fine and so I went out to Doha this year by myself.”
Determined to place inside the top two at next month’s Olympic trials in Birmingham, Jackson continued:
“My event is notoriously strong in Britain - I'm sure it will get very interesting as the season progresses and I know the trials will be tough whatever happens, so I just need to make sure I'm in the best shape I can be.”
Eager to make her Olympic debut in the British capital later this August, she explained:
“The Olympics are obviously at the forefront of everyone's mind all the time at the moment, though it's quite difficult in my event as there are currently four women with the 800m ‘A’ standard and only three places on the team.
“I want to be one of those three like you wouldn't believe but I've not let myself presume that I'm going to be one of them - I know I'm going to have to fight tooth and nail to get there and so I want to know I'm going to be there first before I start talking about my aims for the Olympics.
“I don't want to be an also-ran by any means but the trials come first and so I'm mainly focussing on them right now - I just don't want to get ahead of myself or get complacent and end up missing out.”

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Hurdles Chaos for Jess


Olympic heptathlon gold medal contender, Jessica Ennis endured a rollercoaster ride of emotions after winning this afternoon’s 110m hurdles at the Great Manchester CityGames – her elation diluting to anger just minutes after her victory on the back of an unusual technical error, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 26-year-old Sheffield-based multi-eventer originally recorded an impressive 12.75 lifetime best along Deansgate’s temporary track earlier today, beating defending Olympic champion Dawn Harper of the USA (12.86) and her compatriot, world silver-medallist Danielle Carruthers (13.02) but just thirty minutes later, her excitement was cruelly turned into devastation as rumours of a missing hurdle turned out to be true.

Guided by Toni Minichello, the Yorkshire athlete – who’s previous sits at 12.79 from last August – was left visibly confused and frustrated at the incident, having previously revealed her delight at an excellent days’ work:

“I feel let down - I felt like it was a good race, I was running well and I was obviously coming through at the end - stick another hurdle on there it would have been the same outcome but ahhh, I’m so annoyed. What can I say?” she said in the aftermath of the hurdles chaos.  

“I’ve still had a good competitive race but I’ve just not got the result that I wanted - maybe I’ll have to save it for next weekend (in the combined events meeting in Gotzis) and check the number of hurdles, I’ll have to walk down the track and count.

“I can’t believe that - it’s a great event but that’s a massive, massive mess up. I was just talking to Dawn Harper and to me it didn’t feel any different but Gemma Bennett (fourth in 13.54) was saying she felt that it was a long run off, but you just run don’t you?

“You expect that all the hurdles will be out and everything’s the way it should be and you just run as fast as you can and get across the line and that’s what I did but unfortunately, it wasn’t set up right.”


As Team GB’s poster girl for the Games, the reigning world indoor pentathlon and outdoor heptathlon silver-medallist is understandably eager to have a trouble-free 2012 campaign and the misfortune in the north-west city ignited sincere apologies from the organisers.

UK Athletics – on behalf of their team of officials and race organisers, Nova International – issued a statement shortly after the confusion and disappointment:

“We can confirm that due to human error, only nine sets of hurdles rather than the required ten, were put on the track for the women’s 110m hurdles event this afternoon,” they said.

“We employ leading UKA officials to manage this vital element of the event on our behalf, and we will of course be investigating this unfortunate occurrence further with them.

“On behalf of all this staging the Great CityGames today, we would like to apologise for this unacceptable incident, and in particular to the athletes.”

Determined to use her frustration as fuel to motivate her to replicate her evident fine form, Ennis explained:

 “I do feel let down to be honest because it’s a great opportunity for me to come and race here and it was a great race - when you’re in the middle of a race, you don’t really notice -  obviously if it was set at the wrong distance you would, but I just didn’t notice.”

Heading to the annual Austrian meeting a few days from now to hone her Olympic preparation against her fiercest rivals for gold in London, she continued: 

“I’m going to go into next weekend giving it everything, I know I’m in good shape and I’m capable of running a good time but yeah, I am frustrated because it is just so annoying.

“I would love to run a time like that again and just get some really solid performances in, just make sure everything’s really consistent.”

Looking to go close to her personal best score of 6,823 from her victory in the 2010 European Championships Ennis divulged:

“More than anything I just want really solid performances, not for one event to really let me down – when you do PB’s and do a great performance, you do take a lot of confidence from that so I would love to do that as well.”

Engaged to be married next year, the British indoor pentathlon record-holder took many positives out of her city-centre race, in what has been an eye-catching season so far:

“It was a good race so I’m really pleased - training’s been going well and I’ve hurdled well indoors, so I knew it was going in the right direction.

