Bleasdale swift to raise the bar but keeps her feet on ground

Click to follow
The Independent Sport

Holly Bleasdale has come a long way in a short space of time. Yesterday lunchtime she was sitting alongside Christine Ohuruogu as one of the star attractions at the press conference for the Aviva World Trials and National Championships, which open at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham this evening.

Back in August 2008, when Ohuruogu was striking gold in the Olympic 400m final in Beijing, Bleasdale was struggling to make the grade as a schoolgirl heptathlete. "I did the heptathlon at the English Schools' Championships," she recalled. "I was third going into the last event and ended up 12th. I could never do the 800m. I was never fit enough."

It was only in October 2008, two months after Ohuruogu's Olympic triumph, that Bleasdale first picked up a vaulting pole. One month out from the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, and twelve months away from the London Olympics, the 19-year-old from Euxton in Lancashire is sitting in joint fourth place in the world rankings in the pole vault. Ohuruogu is joint 32nd in the 400m.

It is just as well that Debbie Bleasdale gave her daughter a gentle shove in the right direction when Holly wanted to stay in the car rather than take part in one of Julie Raffalli's pole vault taster sessions on a bleak, rain-sodden October day in Blackburn. "I was really nervous about trying something new," Bleasdale said. "I needed someone there pushing me out and I'm glad my mum did it."

It just so happened that Mrs Bleasdale was sitting listening to her daughter at the back of the press conference room in Birmingham yesterday. British athletics has reason to be grateful for her encouraging parental push.

Competing in Mannheim, Germany, on 2 July, Holly improved her personal best by 17cm in one afternoon, sailing past Kate Dennison's British-record height by 10cm with a clearance of 4.70m. A week later, in a downpour at the Diamond League meeting in Birmingham, she claimed the scalps of Fabiana Murer, the reigning world indoor champion from Brazil, and Svetlana Feofanova, the European champion from Russia. The week after that she won the European Under-23 title.

At a recent 2012 briefing with journalists in London, Charles van Commenee, the hard-to-please head coach of UK Athletics, chastised himself for repeatedly mentioning Bleasdale in glowing terms. The Dutchman is a big fan of the Lancashire lass who until recently was working part-time at Punchinello's Italian restaurant in Chorley.

"London is not too soon for Holly," Van Commenee ventured to suggest. "She has an interesting mind. She is a typically no-nonsense girl. It is between her and the bar, and what others do is their business. That is a good attitude. It is the art of competing. She is very down to earth and has an inspiring coach who does not get carried away with instant success. They don't start dreaming. They take things as they are."

Bleasdale is six places, and 10cm, ahead of Yelena Isinbayeva in the world rankings, the Russian Olympic champion and world record holder who is on the comeback trail (and who competes in the Diamond League meeting in Stockholm tonight) after taking a sabbatical. Not that the upwardly mobile yet down to earth Bleasdale considers her elevated status to equate to an automatic medal challenge at the looming World Championships.

"People have said, 'You should go there for a medal', but there are a lot of girls who have been jumping for a long time and who can consistently clear 4.70m," the Blackburn Harrier said. "I think I need to get the consistency before I go there all confident of a medal.

"I think it'll be good experience for London. But if I make the final, anything can happen, depending on the conditions. You saw in the Diamond League meeting here, if it rains it stands me in good stead."

By its very nature, the pole vault has attracted some of the great eccentrics of track and field. "I think I've always been a bit crazy, not like a girly girl," Bleasdale confessed. "Stuck up trees, aged three," her mother added.