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?
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform