McKinna looks to continue ‘surreal’ season with strong showing at Euro Juniors

UK No.1 shot putter Sophie McKinna understandably describes this year as the best of her life so far, and it’s not over yet

Sophie McKinna (Mark Shearman)

Not only has she broken two British records so far this season, but the last two years have seen Sophie McKinna set an impressive five PBs on the way to securing her spot at the top of the UK rankings.

For this, she credits a change in her training set-up as she moved closer to her coach, Geoff Capes, two years ago and has since been concentrating on her speed and strength.

That speed and strength focus has clearly paid off, this season also having seen her make her senior debut, with the 18-year-old placing seventh at the European Team Championships in Gateshead in June, a competition she went into ranked eighth. McKinna now has her sights set on success in Rieti, Italy, with the aim of adding ‘European Junior gold medallist’ to her list of achievements.

“This season has been the best of my life so far,” she tells AW. “Breaking the British junior indoor and outdoor records in one season, that was quite a big achievement for me.”

‘Quite a big achievement’ doesn’t really do it justice. In throwing 17.12m in Halle in May she broke a record that had stood for 29 years and became only the ninth British woman ever to break the 17m mark.

“It’s all a bit surreal this season if I’m honest with you,” she admits with a smile. “Talking about it, it still doesn’t seem like I’ve actually done it.

“Breaking the records were fantastic moments in my career over the last four years,” she adds. “At the start of the season I’d set myself a target to take down the outdoor record but I never actually thought it was totally achievable.

“I just thought it would be a nice target and it would give me something to strive towards before the end of the season but it was a bit of an outside target, I never really thought I’d do it.

“Then when I broke it I was in so much shock. I normally celebrate, run around and go crazy but I just sat on the floor. I was in absolute shock.”

The Great Yarmouth athlete balances training with studying for a degree in sports development and two jobs, one as a gym instructor and one offering support to students with learning difficulties. With uni now over for the summer, she’s been able to concentrate on her main goal for the year, the European Junior Championships which take place from July 18-21. Her leading Brit status gives her confidence, she admits, but she knows that’s no guarantee for success when she faces Europe’s top juniors.

“It gives me a good base to work from, being the leading Brit,” she says, “and if I can do that at 18 then throwing is a lot about strength and development so hopefully in years to come I will be able to maintain my ranking and throw even further which I hope to do as I progress through the age groups.

“The European Junior Championships has been my main aim for the season all the way through. At the moment I’m going into it ranked second but clearly I would like to win the gold.

“A Turkish athlete (Emel Dereli) is ranked above me with around 17.70m (17.67m) so she is going to be a pretty strong competitor. I am going to have to throw my best to beat her.

“It’s going to be a very tough competition,” she adds, “but I think the third ranked going into it has thrown 15m or so, so I’m going to be focusing on that number one spot and trying not to worry too much about what’s coming up behind me.”

Looking further ahead, McKinna is targeting next year’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games, with the chance to compete against her idol, New Zealand’s Valerie Adams, too big an opportunity to miss.

“I would love to compete in the Commonwealth Games,” she says. “I currently hold one ‘A’ standard and I think six or seven ‘B’s so I’m really hoping I get selected for that, that’s a massive aim for me.

“I would be competing against the likes of number one in the world, Valerie Adams, if I manage to make the team. She’s my idol, so it would be a dream come true. I’d have to get over that before the competition, though!”

» Sophie McKinna is competing at the European Junior Championships which are being held in Rieti, Italy, from July 18-21. You can find the full GB squad for the championships listed here.

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