Holly Bleasdale: Meteoric rise of Lancashire lass who has raised the bar
She is just 20 and only took up the pole vault in 2008. Now she is one of the world's best. She talks to Simon Turnbull
Wednesday 25 January 2012
It is a funny old game, this global track-and-field lark. One minute you're travelling to the Great Rift Valley for a first-hand peek at the secrets behind the Kenyan distance-running success story. The next you're heading just down the road from Preston and the Great Ribble Valley to see a 20-year-old Lancashire lass who has catapulted herself to a higher place in the world all-time ranking list in her event than many of the golden greats in British athletics.
It was quite a quantum leap that Holly Bleasdale took when she launched herself, with the aid of a fibreglass vaulting pole, at the bar perched high up in the Villeurbanne indoor arena on the outskirts of Lyon last Saturday. If you are not quite up on the pole vault, and the figure 4.87m means nothing much to you, consider the following...
In clearing a height that happens to be half a metre taller than a London Routemaster bus, Bleasdale propelled herself to fourth place in the all-time world rankings for the women's pole vault. Only one member of the current British athletics squad stands on higher ground: Paula Radcliffe, courtesy of her marathon world record.
Of great British athletes past and present, only three boast higher rankings: Radcliffe, Jonathan Edwards, the world record holder for the men's triple jump, and Sebastian Coe, who lies third in the all-time pecking order in the 800m. Like Bleasdale, Daley Thompson has the fourth best performance of all-time, in the decathlon.
The young woman who improved from 4.35m to 4.71m last summer to reach the cusp of the world elite might still be a little-known name but in continuing her upward trajectory by a further 16cm last Saturday she has found herself on a loftier perch than Colin Jackson, Linford Christie, Kelly Holmes, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Phillips Idowu and Dai Greene.
"Wow!" Bleasdale says, sitting on the sofa in the living room of her parents' house in Euxton, near Chorley. "When you put it like that, gosh! It's crazy. Everything's not really sunk in yet. I didn't sleep on Saturday or Sunday. I've just been so excited. Everything's been buzzing around in my head. My next competition is in Bydgoszcz in two and a half weeks, so I've got time to come down and get back into training. It gives me a chance to get my mind focused for the proper indoor season."
That is another crazily scary thing about the latest sharp rise of the budding Holly: the 4.87m she vaulted in Lyon, and the 4.71m British record she cleared in Orleans last month, were achieved off shortened run-ups in low-key competitions planned by her French coach Julien Raffalli as preparation for the mainstream events of the indoor season – including the national championships in Sheffield, the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham, and the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul in March. The chances are that Bleasdale's ascent remains a long way short of its limit.
Her British record vault in Lyon was 17cm higher than Yelena Isinbayeva managed in Volgograd on the same day. The 29-year-old Russian is now the only female vaulter who has ventured higher than Bleasdale indoors, and her world indoor record of 5.00m was attacked three times by the young Blackburn Harrier last Saturday.
Isinbayeva holds the world outdoor record at 5.06m and will be going for a hat-trick of Olympic titles in London in August. Bleasdale – a former gymnast, hurdler and heptathlete – had yet to pick up a vaulting pole when Isinbayeva retained her Olympic crown in Beijing in August in 2008.
She only started two months later, when her mother, Debbie, encouraged her to try a pole vault taster session on a rainy October day in Blackburn.
Now, six months out from the London Olympics, the Euxton girl finds herself as a serious rival to the Russian superstar who has twice been voted world sportswoman of the year, who owns a house in Monaco and who has set 27 world records. "I remember watching on television when Isinbayeva won in Beijing," Bleasdale reflects. "I had not even started training for the pole vault then, so it's quite crazy to think how far I've come.
"Every year I've just improved so much. This year I didn't expect to make such a big improvement but I think my winter training has just brought on my technique and my strength so much. It's just been a big step up again.
"It's quite strange to think that I was attempting Isinbayeva's world indoor record on Saturday, because when you think of the women's pole vault you think of Isinbayeva. She was such an idol for me when I was coming up through the ranks but I guess now I don't see her that way. It's hard to idolise someone that you're trying to beat. But she's still a massive role model for anyone who does the pole vault. It's just nice to be up there with her."
At this rate, the crown princess from Lancashire will be up there with the Russian queen of the vault on the rostrum at the World Indoor Championships and at the Olympics in London. Perhaps even on a step above her.
Holly and the high-vy - leaping up the list
Britons past and present in the world all-time lists
1st Paula Radcliffe (marathon), Jonathan Edwards (triple jump).
3rd Sebastian Coe (800m).
4th HOLLY BLEASDALE (pole vault), Daley Thompson (decathlon).
5th Colin Jackson (110m hurdles).
6th Sally Gunnell (400m hurdles), Paula Radcliffe (10,000m).
Selected others: 14th Denise Lewis (heptathlon); 17th Steve Cram (1500m – also 4th in the mile, a non-championship event); 19th Linford Christie (100m); 36th Steve Ovett (1500m), Kelly Holmes (800m); 42nd Kelly Holmes (1500m).
Currently competing Britons on the world all-time lists
1st Paula Radcliffe (marathon).
4th HOLLY BLEASDALE (pole vault).
15th Jessica Ennis (heptathlon), Mo Farah (10,000m).
25th Mo Farah (5,000m).
29th Dai Greene (400m hurdles).
39th Christine Ohuruogu (400m).
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