This weekend saw Glasgow host the European Athletics Indoor Championships, where Great Britain capped off a successful tournament with a flurry of medals on the final day. Of them, Holly Bradshaw claimed the pole vault silver after clearing a 4.75m jump.
Holly took the gold in the Indoor Championships in 2013, but subsequently struggled with a series of injuries that resulted in a total of four surgeries. Coming back and performing exceptionally well indoors — especially in front of a British crowd — was an incredible feeling for the her.
She said: “It’s been a good while since I’ve competed at an indoor major. The year after I won was when my injuries started so I didn’t really perform well in 2014. To go to an indoor major and come away with a silver medal — I was really happy.”
Approaching the tournament, medals weren’t Holly’s main aim and she wasn’t initially sure she would even compete. The Indoor Championship represents a slightly different format to the outdoor season, where both the poles and the run-ups are longer.
“I didn’t really have many expectations going in. Usually for a major championship, preparation starts months ahead and I wasn’t really 100% sure if I was even going to be competing,” she explained.
“I wasn’t sure what kind of form I’d be in jumping from a shorter approach. But then I jumped two 80s [4.80m] and it gave me a realistic view that I could medal if I entered the competition.
“Although it was in the back of my mind, my main priority was to try to have fun and enjoy myself. My mum and dad were in the ground and so was my husband. I was just thinking about how fun it was going to be.”
Not only is the run length different from the outdoor season, but it is also very rare to vault on consecutive days, something that can be particularly difficult in terms of recovery.
Holly said: “It’s always really tough to jump on back-to-back days. I never do it. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to feel or how much Saturday’s jumps were going to take it out of me.
“I remember waking up and my back felt a bit stiff my hamstrings were tight, all the usual pains I get after vaulting. The difference was I had to now go and vault all guns blazing for a medal.”
When it got to the event itself, there were no pains for Holly. In fact, quite the opposite.
“I was warming up and I just felt incredible. I didn’t know where it had come from, I just felt really fast, really powerful, so much better than I did on the Saturday. I knew from then on, todays going to be a good day because my poles are moving well, I’m moving well, everything seemed to be going well,” she reflected.
For Holly, the difficulties actually arose after confirmation that she had at least the silver medal in the bag.
“It was difficult because I cleared 4.75m and then had a bit of a wait before it got confirmed that I’d won a silver medal. Anzhelika Sidorova [who went on to win the gold] cleared 4.80m, so I skipped to 4.85m because she had a clean card.
“I just remember standing on the run thinking I can’t really win here, and I’ve already got the silver medal. I was just so content, I had to really take some quite deep breaths and do some mindfulness to compose myself. I thought if I don’t focus here, I could end up hurting myself.”
Holly has hailed the impact of her coach — Scott Simpson — as a key reason behind her success. She states that in pole vaulting, there’s a 50/50 partnership, where both the athlete competing and the coach are equally important.
“We have a saying: ‘I’m the feel for the jump but I can’t see. He can see but he can’t feel’. So together we complete the puzzle. I say what I feel, he says what he sees and we bounce off each other. If you didn’t have that relationship it would be really difficult,” Holly explained.
The atmosphere generated by the crowd was also a significant factor for Holly, who heard them all the way.
“It’s one of the biggest things for me because having the home crowd is just crazy. I remember the roar when I cleared 4.75m, it’s almost like they got over the bar with you. That feeling inside is just unlike anything else. A home crowd is something apart from anything else you’ll ever experience.”
The support and success of her fellow Team GB athletes was another prevalent boost.
“Because it was the last session, pretty much everyone had finished competing. So there were a lot of athletes at the track giving support. Katarina Johnson-Thompson and I always share a room at the major championships and to watch her win, I was so nervous, but it really did spur me on. She was also there to watch me which was nice”.
Holly now sets her sights on the Doha 2019 World Championships and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.
“I’m really excited now to transition back to 16 steps and do that outside for Doha and Tokyo. If I can jump 4.80m from 12 steps, I like to think I could jump 4.90m maybe even close to 5m in the next few years. It’s really exciting times for me, I’m fit and healthy for once. I’m in a good mind space and I’m just looking forward to the outdoor season.”
Featured photograph/Holly Bradshaw