“I don’t expect to come to these races and to win, I just really want to run close to my personal best, season best because it’s all about points to me at the end of the day so to actually come and win its brilliant.”


Despite the almost unheard of circumstances, the 2009 World heptathlon champion was generous in
her opinion of the event in general:

“I think people see today as quite a fun event which it is – I think it’s good preparation really, because it’s a different kind of environment - the crowds really close to you and everyone’s shouting your name and wanting pictures so it’s being able to deal with the and keep focused and concentrate on competing.

“It’s good practice and when you are at the start and everyone’s cheering for you, it’s a really nice feeling, it just helps bring that extra performance in you.”

Having faced devastation in the build-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, after fracturing her right foot in three places, Ennis is confident of reaching the Games in medal-winning form and still hasn’t ruled out doing a ‘heptathlon-hurdles’ double eleven weeks from now:

“I would love to do the hurdles there as well but I just really feel it’s too close (in the timetable) and I just want to keep really focused on the heptathlon.

“If there was the opportunity to do it I would, but I just think it’s too close this year - my name will be down in case anything happens.”

And as today proved, anything indeed really can happen in elite sport.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Charlie Relishing the Challenge


Despite not having raced for three months throughout the winter with a string of injuries, distance-running starlet Charlotte Purdue is on course to make her Olympic debut on the track this summer, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 20-year-old Aldershot runner has only raced on half a dozen occasions since finishing fourth in the Bupa Great South Run in Portsmouth last October - where she twisted her ankle mid-race - yet remains on track to realise her Olympic dream in London this August, following a trio of impressive performances of late.

Guided by Mick Woods at their St Mary’s university base, Purdue finished a fine fourth in today’s Bupa Great Manchester run against a top senior international field in 32:13 along the 10km city-centre course, placing as the top British woman ahead of Olympic marathon representative, Mara
Yamauchi in sixth (32:28).

Only three seconds off her lifetime best set in the Bupa Great Ireland Run in Dublin back in April – which shot her to eleventh on the British all-time list – the Commonwealth 10,000m fourth-placer was content with her recent showing of form ahead of a busy track campaign:

“I’m feeling good and I’m happy with how I’ve been training - I haven’t really tapered for this race so I’m quite pleased with the time,” she explained after her appearance in the north-west.

“The race was slightly different to Dublin – there, it was me and Gemma pushing each other the whole way but here, I was in a group and then suddenly out of nowhere, Linet (Masia, the Kenyan winner with 31:35) made a big surge to get away and I tried to go with it and hold my form by keeping my own pace, pushing and pushing but it was really tough out there.”


Now turning her attentions to the red mondo surface, Purdue is aiming for the Olympic ‘A’ standard for both the 5,000m and 10,000m in the next few weeks.

Currently holding the ‘B’ qualifying mark for the longer distance courtesy of an eye-catching 32:03.05 lifetime best set in California last month – which ranks her as second British under23 and fourteenth senior of all-time – the diminutive runner is also only fourteen-seconds off the 5,000m ‘B’ time, having clocked 15:44.01 when winning the British universities title in the Olympic stadium a fortnight ago.

Having split the final year of her history degree in half in order to prepare for a tilt at the Games, Purdue revealed her thoughts on both the stadium which she hopes to return to and her chances of selection:

“I absolutely loved it – I felt absolutely honoured to have got the stadium record before the Olympics and running in it was really amazing,” she said.

“The bigger picture is the European Cup in two weeks (where she will target the 31:45 mark in Spain) - I’d love to get the time, that’s my main aim and I want to qualify for the Olympics more than anything.

“I’m definitely going for the 5,000m as well but I like the 10,000m more and obviously, I’d like to get the standard for both, I just feel stronger in the 10.”

With the likes of Jo Pavey, Freya Murray and Gemma Steel all chasing the twenty-six lap mark, Purdue is well aware of the fierce rivalry for team places but admits she relishes a test:

“I think it’s good that there’s a lot of good competition between the Brits as we’ll all push each other on – if it was just me going for the time, it wouldn’t feel as challenging and I always like a challenge,” she explained.


With a twelve and a half lap best of 15:23.4 from the 2010 season, the British junior number-two of
all time is clearly capable of the 15:20 ‘A’ standard for the Games and Purdue believes her injury-plagued summer and winter could indeed benefit her in the long-run.

A former European junior cross-country champion, Purdue feels the time out from competition as she nursed her ankle and knee back to full fitness in the last twelve months will ensure that she doesn’t peak too soon for the championship period in late summer:

“I think I compensated for the ankle for about a week in training and then about a week and a half into my trip in Kenya in November, I hurt my knee quite badly and I had to have the whole of Christmas off,” she revealed.

“I didn’t start back running again until late January then I got another niggle so I’ve had a real up and down time of it but touch-wood, I’m hopefully over it all now.

“Although it’s not been the perfect build-up in Olympic year, it’s made me stronger – if everything went to plan it would be boring.”

Remaining in positive mood despite the various setbacks, Purdue is currently riding on the crest of a wave and believes the injuries were a blessing in disguise:

“After spending a lot of time on the spinning bike and in the pool, I lost quite a lot of my speed so Mick’s been making me train for the faster stuff with Steph (Twell, a 1,500m Olympic hopeful) as well doing as the 5,000m track sessions so I definitely feel a lot stronger now having done them,” she said.

Keen to play down her medal chances for London, Purdue admits she has her sights on the silverware for the 2016 Games in Rio and intends to use her potential selection for experience only:

“Firstly, I’d like to qualify and then my aims would be to have a good run and I’d love to get a personal best,” she explained.

“Obviously, you don’t want to peaking now so I think all my troubles that have held me back a bit may have actually been not too bad for the preparation.

“Looking back to this time last year, no-one would have thought either me or Steph (who broke her ankle fourteen months ago) would be not too far away from running in the Olympics, but we’re both back so it’s really promising.”

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Geb: No Farewell Tour Yet


It was suggested by his manager earlier this year that Haile Gebrselassie – regarded by many as the world’s greatest ever distance-runner – should use his 2012 racing campaign as a way of winding down his illustrious twenty-year international career but the veteran runner insists he is not ready for a farewell tour just yet, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 39-year-old Ethiopian spoke passionately about his training and racing plans ahead of the annual Bupa Great Manchester Run on Sunday, and expressed his desire to continue his relationship with the marathon distance despite missing out on Olympic selection for London this summer.

A two-time Olympic and three-time World champion over 10,000m on the track, Gebrselassie will tackle the streets of the North West’s capital this weekend, where he hopes to claim his fifth and fourth-consecutive victory in a race which boosts another two of the world’s four-fastest ever marathon runners – world record-holder Patrick Makau of Kenya, Ayele Abshero of Ethiopia and the 2008 Olympic bronze-medallist Tsegaye Kebede also of Ethiopia.  

“Sunday will be a very tough race,” Gebrselassie explained of the tenth anniversary event.

“I hope to run a good competition and get a good time - my preparation is wonderful and you have a very good race here with many crowds - it would be wonderful to win again, it would be big news.”

Second Home

A former world record holder for the 26.2mile distance with a 2:03.59 clocking from the 2008 Berlin event, Gebrselassie spoke of how the challenge of facing Makau – who took the marathon mark in Berlin last autumn – helped maintain his motivation to train after a disappointing marathon in Japan:

“The Vienna half-marathon last month – which he won in 60:52 - was important to keep in shape for Manchester and also for the 10,000m on the track in Hengelo next week,” he revealed.

“I know how big the Great Manchester Run is so I’ve had to keep very fit and I wish to run a good time in Hengelo – at least 27mins something would be wonderful.”

The ‘Emperor’ as he is known as in his homeland, is constantly looking for new challenges after failing to make the Ethiopian squad for the London Games, courtesy of a lacklustre 2:08.17 final tilt in the Tokyo event earlier this year.

His participation over twenty-five laps of the track next weekend has led many to question whether he still harbours hopes of making his fourth Olympic appearance but the twenty-six-time world record breaker has other thoughts:

“I don’t think there a chance I will make the team – we have many good runners but it’s not a shame as it’s a special year for the UK so for me, coming here to run makes me happy and I will be in London to watch,” Gebrselassie, who has a 26:22.75 lifetime best dating back to 1998 - explained.

“I love London - the Olympics is special but London is wonderful anyway and like a second home to me.”

Not Old

The past few years haven’t been easy sailing for the ever-smiling ‘Geb’ but he is determined to end his athletic career on his own terms and in his usual infectiously-positive style.

Having won nine marathons since switching his attention mainly away from the track after finishing fifth in the 10,000m in the 2004 Athens Olympics, the three-time world indoor 3,000m champion has faced an uphill battle as age began to slowly catch up with him.

As an asthma sufferer, he withdrew ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic marathon due to concerns over the air pollution levels and went onto finish sixth in the 10,000m event ahead of a career-defining moment in November, 2010.

After having pulled out mid-way through the New York marathon with a knee problem, Gebrselassie subsequently announced his retirement from the sport and luckily, changed his mind a few days later.

“Once something happens, I only think about the future, not the past – what can I do?” he revealed on his recent misfortunes.

