Bleasdale falls short as nerves take their toll

 

The Olympic Stadium

It just wasn't meant to be for the Lancashire lasses of track and field at London 2012. Poor Jenny Meadows and Helen Clitheroe, two stalwarts and international championship medal-winning stars of the British athletics brigade, have both been banjaxed by injury in this summer of summers and failed to make the selection cut for the Games.

Holly Bleasdale made it all right and went into the women's pole vault last night with serious designs on a podium finish. The 20-year-old from Euxton, near Chorley, won a bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul in March and started the competition ranked third of the 12 finalists on lifetime bests.

Sadly, it was not to be for the budding Holly (inset), who possesses a huge reserve of natural talent but remains short on experience as a first-year senior. When it came to the big occasion, the Blackburn Harrier was unable to rise to it.

In January she achieved the third-highest indoor clearance of all time, 4.87m, and at the Olympic trials in June she raised her outdoor British record to 4.71m. Last night, though, she struggled to get over 4.45m – succeeding at the third and final attempt – but could venture no higher.

After a third failure at 4.55m, Bleasdale cradled her head in her palms in resignation and was unable to hold back the tears before trudging to the side of the track to be consoled by her coach, Julien Raffalli. It was a second successive disappointment at a senior global championship for her to digest. At the World Championships in Daegu last summer she failed to register a height in qualifying.

Still, the fact that joint-sixth place in an Olympic final – behind the Jennifer Suhr, of the US, Cuba's Yarisley Silva and Russia's Elena Isibayeva, who filled the medal places in the order – qualified as a major setback showed just how far Bleasdale had come in a short space of time.

It was only in the autumn of 2008 that she first picked up a vaulting pole – at a "taster" session on a rainy day in Blackburn, run by Raffalli. "I remember sitting in the car, feeling really nervous, not wanting to get out," Bleasdale recalled. "My mum pushed me out and I'm glad she did. Had the session not been on, I don't think I would have become a pole-vaulter, I would probably still be doing the hurdles and the heptathlon."

Raffalli is a former French Under-20 pole-vault champion. He moved to Manchester on a six-month work contract but stayed, married a local girl and started coaching in the North-west.

Bleasdale's rise has been meteoric: world junior bronze medallist in 2010, European Under-23 champion in 2011 and world indoor bronze medallist in March this year.

She received a huge roar from the capacity 80,000 crowd when the finalists were introduced last night. The opening height was 4.30m but Bleasdale did not enter the competition until the bar was raised to 4.45m. After being given the big build-up by the stadium announcer as she stood on the runway she dislodged the bar with her first attempt.

When she sent the bar flying again with her second attempt, the pressure was on for her third and final effort. With Raffalli urging the crowd to up the volume of their rhythmic clapping, she showed her true grit, sailing over the bar to a deafening cheer. "Yes," she mouthed on her way down to the landing bed.

At 4.55m, though, Bleasdale struggled to get in to the groove again. With her first attempt she ducked under the bar. She was ready to set off for her second attempt but the competition was held up for the men's 3,000m steeplechase medal ceremony. Once again, her composure was shot. She ducked under the bar for a second time, clutching her hands to her face in despair before heading to the edge of the track for some steadying words of advice from Raffalli.

Sadly, it was not to be. At the third attempt Bleasdale knocked off the bar on the way down. The road to Rio starts here.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions