BRITAIN'S top high jumper, who begins his outdoor season this week, will go to the world championships in Gothenburg in the summer confident of securing a medal. His resolution will be reinforced by his memories of another big event . . .

my own goal; Steve Smith
Click to follow
The Independent Online
AT the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 I was still considered Britain's No 2 high jumper despite having won the national championships. I went with the aim of reaching the final, nothing more. I was only 19 and naive. It was to work against me in a way which will always be difficult to forget.

There is no doubt I was in good form. In practice I was clearing 2.30m off five strides. I was there telling people about it, letting them know, thinking they wanted to know. It was all going extremely well. Then, I reached the high jump final.

It was what I had wanted to do. I was young, I had met my expectations and probably those of everybody else. But I missed a wonderful opportunity. I went in at 2.24 and cleared that at my first attempt. I went to 2.28 and had one failure before clearing it. It was at about that point in the competition that I didn't realise what was happening. I went to 2.31 and had a very narrow miss. What I had not grasped was what sort of jump might get me a medal. I moved up to to 2.34. I had only one jump at it. I went to the bar and took off. I was really high, around 2.40, and was over before just clipping it. If I had made 2.34 I would have won Olympic silver. That was the height at which Javier Sotomayor clinched the gold.

I just did not realise what a good chance I had. When it dawned I went out of the stadium in tears. I could not speak to the press or anybody else for that matter. People say you are only young, your time will come, but my time was then. Two weeks later I went to the world junior championships. I won gold by jumping 2.37. After that sort of thing, you tend not to make the same mistake. Thanks partially to that and a coach who seems to know how to make me peak I have won medals in both the world and European championships.

Not that everything has been hunky-dory. I'm fine now and on the verge of a new season but last year there were times when athletics meant nothing to me. Injuries had affected me, I was drinking too much, having too many late nights. I found that I simply wasn't able to give 100 per cent in training. I always felt as though I was skiving. Quite frankly, I was going off the rails. I won a silver medal in the European Championships but there weren't many high points.

That has fortunately changed. I went to Florida in the winter for treatment from a physiotherapist, Gerard Hardman. He has sorted me out and as a result the winter has gone fantastically. Over the last four or five months I have got my motivation and dedication back.

The other night I was at Wavertree in a very small meeting. There were only two of us competing but it was tremendous. I was running in and thoroughly enjoying it. Six years ago I was new to the scene and had plenty of time. Although I broke through early the years have flown by. You must take your chances when they arise. Now I know that at 22 I probably have only another six years left.

This summer after the Saint Denis meeting in France, I particularly want to do well at the Gateshead Grand Prix meeting in July because I have always been so wonderfully well supported up in the North-east. There is a chance of beating Sotomayor in the world championships. I suppose you must look at a height of 2.38 or 2.40. What Barcelona taught me is that I shall know what I need to do.

Comments