“I’m a sportsman and you have to learn from the past and move on from the mistakes.”
Evidently past the sadness of the decision on his London 2012 fate, Gebrselassie – when questioned on his finest Olympic memory - stated:

“Of course, Sydney was the one (where he took 10,000m gold in an epic clash with Kenyan Paul Tergat) - even nowadays, when I watch the video I say ‘ah, amazing!’ I am still friends with Paul and I last saw him six-months ago.”

Whenever this living legend decides to hang up his racing shoes, he will indeed be granted a fine farewell from his army of fans across the globe – but just not yet he sincerely hopes:

“I’m not ready to say goodbye – let me do my job first and race next year – I’m not old yet!” he exclaimed.

“I don’t want to be finishing ninth and tenth so yes, it would be better to stop if I’m no longer in the top three.

“My time used to be 50/50 running and business but now it’s more focused on business as there are many things to do back home – my hotel, the real estate, the car factory, the fitness centre.

“I’ll keep with the marathon – I’ll do an autumn marathon somewhere like in America or Europe - it’s amazing how many Ethiopians we have running so fast – they’re surprising me, it’s great for future generations.”

And how about leaving an athletic legacy as well as great memories?

“No, I don’t think I’ll be a coach – I would be too tough as I know what it takes to be really great!” the great man explained.

Double Task for Turner


This Sunday, world 110m hurdles bronze-medallist Andy Turner will tackle two events on the streets of Manchester in order to increase his speed endurance ahead of an even bigger task at the London Olympics this summer, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 31-year-old – who is a member of Sale Harriers Manchester to boot – will be seeking a third-consecutive victory over the double whammy of hurdles events at the Powerade Great CityGames in the city centre this weekend and he admits the fierce competition will make his job even harder.

Contesting his specialist 110m hurdles against the 2008 Olympic silver-medallist David Payne of the USA along the annually-constructed track on Deansgate, Turner will then return just forty-five minutes later to take on the 200m barriers against the 2004 Olympic 400m hurdles champions Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic and his own world best and British record of 22.10.

The Nottingham-born father of three explained:

“The 110m hurdles looks a strong field so it will be a good indication of where I’m at in training and I’ve got my favourite event, the 200m hurdles so it should be a great race which I’m really looking forward to.

“The 110 is business and the 200 is pleasure - the 110 is just another race but it just so happens it’s in the middle of a busy street and the 200 is for my speed endurance which I’d do the on the flat in training anyway so it’s good for training and will benefit me further down the line.”

Guided by Lloyd Cowan in his London base, Turner continued:

“I feel my technique is really good at the moment but my speed needs some work so this will be a good test - I’ll just keep warm and loose somewhere and I won’t do another warm-up, the win is more important than a time as they’re all quality athletes.”


A former youth footballer with Notts County FC, Turner has endured a difficult past twelve months as a long-term Achilles injury threatened much of his summer and the entire winter season indoors this year.

Having cut short his indoor campaign after limping home at the Aviva International in Glasgow back in January, he then began his outdoor season with a modest 13.57w clocking in Florida in late April, 13.50 in Jamaica in early May and then a 21.8 200m clocking at the low-key Nottinghamshire Championships last weekend – which were all quite disappointing performances by his own

Yet, rather than worry in the all-important Olympic year, Turner is optimistic that time is on his side:

“The Achilles affected me for the whole of last year - I had another cortisone injection at the start of the year but it’s not good to keep having those so I had an epidural injection in mid-March and it’s taken away all of the pain (in my shoulder, too),” he revealed.

“It’s quite amazing that it’s fixed me. I trained fine in America and my hamstring’s just tight all the time so it’s playing on my mind but I see the physio’s a lot so it’s not too much of a worry.”

On his recent races, the 2010 European and Commonwealth champion divulged:

“The race in Jamaica was a disappointment as I hit the last hurdle hard and know I’m in decent shape.

“This hamstring drama’s been going on for a while so I took it easy at the county champs – I did it to give back to the sport, having grown up there – I haven’t raced there for ten years and it’s where my track and field life started so it was good to go back to talk to the kids.”


Having enjoyed a three-month spell of training in Florida with his great rival and friend Olympic bronze-medallist David Oliver of the USA and again for two-months in early spring, Turner is confident the sacrifice of uprooting his young family will pay off when it comes to making his second Olympic appearance in August.

Fifth in his heat at the 2008 Beijing Games in another season marred by injury woes, Turner explained how four women in his life have managed to keep things upbeat and in perspective for him:

“There’s Jasmine, seven, Carmen, five and Morgan who’s one and they’re my biggest fans,” he said.

