WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
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.”