BIG INTERVIEW: Pole vault Olympic ace Holly Bradshaw aims to use her experiences to make a difference in sport

So good at such a young age, it seems hard to believe that Holly Bradshaw has only recently vacated her 20s, such has been her longevity within athletics.

By Craig Salmon
Friday, 19th November 2021, 4:45 pm

The Euxton pole vaulter passed a significant milestone in her life earlier this month when she reached hardly the ripe old age of 30.

A veteran of three Olympic campaigns – the most recent of which saw her win a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics this year, Bradshaw is now no longer the young upstart on the circuit but more like the seasoned campaigner.

Having cleared 4.87m indoors at the age of 20 – a mark which is still inside the all-time top-10 record pole vault jumps under a roof, the former Parklands High School pupil has spent a decade at the summit of the sport.

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Holly Bradshaw with her Olympic bronze medal (photo: Getty Images)

It has not been all plain sailing, injuries have played their part and hindered her progress at various times.

However, this year stands out as the best year of her career.

Along with her Olympic medal, she smashed her personal best when she cleared 4.90m outdoors this summer – another mark which puts her in the all-time top 10 list – set at the British Championships, in Manchester.

Despite entering her fourth decade, it would seem the best is still to come for the Preston-born star.

While’s Bradshaw’s wealth of experience means she is a far more rounded athlete than ever before, it also means she is somebody who other athletes – particularly younger ones – look up to.

It is the reason why she has used her status to speak out in recent times on issues which have affected her over the course of her career.

Abused online for the way she looked as a teenager, Bradshaw recently raised the issue of the attire that female athletes are routinely expected to wear when they compete.

Indeed her Olympic experience this year was almost marred by the ‘skimpy’ Team GB outfits she was expected to compete in.

Racked with panic and terror when she saw the kit at first, Bradshaw railed against what she was expected to wear, the upshot being that she successfully lobbied to wear something which was more comfortable.

By speaking out, she is hoping to have empowered women and girls to have more control of what they wear in the future.

It is not only that issue which the former Blackburn Harrier has been outspoken on, she has also commented on the subject of mental health.

Indeed, she has authored a research article on the subject of post-Olympic blues experienced by athletes.

Her new-found role as stateswoman of the sport is one which Bradshaw has embraced as she is keen to use her experiences of competing at the highest level to make a difference to other competitors.

“I think speaking out is the first step to making a change,” said Bradshaw.

“It highlights that there are issues which people were not aware of before.

“A lots of people have come up to me recently and said, ‘Oh I didn’t realise you didn’t get to choose what you wear’.

“Like I say speaking out is the first step and then hopefully as the years go by things will change. It’s about getting the ball rolling.

“Hopefully, women and girls will be able to wear what they feel is comfortable and won’t feel pressured into wearing something else.

“In terms of the subject of post-Olympic blues, I actually co-authored that paper.

“It was really interesting to go through that process of writing the paper and hearing different stories.

“I think highlighting the issue of post-Olympic blues and people’s mentality around that is really important.

“The study was really successful and highlighted some really important messages.

“That is something that I am really passionate about and I am actually doing another study in relation to post-Olympic blues among coaches.

“I am very interested in sports psychology and I think that is something I will go into when I retire.”

Bradshaw can talk lucidly about her own mental health, especially as she experienced different feelings after all three of the Olympic Games she competed in.

In 2012, Bradshaw was the young home favourite at the London Games, where she reached the final but finished out of medal contention.

Four years later in Rio, she was billed as a medal contender but was unable to earn a top-three placing, her clearance of 4.70m saw her claim fifth spot.

Certainly there was a sense of destiny at the Covid-19-affected Tokyo Olympics as she finally found herself on the podium, clearing 4.85m for the bronze.

“Obviously I have experienced three Olympics and every one of them was slightly different,” said Bradshaw, who was European Indoor champion in 2013.

“I had different post-Olympic blues at every single one.

“I think having done the research, it’s helped me to reduce the post-Olympic blues after Tokyo.

“I definitely struggled after Rio in 2016.

“People criticised me a little bit for finishing outside of the medals – they might say, ‘There’s always next time’.

“I was happy with fifth place and I think it’s about highlighting the best way to help people cope after an Olympics.”

Bradshaw is a firm believer that medals shouldn’t be just the barometer for recording success.

Last month UK Athletics confirmed that Joanna Coates and Sara Symington both quit as chief executive officer and performance director respectively after UK suffered its worst Olympic performance in track and field since Atlanta in 1996.

“Absolutely I agree with that,” said Bradshaw.

“I think athletes are made to feel that they are medal-winning machines, which I think is really bad.

“It should not be about how many medals we win. It should not be, ‘Oh you’ve only won this many medals, that means you should get fired’.

“It should be about how well an athlete is improving, it should be about participation levels and getting people involved at club level.

“I am a great believer that the medal mantra that we have is really, really bad.”

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