“They only came out with their mum for a fortnight last time as they’d had too much time away from school but I can now plat their hair and I know Barbie quite well now, though I probably shouldn’t admit that!

“They’re always saying don’t come home without a medal so there’s a lot of pressure but it’s cool as their friends see me on TV and so they get the bragging rights in the playground.”

With a lifetime best of 13.22 from last June – which ranks him as the third-fastest Britain of all-time – most would assume Turner is a shoe-in for Team GB selection for the Games but with fast-improving youngsters Andy Pozzi and Lawrence Clarke hot on his heels, Turner is well aware complacency could cost him a place on the squad:

“Andy and Lawrence have both ran really well recently and it’s not a surprise to me,” he explained.

“Pozzi ran so well indoors and I’ve had it easy for seven or eight years, being number-one so it’s about time those guys try to take my place but I’ll still be fighting for it – the rivalry’s good for me, for us all and for the sport.”

Competing in Ostrava next Thursday and twice in America around the turn of June, Turner is adamant that he can prove his global bronze in 2011 was no fluke when it comes to stepping out in the Olympic stadium this summer:

“I want to make the final then run my heart out and hopefully win a medal in London,” he revealed.

“It’s not about the fastest athlete, it’s about who makes the least mistakes – you’ve got to be in it to win it, like I was in Daegu.

“It’s not going to be easy to even make the final but no matter what, you won’t have seen the last of me in London.”

Timing Key for Holly


Having clinched a global bronze medal during the indoor season, pole-vault sensation Holly Bleasdale is determined to reach peak fitness at the London Olympics in August in her quest for another piece of illustrious silverware, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 20-year-old Blackburn athlete has quickly developed into a world-class performer over the past two years and is keen to hold herself back until the biggest event of the summer in Stratford three months from now, where she will make her eagerly anticipated Olympic debut.

The British record-holder indoors and out, Bleasdale has already sampled life inside the new Olympic stadium although she hopes to have a far better experience next time around:

“I was really excited to jump at the Olympic stadium but I knew I wasn’t going to feel good as I had a hard weights session the day before and could hardly move my legs on the day as they were so stiff,” she explained on the situation which led to her below-par 4.35m clearance.

“That and a seven-hour journey down certainly wasn’t the best preparation and then after walking my poles through the shopping centre and running a mile to the stadium, at first I just didn’t want to compete but it’s an amazing stadium and it’s good that I’ve had the chance to suss the track out - it’s really quick and it’ll be good to go back there in better circumstances and hopefully get a medal.”


The prodigious Lancashire athlete ignited her outdoor campaign off the back of a remarkable winter in which she raised her lifetime best to a staggering 4.87m in France back in January, which placed her third in the world rankings for the season and indeed of all-time.

Together with her first senior major championship medal (with a mark of 4.70m) – at the World indoor Championships in Turkey in March – Bleasdale has literally come on leaps and bounds since taking up the event seriously in 2010.

A former combined events athlete, the Manchester-based Bleasdale is now entering her fifth season in the discipline since joining forces with vaulting guru, Jullien Raffalli-Ebezant and feels she is reaping the rewards from spending part of the winter training in France with men’s world outdoor bronze-medallist, Renaud Lavillenie:

We have fun in training - it’s really relaxed and I see it as going to see my friends so that’s why we’re all doing so well,” the 2010 World junior bronze-medallist revealed.

“If my jumping high is inspiring young athletes, then that’s great and I’d love to go back to training with men like Renaud – people say I vault like a man anyway, as I’m aggressive and really go for it!”

On her breakthrough indoor season, she continued:

“It was such a great season – I was hoping to jump around 4.80m and when I jumped 4.87m I was in hard training so it’s made me think that I can step my training up more and perform even better.

“At the time I was disappointed not to get the silver but I’ve gone past that now and channelled that into my training so I’m excited to start tapering and finally feel nice to do really well in London - not too much before then, that’s all that matters.”


A two-time UK indoor champion, Bleasdale plans to retain her UK outdoor title at the Olympic trials in Birmingham next month and is keen to make no repeats of her timing mistakes from the 2011 season.

Having peaked for the European under23 Championships in Ostrava last July – an event which she impressively won with a 4.55m leap – she went onto the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea for her first major senior experience and no-heighted in the qualifying round.

Despite setting a British record and world age-19 best of 4.70m in Germany just weeks earlier - which would see her finish the year as tenth in the global senior rankings and twenty-first on the world all-time list - Bleasdale admits that she failed to reach her peak form twice in the summer, as will again be the aim for the forthcoming Olympic trials and Games.

