With her spot on her third Commonwealth Games team confirmed, the 2014 pole vault silver medallist reflects on her Glasgow experience and looks ahead to Gold Coast
Sally Peake is celebrating her selection for another Commonwealth Games, but the Welsh pole vaulter will be hoping for a more straightforward challenge on the Gold Coast than the treacherous task which faced her in Glasgow four years ago.
When Peake cleared 4.25m in Glasgow’s Hampden Park stadium during the 2014 Games, it was not the highest vault of her life but it was the best. It secured her the silver medal and after torrential rain caused a delay and almost a cancellation of the event, in the end it was a fine example of when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
The weather made the preparation as challenging as the competition. “The first thing that comes back to my memory is the carnage of how hard it was raining,” Peake says. “The rain fell all day as we were trying to get ready. All day there were rumours that the event would be called off, that it couldn’t be called off, which all made it really difficult to prepare.
“Even when we were in the stadium warming-up, we went out, we warmed-up and then the rain was torrential so we went back in again. So we were back to ‘is it going to be on; are we going back out?’ That uncertainty made it so difficult.”
When the competition started there were 10 competitors of whom six failed to cope with the conditions and were unable to execute a successful vault. Peake recalls her approach to the difficult conditions: “I came in lower and was using a much softer pole than usual. I was on the same length I had been on all year but it was the softest one and the smallest one I had – so there was a big adjustment there.”
Beyond that it has a lot to do with attitude. “I’m a pole-vaulter who can go every time,” the Welsh athlete explains. “I have never had a mental block. I have never been scared of it but I know some other vaulters are.
“I knew that despite the rain, I would still be able to vault. I know that for a lot of people, doing it in the rain is just a no-no as it would throw them off mentally and technically. I just had to keep my head and do my normal thing despite the rain. And just keeping my head in those conditions ended up winning me a medal.”
It was not that Peake was unaware of the danger, recognising that “the rain makes an already dangerous event more dangerous”. Most vaulters use chalk to help them grip the pole but Peake uses a sticky spray. She felt that detail was really important in the 2014 final. “Even when it is wet, I knew that my grip was going to be OK. With chalk, when it is wet, your grip can slip. I think using sticky spray saved me.”
While delighted with her own courageous and technically good performance, Peake found the competition unsatisfactory. “It isn’t fun,” she says. “It’s really difficult and ultimately all the performances were quite low. So it’s not good for the athletes, it’s not good for the crowd, it’s not good for the event. But if it is wet, you have to be the one who deals with it best.”
Having recently been selected for her third Commonwealth Games team in April, Peake plans a full indoor season including the Müller Indoor Grand Prix in Glasgow before she heads for Australia.
“I am very much looking forward to competing at what will be my third Commonwealth Games,” she says. “Australia will be a great place to compete and I am sure they will host the Games well.
“People ask me, having won silver last time, am I hoping for gold? I think that would be a big ask with people like Holly Bradshaw and Eliza McCartney (New Zealand), who got a medal in Rio, competing.
“I am just focusing on myself and on jumping as high as I can.”
On her friendly rivalry with Bradshaw, she adds: “She is my friend and training partner but the enemy during the competition!
“I am a proud Welsh girl and am delighted with the rare opportunity to compete as Wales rather than GB.”
Peake has worked hard, she has been selected for another Commonwealth Games – all she needs now is some decent weather in Gold Coast.