GB pole vault star has taken a gamble in 2018 but has rediscovered her love for the sport ahead of her European Championships debut
Holly Bradshaw admits that she’s been taking “a little bit of a risk” this year but it’s one which has paid off so far this season and has left her feeling better than ever ahead of her European Championships debut in Berlin.
After a tough few years of injury struggles, the 26-year-old has been focused on rediscovering her love for the sport and regaining momentum. In order to help her do that, she made the decision to compete off a shorter approach which has aided consistency, but ultimately means she has capped what she might be capable of.
The British record-holder believes there’s plenty of time for the greater heights to happen, however, and right now her aim is to enjoy her time in Germany this week.
“I am excited to try and win an outdoor medal because I haven’t achieved one yet but this year, I’ve not really been thinking too much about each championships and winning medals, I’ve just been trying to enjoy myself and get the love back for pole vault, which I definitely have done,” explains the 2013 European indoor champion, who finished fourth at April’s Commonwealth Games in Australia.
“I lost the love for it and was just nervous and getting upset that I wasn’t achieving what I wanted,” she adds, reflecting on the past few years. “This year we wanted to strip it all back and that’s why I’m doing a lot more competitions, I’m vaulting from 14 steps instead of 16 on smaller poles so I can gain momentum and gain confidence.
“It’s easier for me to get a good jump off 14 and on smaller poles because it’s my comfort zone and I really feel like I’ve built a consistent base this year around 4.60m and 4.70m and now we’re getting into the 70s and 80s.”
Bradshaw was just a single centimetre off her own British outdoor record with her season’s best clearance of 4.80m in Jockgrim last month, a performance that has given her a welcome confidence boost ahead of her return to competition in Germany – the first time she’ll have competed in the capital’s Olympic Stadium despite having vaulted in the country many times.
“To jump 4.80m from 14 steps when that’s what I did last year from 16, I am in a really good spot and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season,” she says.
“It was a little bit of a risk and people did question why I was jumping off a shorter approach because, at the end of the day, I have capped myself. From 14, on a really good day where everything goes well, I can probably jump a max of 4.85/90 whereas with 16 it’s a lot higher.
“So people did question it but the fact that I’ve been able to go out, apart from a few little blips, and clear 4.60m on a bad day and go on to clear an 80, it has given me a lot of confidence and I feel like I’m in such a good place. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life.
“I’ve had a lot of doubts over the years. Doing well and then getting injured and then getting back into it and getting injured – you can’t gain momentum and you question yourself and whether your body is robust enough to do that,” she adds.
“I think this year has been massive in showing me that I can do it, I can compete with the girls if I stay injury free and that’s got to be the aim now – to enjoy myself, stay injury free and things will come together.”
With two Olympic Games, three outdoor senior world championships and a Commonwealth Games already on her CV, it’s perhaps surprising that this week’s competition will be her first senior outdoor continental championship.
“Back in 2010 I decided that I wouldn’t do the European Champs because I wanted to focus on the World Juniors and I think that was totally the right decision,” she explains. “It seems strange, but looking back then I thought, ‘I’ve got plenty more Europeans to come’ and actually, eight years later, this is my first one because I’ve had so many injuries or it has fallen on an Olympic year where the Olympics is the priority.
“I am excited. I’m not really looking at it too dissimilar to a Worlds or Olympics because the pole vault is really strong in Europe.
“You’ve got Kat Stefanidi who is the world and Olympic champion, you’ve got Anzhelika Sidorova who has jumped 4.85m (outdoors) this year and then there’s me at 4.80m and a bunch of girls that are jumping between 70 and 75 so it is going to be a really strong competition.”