“In previous years, I’ve peaked earlier in the summer and now jumping 4.30m is a bit of a shock for me but there’s no point jumping 4.90m now then not going as high in London and missing out on a medal – they are what counts and that’s why I know I’ll get better in the run-up,” she explained.

Competing on Sunday in the Powerade Great CityGames on the streets of Manchester, Bleasdale will then travel to America for the first time to compete in the Diamond League in Eguene before the Olympic trials in late June.

“It (the new life of a world-class athlete) is really crazy but my parents and boyfriend say I’m the most grounded person so all this is normal to me and I still blush when I see myself on adverts etc - it’s not in my nature to be arrogant,” she revealed.

“I’m getting more used to it all now – it’s opening so many doors for me and I really enjoy the travelling but more than anything, I want to keep improving.”

On competing in the city where she spends so much of her training time, Bleasdale continued:

“It’s so nice to be able to compete in Manchester – I couldn’t turn down the opportunity, I compete a lot in the UK but it’s really nice that my family and friends nearby can come to support me at this one.

“I’m still in a heavy block of training, what with the Olympics still being quite far away so I’m still jumping off a short approach (twelve rather than sixteen) and I’m not in PB shape but I just want to enjoy it and jump well.

“I’ve done a street vault before in Trafalgar Square and I think events like this are such a great idea, with the crowd so close and a great atmosphere so it’s exciting as you can see your family and friends, rather than them being hidden in a big stadium.”

Indeed, the promising Team GB hopeful will have to get used to the deafening cheers ahead of competing on home soil at her first senior global outdoor championships this summer:

“I don’t think coming away without a medal would be a disappointment as it’s my first Games and the first time I’ll be under a lot of pressure as a medal hope in my home county,” she explained.

“I’d be really happy with a top-six placing and a medal would be a bonus – I can only go there for the experience and my dream is to win the gold in Rio in 2016, when I’ve four more years to get stronger with even better technique.”

Yamauchi's Mara-thon Load


Four years since finishing sixth in the Olympic marathon in Beijing, Team GB hopeful Mara Yamauchi is confident she can reproduce the goods on the streets of London in her second Olympic appearance this August, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 38-year-old from Oxford qualified for the London Games courtesy of a 2:27.24 clocking when placing third in the Yokohama marathon in Japan last November and despite not having raced since, is positive of an impressive display on home turf this summer.

Guided by her husband and coach Shige, Yamauchi explained:

“I’m hoping to stand on the start-line in good shape, without any injuries and do myself justice.

“I’m not looking for a particular time - if I run my race and if I’m healthy, the position will come as well as a decent time.”

Joined by world record-holder Paula Radcliffe and newcomer Claire Hallisey, Yamauchi believes the Team GB outfit could make quite an impact:

“It’s a great team – Paula has a stellar CV and she will be pulling out all the stops to prepare as best she can and Claire has been improving massively with every race,” she revealed.

“Hopefully, we’ll all have a great race – I’ve got to watch my back – and hopefully we’ll all stay healthy and have a good race on the day to also have a good team result.”


Boasting a marathon lifetime best of 2:23.12 from her runner-up position in the 2009 London marathon, Yamauchi has done the opposite to what most elite British performers would in the countdown to the Games by moving into London.

Previously residing in Japan for several years, the British all-time number-two is relishing her new surroundings as well as being able to take advantage of the close proximity of the Olympic course:

“I enjoy the fantastic parks in London, having friends around to train with and being able to go and train on parts of the marathon course and being nearer to the support of UK Athletics,” she explained.

Named after the Mara River in Kenya where she lived as a youth, Yamauchi spent a month at altitude in South Africa in January and again in another four-week spell in Mammoth Lakes in California last month, after recovering from a bruised heel around the New Year.

Because of the injury, I did a lot of cross-training but I’ve increased the running training now to around eighty-miles a week with a bit more of cross-training so although the speed will probably be lacking, the marathon in August is the priority,” she revealed.


Her first test of speed endurance will come on Sunday – in her first race for six months – at the Bupa Great Manchester Run, where she will face world 10,000m silver-medallist Linet Masai of Kenya and British duo Gemma Steel and Charlotte Purdue over 10km on the roads of the Northern city.

A Commonwealth silver-medallist in 2006 over the distance, Yamauchi explained her thoughts ahead of her initial competitive task of 2012:

“I’m not quite sure what to expect but training’s been going reasonably ok – I’m not expecting a personal best time but I hope to do a reasonable time and get my racing legs back and try to enjoy it.

“It will be a good race – Gemma and Charlotte are training for the 5,000m and 10,000m so if they’re ahead of me, I won’t be totally gutted but I just want to try to run my own race and do well.”

