Holly Bleasdale jumps for joy at Indoor Championships after Olympic flop
British pole-vaulter caught out by a gust of wind at London 2012 breezes to victory in jump-off at European Indoor Championships
Sunday 03 March 2013
As Holly Bleasdale prepared to take her final attempt at 4.67 metres yesterday, the Great British legacy of London 2012 was not looking too clever in the first major track and field event of this post-Olympic year.
In the preceding four minutes, Shara Proctor had lost the bronze medal in the last round of the long jump and Robbie Grabarz had bombed out of the high jump in sixth place. With Bleasdale down in fourth in the pole vault final, the hoped-for reprise of Olympic Super Saturday – when Jess Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford all struck gold in the space of 44 minutes – was on the brink of turning into a hat-trick of disasters.
But then the Lancashire lass who crumbled in the cauldron of the Olympic Stadium last summer proceeded to show everyone her true medal-winning mettle. In the final of her event at London 2012 the 21-year-old allowed the wind to be taken from her sails by the gust that swirled around the arena. Continually looking trackside to her coach, Julien Raffalli, for assurance, she lost her composure and finished a tearful sixth – which was no disgrace but it was a disappointment for a huge talent who had won bronze at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul last March.
Seven months on, when it came to crunch time in the Scandinavium Arena yesterday, Bleasdale demonstrated just how much she had learned from that big setback. She scraped over 4.67m at the last time of asking, catapulting herself from fourth to joint first, alongside Anna Rogowska of Poland.
The young Briton initially thought she had finished second to the vaulting Pole on the countback system. "I was waving to the crowd thinking I had the silver medal, but then I was told there would be a jump-off," Bleasdale said. "Actually, we were told we could share the gold medal or have a jump-off. I thought I could win. I wanted the jump-off."
That alone showed the legacy of having learned from the let-down of London 2012, and having done some pretty quick maturing for one so young.
In the aftermath of the Olympics, Bleasdale made the big decision to leave her old coach and her former training base in Manchester to work under the guidance of American guru Dan Pfaff, splitting her training time between Phoenix, Arizona, and Cardiff.
The benefits showed as the young Briton held on to her nerve as both she and Rogowska failed three times at 4.72m. The bar was lowered to 4.67m again: Rogowska dislodged the bar; Bleasdale sailed over it.
In doing so, she became Britain's first male or female pole vault medal-winner in the history of the European Indoor Championships and the first to win an international title outside the Commonwealth Games.
"I knew they had jump-offs but I'd never ever done one before," Bleasdale reflected. "I'm glad I took the option rather than share the medal. I was feeling good. I thought I could get myself together and win. I thought, 'Why not take the risk?'"
The first to congratulate Poker Face Bleasdale as she set off on a lap of honour, draped in a Union flag, was her room-mate, the fellow Lancastrian and British team captain Jenny Meadows, herself fresh from an impressive victory in the first of two 800m semi-finals. "Holly is just an amazing athlete," said Meadows, the reigning champion in her event. "She's 21 and she's the European indoor champion.
"The thing about Holly is she's really naïve, but in a lovely way," added Meadows. "She doesn't over-analyse things and she's got so much get-up-and-go, and so much talent. She says she believes she can jump 5.20m in her career and I think she will. She's one of the biggest raw talents I've seen in our country."
It remains to be seen whether the budding Holly can threaten Yelena Isinbayeva's world-record figures – 5.01m indoors and 5.06m outdoors – but she has certainly come up smelling of roses here in Sweden's second city. Before the qualifying round on Friday she temporarily blinded herself, accidentally spraying perfume into her eyes. "I did spray myself today, but only on the neck," she revealed as she prepared for her medal ceremony.
It was a disappointment to the British camp that both Proctor and Grabarz dropped off the medal scent, but there was a brilliant silver for James Dasaolu in the 60m final. Consistently held back by injuries in recent years, the 25-year-old Croydon Harrier only missed the title by the thickness of a vest.
Both he and the winner, Jimmy Vicaut of France, were credited with 6.48sec, the fastest time in the world this year. "It's nice to dip below that 6.50sec barrier," said Dasaolu, whose GB team mate Harry Aikines- Aryeetey finished seventh in 6.63. "I'm really happy with the silver and the 6.48 personal best.
"We've got Adam Gemili, Dwain Chambers and we all want to push each other and take on the rest of the world and improve the level of sprinting in Britain as a whole," added Dasaolu. "I hope I can carry this on to the 100m outdoors."
There is the promise of more British medals today, with Perri Shakes-Drayton clocking a personal best of 51.03sec in the 400m semi-finals yesterday and Mukhtar Mohammed continuing his progress with a highly impressive win in the semi-finals of the 800m. The 22-year-old was born in Somalia but has been living in Sheffield since the age of 11.
A former reserve-team footballer with Sheffield Wednesday, Mohammed trains every day at the Don Valley Stadium – the same Don Valley Stadium where Jessica Ennis has forged her world-beating heptathlon talent and that Sheffield City Council announced on Friday would be closing its doors – and demolished – as a cost-cutting measure in order to save £700,000 a year.
"I wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for Don Valley Stadium," Mohammed maintained. "It's what brought me into athletics. Closing the place is going to have a huge effect on myself and Jessica Ennis and a whole lot of athletes.
"I'll move from Sheffield to Loughborough because of it… I feel so let down."
Such is the 2013 reality of the 2012 legacy.
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