No end in sight to Olympic ace Holly Bradshaw’s vaulting ambition

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‘If at first you don’t succeed then try, try again’...the famous old adage has provided inspiration for all people of all walks of life for nearly two centuries.

And never has 19th-century educational writer Edward Hickson’s expression carried more resonance than in sport.

Indeed being successful is the Holy Grail for all sportsmen and women – but that success is nearly always the result of multiple “failures”.

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Chorley pole vaulter Holly Bradshaw knows all about the tears of frustration and the hard knocks of competing at the highest level.

Holly Bradshaw with Olympic bronze in Tokyo earlier this month (photos: Getty Images)Holly Bradshaw with Olympic bronze in Tokyo earlier this month (photos: Getty Images)
Holly Bradshaw with Olympic bronze in Tokyo earlier this month (photos: Getty Images)

For so many years, Bradshaw was labelled the ‘nearly woman’ in British athletics.

Despite scaling heights no other woman from these shore has reached in the pole vault, a podium spot on the biggest stages across the world always seemed to elude her despite her coming so close.

A sixth-placed finish at the London Olympics in 2012 was followed by fifth spot in Rio four years later.

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But try and try again was the mantra for Preston-born Bradshaw as she eyed up another tilt at achieving success at the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

Even in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic which delayed the Olympics by a year, the Euxton athlete retained a laser-like focus on finally achieving her goal and earning a place on the podium.

And the delight was there for all to see in Japan earlier this month when it was confirmed she had won the bronze medal after clearing 4.85m.

She finished behind gold medal winner Katie Nageotte, of USA, who won with a clearance of 4.90m, while Russia’s Anzhelika Sidorova claimed silver on countback after also going clear at 4.85m.

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To have an Olympic medal hanging around her neck was the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition for the former Parklands High School pupil – and reward for keeping the faith after so many tough moments in her career.

“I went to Tokyo with the idea of delivering a medal-winning performance and I was able to do that,” said Bradshaw, who did win a gold medal at the European Indoor Championships in 2013.

“It’s something which I have worked hard for over the last 12 years.

“Elite sport is not one of those things which you can just pop on to the scene and win an Olympic medal.

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“You work for years and years and every experience you gain, you learn something from it.

“I have had a lot of ups and downs in my career, but that is just sport.

“I don’t think there will be an athlete out there who can just sit there and say, ‘Oh yeah, I have had an amazing time, been injury-free and won everything’ .

“Sport at the highest level is hard. I have come so close so many times, to finally do it and win a medal – I am really happy.

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“The Olympic Games is the pinnacle and I feel like all those injuries and ups and downs that I have had have made me the athlete that I am today.”

If you thought coming third in Tokyo was the limit of the 29-year-old’s ambitions then think again.

She will be trying – and trying again – to win that coveted gold when the greatest sporting show on Earth moves to Paris in three years’ time.

“The pole vault is all about small margins and it’s easy to look at it and think I was so close to gold,” she said.

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“There were five girls going into the final and anyone of us could have got first, second, third, fourth or fifth.

“That is kind of the exciting thing for me. I don’t really see any other athletes popping out of the woodwork.

“It’s three years until the next Olympics in Paris and I think it’s going to be the same five rooting for World Championship medals and Olympic medals.

“I definitely feel like I am on the rise. I don’t feel like 4.90m is my limit.

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“Potentially, I feel like I have got more to offer and it means I have got an exciting couple of years coming up.”

At 30 years of age both Nageotte and Sidorova are older than Bradshaw.

And the Chorley athlete believes due to the unique technicality of the pole vault, her peak years are still ahead of her.

“I think anywhere between the ages of 28 and 32, you’re at your peaks as a pole vaulter,” she said.

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“You need to have done it for so many years so that the technique is ingrained in you.

“I don’t think age is any barrier – you look at Jenn Suhr of the USA.

“She won gold at the London Olympics but is still jumping 4.80m at the age of 40. On the men’s side, there are some 40-year-olds who have gone over six metres.”

It’s not just Bradshaw’s performance at Tokyo which has aided her confidence for the future, but her results across the year have also been impressive.

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She smashed her personal best outdoors when she cleared 4.90m in June at the British Championships, in Manchester.

Indeed four of her all-time top-10 best clearances both outdoors and indoors have come this year.

And the season is not finished – she has flown out to Eugene, Oregon, USA, this week to compete in the latest instalment of the Diamond League series.

“I think the bronze medal at the Olympics was a culmination of the momentum that I had built this year,” said Bradshaw.

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“To smash my PB and win an Olympic bronze, it is like a dream come true for me.

“But it’s been a strange one actually. I have not really had time to fully reflect on my bronze because I am still competing.

“I had a competition in Wales last weekend and then I am competing in the US this weekend.

“Then I have got a Diamond League finals in Zurich in two weeks’ time.

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“I have still got a lot to focus on and try to even jump higher.

“But I guess if my season does go wrong from here and I don’t jump as well, it won’t really matter because I have already achieved things this year which are more than I could ever have dreamed of.”

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