Following her Manchester appearance, Yamauchi will next compete in the British capital in the Bupa London 10km before tackling a half-marathon in Holland in June – all in preparation for what could possibly be her last Olympic marathon.

“My form’s probably quite similar to 2008,” she explained.

“I’ve had a lot of injuries since 2009 but by August, I hope to be in similar shape - I’m hoping that perhaps by doing less training but being more focused, I’ll be able to produce the same result.”

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Parker's Back-Up Plan


After a disappointing display in the first-round heats of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 3,000m steeplechaser Barbara Parker is attacking London 2012 will a back-up plan, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 29-year-old from Norfolk – who is yet to compete in her specialist event this season – is quite unusually, targeting a spot on Team GB for this summer’s Olympics in both her usual discipline as well as the 5,000m event.

Guided by her husband and coach, Sean Burris at their base in Atlanta, Parker has enjoyed promising early-season form which has seen her reduce her twelve-and-a-half lap best by thirteen-seconds to an impressive 15:14.26 in California last month – thus prompting the two-tier assault for her second Olympic appearance.
A member of City of Norwich AC, Parker revealed:

“I will be focusing on the steeplechase this year but if something goes wrong in the chase, I have the 5000m as a back-up.

“I knew 15:20 (the Olympic ‘A’ standard) was well inside my capability and on a perfect day, I could get close to fifteen-flat so I am really excited to do another one and push myself through the first part of the race at a faster pace, as I have a lot of strength in the second part of my races.”


Currently leading the British outdoor rankings, Parker’s 5,000m mark is almost half a minute quicker than the time she ran in the countdown to Beijing, where she finished twelfth in her heat, so it is little wonder she is in confident mood.

The former British record-holder over the barriers and with a best of 9:35.17 to currently rank her third on the British all-time list, Parker explained:

Winter training went extremely well – I got a consistent rotation of high mileage in and really focused on longer strength workouts.

“We live at the trail-head of the Chattahoochee River, which is an amazing place to run - it is so nice walking out of your front door and the trail is right there.”

Having enjoyed a stint in March training alongside World 1500m silver-medallist Hannah England in Tallahassee, Florida - where she attended university - Parker ignited her 2012 campaign with two solid races in mid-April, registering 2:08.04 for 800m and 4:13.31 for 1500m.

The UK number-one in 2011, she is eager to improve upon her 9:35.46 best of last summer:

I am running the steeple at the Shanghai Diamond League next week and then we will plan my next races after that,” revealed Parker.  

“I’ll possibly do the Prefontaine Classic on June 2nd and then I will be coming back to the UK.

“This year is all about the Olympics obviously, however, I am really focusing on competing and not watching the clock - times will come if I put myself in the mix from the beginning of the race.

“I also hope to regain my British record - going sub-9:30 is well over-due for me and I know Helen Clitheroe (the British record-holder with 9:29.14 from the 2008 season) wants to see it go - she is a great support and someone I really admire.”


In an intriguing twist, although retired from the steeplechase, Clitheroe now focuses purely on the 5,000m event so Parker will still have to face her long-time rival for a berth on the Olympic squad.

Having placed fourteenth in the World Championship final in Daegu, South Korea last August, Parker is also strongly aware of the task ahead in order to qualify for usual discipline at the UK Championships and Olympic trials in Birmingham next month:

“When it is an Olympic year, the competition is always very strong - people train out of their skin to make the Olympic team so I expect this year will be very competitive to get one of the three spots,” she explained.

“Making the final in Daegu was really important going into this year but in the final, I got a stitch and it wasn't pretty.

“I have been seeing a psychologist since last October and I have a whole new mentality in training and competition - it frustrates me to think I didn't benefit from this in previous seasons so with a more competitive edge and a solid winters training, I am hoping for a special year.

“I truly believe I have the ability to medal in London - my psychologist has really allowed me to believe my true potential and strong beliefs from an athlete can be a powerful thing.

“Now that the season has started, I am less nervous and anxious about London - each competition will give me the tools I need to execute the perfect race in London so I am actually looking forward to that day.”

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Together for the Long Run


Coping with the demands of training, travel and competition en route to London 2012 would stretch most relationships, but Games hopefuls Hannah England and Luke Gunn are a unique couple as they are currently successfully juggling their preparations for a big day on and off the track, writes Nicola Bamford.

The Birmingham-based duo have not only set their sights on making their Olympic debuts in the capital this summer but are also planning their wedding day for January, in what is likely to be an exciting few months ahead for the talented pair.

