Part of our young athlete series, Steve Roe discovers how the sky is literally the limit for air cadet and high jumper Paul Neale
A talking point in AW during the recent past has been the reluctance of certain athletes to compete for their counties. Such ambivalence is unfortunate, of course, but many buck the trend, and Paul Neale of Reading AC is unquestionably one of them.
He is Berkshire through and through – being born and raised there – and says with sincerity: “Representing my county at a high level means a lot to me. There is pride and satisfaction in wearing the vest.”
Paul was specifically referring to the English Schools Championships when, competing for Berkshire Schools, he won the high jump in the intermediate age group. Jumping 2.02m for the gold medal meant Paul was selected for the SIAB International later in July. He finished second with a jump of 1.97m, which was equal to his pre-season PB.
Being able to jump over two metres regularly since then, Paul believes, is down to the heavier training load his group undertook last winter. “For one thing we included weights for the first time,” he says.
“Representing my county at a high level means a lot to me… There is pride and satisfaction in wearing the vest.”
Paul’s first tangible success in 2013 came at the Berkshire Championships and he laughs when recalling the aftermath of winning with a PB of 2.03m. “I didn’t make a song and dance about it, but my parents did. They were ecstatic!” he says. Delighted also was Paul’s coach since 2012, Steve Chapman, who has clearly thought long and hard about the 16-year-old’s prospects, for he says: “While Paul’s considerable progress over the last 18 months and recent performances have caught the eye, I’ve maintained for some time that I see long term and senior success a distinct possibility.
“As coaches we get to see many outstanding performances from youngsters, but often wonder if it can be built upon and maintained. Not withstanding the usual caveats of staying motivated and avoiding injury, I don’t see this being a problem with Paul. He exhibits an economy of movement and power transfer that results in an effortless technique. It’s great to see, and I’m excited for his prospects.”
A member of Reading for a few years before meeting Chapman, Paul’s forte in his early time with the club was 75m hurdling, and indeed his first county championship win came in that event. He was useful, too, with the javelin.
“But there was a turning point in 2011. It occurred to me that I might be better in the high jump. When Steve became my coach he ironed out a lot of weaknesses. My run-up, for example.”
It is not just his local club who benefit from his talent. He is also Corporal Neale of 1116 (Woodley) squadron, and last year at RAF Cosford high jumped 1.97m to break the Air Training Corps record, which had stood for 30 years.
Inspired to join the Air Force by an uncle who was a Wing Commander, he clearly has a busy schedule. “I train with Reading two or three times a week and also come to the Air Cadets twice per week, but I do get Wednesday evening off!
“I can absolutely see myself sticking with athletics. I’m going to keep training and hopefully go to a sporting university.” Paul adds that in hoping to make future Olympic Games he was certainly inspired watching the London 2012 version – high jumper Robbie Grabarz in particular.
“I was very proud when he won the bronze medal,” says the erudite teenager. “You have to admire someone like him, because of the hard work he’s needed to put in to reach that level.”
You can find further performance stats on Paul on Power of 10 here.
» Brooks Sports are delighted to sponsor Young Athlete and are keenly working with Athletics Weekly to showcase some of Britain’s talented youngsters. The young athlete featured each week receives a Podium long sleeve T-shirt, emblazoned with the Brooks and Athletics Weekly logos. Support junior athletics via the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund, see rpmf.org.uk.