Fit-again Holly Bradshaw reconnects with the feeling of vaulting ambition

A back injury made 2013 a write-off for her

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There was a tremble in Holly Bradshaw’s hands she had never experienced before last weekend, not at the Olympic final nor at the myriad of Diamond League competitions. This was the under-the-radar Welsh Championships, but the pole-vaulter was preparing for her first competition in 16 months.

A back injury made 2013 a write-off for her and last season was cut short after the World Indoor Championships when it became abundantly clear the back was still not fixed. It was more than a year before she would vault again.

In the intervening time, the name changed from Bleasdale to Bradshaw after her marriage to Paul, an obvious positive in a tumultuous spell.

“It was really difficult as the two things I do are pole-vault and compete, and I couldn’t do either,” she says of her time out. “So it was the hardest thing but it had to be done.”

Last season was not a total flop. In what proved a fallow year for her event globally, she still ended with the third-highest clearance in the world – 4.73 metres – but every time she competed it was in pain.

“I pushed it too hard and it just began to break down again,” she says on the eve of the British Championships in Birmingham, which she is aiming to win for the first time since 2012. “It just needed time to recover and it took longer than anticipated.”

The schedule had been to return for the indoor season but that was pushed back.

“We felt that we’d waited this long, let’s get it right,” she adds. “I didn’t want it to get to a point where after six months I’d break down again and that would put the Olympics in Rio in jeopardy.”

The first vault back, three months ago, was surprisingly comfortable, her training partners arguably more nervous than she was as she took to the runway. “I remember I smashed the pole in and it felt amazing,” she says. “That first vault session was just like riding a bike, it all just comes flooding back.”

The Welsh Championships were a different matter. “I was super nervous beforehand, with my hands actually shaking as I put the glue on the pole. Normally nothing fazes me but it was odd. I had like flashbacks to the Olympic Stadium or competing in Birmingham and then I cleared 4.50m and realised that this is where I’m meant to be.”

Quite whether she returns to the point of clearing heights such as the personal best of 4.87m achieved in 2012 remains to be seen. She believes a height between 4.60 and 4.70 is achievable this weekend in competition.

As well as the time out, there is a remodelled approach to competition in order to ease the load on her body.

“One of the reasons I got injured was that I was really close through take-off, so the load through the shoulders and back was huge,” she explains. Now her take-off is a little further back and, three months into the new approach, she is still adapting to it.

In her one competition to date she has already achieved the World Championships qualifying standard but her slow, steady return to competing is all with next year’s Olympics in mind.

“Training’s been going well, although I’m not quite where I was,” she adds. “Hopefully, that will come in time. This was 100 per cent the right decision for me because if I want to go to Rio and get a medal I have to be healthy.”

The spell out has meant more time to spend on her Lego obsession. She bought a bookshelf to house all her creations, which have since outgrown it. Paul hopes the Lego building is at least temporarily on hold as the summer season takes off with his wife back in full flight.