For 25-year-old England, the World 1,500m silver-medallist and 27-year-old Gunn, the Commonwealth Games 3,000m steeplechase finalist, the countdown to the two most important events of their lives has been hectic yet surprisingly complimentary:

“It is a lovely distraction (from athletics) and I must admit, we are both pretty laid-back so you won't see any Bridezilla's in our build up,” revealed Oxford-born runner, England.

“We will be having the ceremony in Oxford and we have been fortunate enough to be granted access to one of the University's chapels - we did toy with having a Harry Potter-themed wedding for a while but Luke vetoed it - it was just my way of using his only veto up early.”

For Derby-born athlete Gunn, such an important phase of their lives has been made much easier to cope with courtesy of a secondment from his job at the University of Birmingham – where they each studied and indeed met, back in 2006.

“Last year was definitely tough not seeing Hannah for months at a time, which was definitely one of the main contributors to my decision to take a year out of work,” explained Gunn.

“We both need our partner in crime for support as much as possible this year.”


Having endured a long-distance relationship during Gunn’s three-year study period at Florida State University – where England additionally spent a year back in 2008 – the couple have survived challenging spells apart so the past winter and spring spent together in Kenya and the French Pyrenees, respectively,  signified a welcome change in their training routine.

Guided by Bud Baldaro, the pair spent month-long stints in Africa back in November and January and are now enjoying another high-altitude spell at the tail-end of a spring training camp in Font Romeu.

“We've been able to spend a lot more time together training and the trips to Kenya mainly consisted of base-training with high mileage (over one-hundred miles a week for Luke and up to eighty miles for myself),” England, a 4:01.89 metric miler revealed.

“This year, these camps have been attended by the very best of the British distance community – this meant Luke was able to do lots of his running with the likes of Paula (Radcliffe, the World marathon record-holder) and Mo (Farah, the World 5,000m champion).”

With a best of 8:28.48 over the barriers from the 2008 season, Gunn offered his thoughts on how the duo withstands the constant strains on their time and priorities:

“We both completely understand the level of commitment involved and can both act like the motivator when times dictate it.

“It's also much easier to drag yourself out of bed if the other has already risen and is about to brave the elements, too - that being said, we hardly ever run together, though we do still train at the same time in the gym or at the track, which makes life easier.”

Seeking his fourth-consecutive UK outdoor title at the Olympic trials in Birmingham in June, Gunn continued:

“It has been tough for both of us at times with Hannah having to remain utterly focused on her season during my disappointment on missing out on teams.

“I have had to force a smile to ensure my bad mood has no negative effect on Hannah at crucial times in her summer and we are a team so when she won her silver last year, that gave me as much satisfaction as many of my own running achievements as we have gone through her full development as an athlete together.

“Largely, we feed off each others’ excitement and positivity and the tides have certainly turned in recent years, where Hannah now challenges me on my mental approach and tactics - however, I am not ready to step into her shadow just yet.”


Mentored by 2004 800m and 1500m Olympic champion, Dame Kelly Holmes and looking for her third-consecutive UK outdoor title next month, England is facing the added pressure of being tipped as one of Team GB’s one’s-to-watch after claiming her first major championship medal in South Korea last summer.

Dealing with the expectation of bringing home another medal, she explained how sharing her life with another elite athlete helps her keep everything in perspective:

“We are both guilty of bringing home a bad session or race but we have been together so long now that the other one often knows how to distract the other, whether it be with a weekend away, night to the cinema or just a simple silly dance to lighten the mood.

“We are also very fortunate to have a group of close friends who are great at keeping us grounded, stopping us from getting too insular about training and most importantly, feeding us emergency chocolate and cake when needed.”

Just six weeks out from the first big test of their 2012 campaigns, Gunn continued:

“First and foremost, we both have to qualify for the Games and that is, and has been, the goal since 2008 when we were both sat on the wrong side of selections.

“So we have to get an ‘A’ standard each before the trials which we are both refusing to look too far beyond at the minute - we are both pretty proud to be British champions in our respective events and we both intend to fight tooth and nail to retain those titles.”

England, also the British indoor 3,000m champion, concluded: 

“The pressure of London this year is always there on a low-ebb and whilst it can rise to nerve-wracking heights at times, these are just natural periods of doubt that we talk through together and rationalise.

“We have to admit we wouldn't have it any other way - the excitement of still being in contention for a place in the Olympics is the only motivation we need to push our body to new limits every day.

“We are both early enough in the season to be in command of our destinies so at present we are focusing on keeping both of us healthy, injury-free and maintaining positive momentum, as places on the team are still available and we fully intend to occupy two of them between us.”

And should this speedy pair realise their Olympic ambitions come August, then the New Year will indeed witness an exceptionally happy bride and groom walking down the aisle.