Pole vaulter Holly Bradshaw won a brilliant Olympic bronze in Tokyo to secure the second medal of the Games for Team GB’s track and field athletes. The Blackburn Harrier cleared 4.85m to take her first global outdoor medal after the team also saw top-quality qualifications in the relays and top-10 finishes from Andrew Pozzi and Callum Wilkinson.
In a tense pole vault final, the opening height of 4.50m caused problems for a surprisingly high number of athletes. However, the Brit kept her cool to clear that height at her first attempt. As she said afterwards:
“It was a really tricky competition. The wind was very slight but it was a constant headwind. If you look at the rest of the comp, fifth place was 4.50m for an Olympic final. It was very hard. My experience kind of kicked in.”
After second-time successes at 4.70m and 4.80m, Bradshaw was guaranteed at least fourth. She was then over 4.85m at her first try before the bar moved to 4.90m, which would have equalled her British record. It was not to be but, with only American Katie Nageotte going over, she took bronze behind Anzhelika Sidorova. After a sixth, seventh, fifth, sixth and fourth in previous World Championships and Olympics, you could see how much this meant to her.
“This is what I’ve worked for my whole career,” she said. “I’ve had so many ups and downs. It’s something that I’ve wanted so bad and it’s finally happened.”
She gave credit in particular to her coach, Scott Simpson. “We’ve been working together now for eight, nine years,” she said. “It’s not a coach-athlete relationship, it’s a deep friendship that we have. We rely on each other every step of the way. The good thing about Scott is he doesn’t see me as Holly the pole vaulter, he sees me as Holly the person. Whether I come last, first or third today, he would have been there by my side and I couldn’t wish for a better coach, mentor and friend.”
Elsewhere, English athletes helped all three of the GB relay squads in action to progress to the final. The women’s sprint relay quartet set a national record of 41.55 to beat the strong USA and Jamaica teams in their semi-final.
Asha Philip (Newham & Essex Beagles; Steve Fudge), Imani Lansiquot (Sutton & District; Steve Fudge), Dina Asher-Smith (Blackheath & Bromley; John Blackie) and Darryl Neita (Cambridge Harriers; Rana Reider) combined to take more than two tenths off the British mark and register the equal 14th fastest time in history. Olympic champions USA were 0.35 seconds behind and world champions Jamaica were six tenths adrift.
Asher-Smith, who had an injury-blighted build-up for the Games and was devastated to not reach the final of the 100m, pulled out of the 200m in order to concentrate on the relay. She said:
“After the 100m, I did say there was no way I wasn’t going to be here for the 4x100 girls. I’ve been training really hard this week, I only had one day off and John (Blackie, her coach) had me back on the training track.”
“We’re really proud of ourselves – there is so much belief in our team and we knew we were capable of it, but we just wanted to get out there and focus and execute. That’s what happens when you do that.”
The GB men’s squad of CJ Ujah (Enfield & Haringey; Ryan Freckleton), Zharnel Hughes (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers; Glen Mills); Richard Kilty (Gateshead; Michael Afilaka) and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake (Newham & Essex Beagles) followed the women into the final. Their 38.02 for second in their semi was the best by a British foursome this year. It was also only two tenths slower than that of the winners Jamaica, who had the fastest time overall. One of the favourites, United States, went out in the other heat.
English athletes formed half of the women’s 4x400m team that reached the final as one of the automatic qualifiers. Emily Diamond (Bristol & West; Benke Blomqvist) and Lavia Nielsen (Enfield & Haringey; Christine Harrison-Bloomfield) joined Scotland’s Zoey Clark and Nicole Yeargin to run 3:23.99 for third in their heat. As they finished behind United States and Jamaica, it was the second fastest time by a British team since 2015 and the fourth quickest of the day. Diamond, who led off with a 51.5 split - better than her season’s best in the individual, said:
“It’s actually really hard to tell positions when you’re head on, so I knew we were in to around third, and I was just shouting so hard for Nicole in that last leg, but she had the strength, she’s run amazingly all season so we knew she’d be able to bring it home for us and for her to get hold of the final auto spot was amazing.”
Nielsen, who clocked 50.92 for the third leg, added: “We know we’ve got the strength in depth, we’ve got Jodie (Williams), who ran amazingly in the individual semi-final yesterday, and we’ll be cheering her on tomorrow, and we’ll be hoping to bring her in for the final. We’ve got a very strong team and we’re looking forward to fighting for a medal.”
Earlier, Andrew Pozzi (Stratford upon Avon; Santiago Antunez) finished seventh in the 110m hurdles final. It was the world indoor 60m hurdles champion’s best performance in a global outdoor championships. He was just 0.05 off his season’s best in a final won by Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment (13.04). Pozzi said afterwards: “I’ve worked really hard in order to be here and try to be in my best shape, but that’s all I had today. I arrived in a good place. There’s no excuses unfortunately. I just didn’t have enough and that’s just the way it is. I prepared really well, worked really hard with an amazing group of people who have supported me so much and I’m just very grateful for everyone that’s given me the opportunity to come out here and give it my best.”
Callum Wilkinson also had his best result in a championships as he finished 10th in the 20km race walk held in trying conditions in 1:22:38. With the temperature at 31C and humidity reaching 73%, the Enfield & Haringey athlete moved up from 18th at halfway. Massimo Stano of Italy won in 1:21:05.
“It’s brutal conditions,” said Wilkinson. “The athletes went off at a phenomenal pace after about 2km and I just held back a little bit, as it was too fast. My coach (Robert Heffernan) said trust your instincts and I did, and I was right they came back to me… It is a great result for me going in, well above my season’s best and where I was world ranked and is a big step in the right direction.”
Tom Bosworth (Tonbridge; Andi Drake) crossed the line 25th in 1:25:57, unable to match his form from Rio when he was sixth. “I just felt flat from the off,” he said. “Sometimes you just know when you are going to have an off-day, but even though it has been a rushed build up because of the hamstring problems, I felt ready to go and really strong on the start line. But I never got into the race. I never felt like I had any turn of speed, I was stuck in one gear and that was really disappointing.”
Morgan Lake (Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow; Fuzz Caan) secured her spot in her second consecutive Olympic final. With a second-time clearance at 1.95m, she was one of 14 athletes to gain automatic selection. Lake, who was 10th in Rio 2016, had to endure a minor scare after needing two attempts at 1.93m. She said:
“Feel really, really good. The main aim of this competition was to qualify and I’m just so happy. Stuck to my game plan, didn’t get scared when I missed the jump, just knew I could get it the next time just with small adjustments.”
The former world junior champion, who has jumped 1.97m, added: “Obviously I couldn’t think too far ahead because to even get to where I want to get I need to make the final first. I just really want to jump a PB and I know I’m in PB shape, and I know if I jump a PB I can put myself into the mix. So the next aim is again to focus on every single height, try to get first-time clearances and see what happens.”
Her team-mate Emily Borthwick (Wigan & District; Fuzz Caan) equalled her PB with 1.93m but could not quite join her in qualification. Borthwick, who began this year with a best of 1.84m, said: “About 4-6 weeks ago I didn’t think I would be jumping as I sprained my ankle, so to come back and equal my PB in such a short space of time, and the experience of the Olympics, I am happy.
I am really proud of myself and I’m looking forward to finishing the season hopefully on a high and try get another PB because I know it’s there.”