Olympic hopefuls are often questioned on their whereabouts at the time of the last Games. In the case of Holly Bleasdale, she had not even been introduced to the sport of pole vault, in which she is a medal contender, when Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva soared to a successful defence of her title.
The then 16-year-old, though, was sporty and put her hand to anything. She had dabbled with the hurdles and football when her mum, Debbie, suggested trying pole vault.
Setting out with a baby pole, she was hooked from the onset helped by the fact that previously “I’d never been really good at something” and suddenly she was.
It seems remarkable that four years on, she boasts the third-highest jump in the world this year of 4.87metres, achieved indoors in January.
Bleasdale has been 16 centimetres short of that target outdoors to date but insists she is finding form at just the right time.
And in the process, the down to earth but immensely ambitious Bleasdale has already dared to dream of dominating the sport like her idol and golden rival Isinbayeva.
“I think I’ll still do this for another 10 years and I’m nowhere near my peak yet,” says the 20-year-old.
“That’s usually between 27 and 30. In the next five years I hope I can put the world record somewhere where people think women could never do that. I think I’m capable of that.”
As for her more immediate ambitions in the next few weeks, there is the matter of going head to head against Isinbayeva, the world record holder, in Monaco on Friday as well as at the Olympics. “Confidence is sky high, I feel really confident the whole time, I’ve never felt this good and I want to win a medal,” says Bleasdale, who believes she will have to jump higher than ever to do just that. “I think 4.90m will win a medal.”
Clearing heights well over that of a double decker bus holds no fear for Bleasdale, who tries not to think about the feats she achieves.
“It doesn’t feel high when you’re up there,” she adds. “I might as well be a metre off the floor. I just love it and I’m so glad I got into it.”
Her mum was the driving force then and continues to be so. She is an Olympic volunteer at the Games but is confident she will have the time off to see her daughter compete.
When Holly broke her take-off foot in 2009, her mum gave her a necklace with the inscription “believe in yourself and magic will happen”, an item of jewellery she still wears.
Debbie gets unbelievably nervous watching her daughter, although Bleasdale adds: “I like to think she enjoys it too, I hope she does.”
The other key figure in her progress is her coach Julien Raffalli, whom she describes as the “great motivator”.
She adds: “It’s great as he believes in me completely but he’s always trying to improve, even the small things. When I cleared 4.87m, I thought it was perfect and it probably was for me at the time but he picked up little things and it’s all about working on those to get that little bit better.”
Going to the Games, Isinbayeva is the big rival although not the only one. The idea of competing against your idol can deter some athletes but not it would seem Bleasdale. “I’ve seen her as a role model in the pole vault,” she says.
“She’s very different to me in that she keeps herself to herself but my approach is to chill out and chat away to other people if they want. That just works for me.”
Bleasdale is regularly all smiles during a competition whatever the level although she left in tears from the World Championships in Daegu last year when her technique evaded her and she failed to make the final. Looking back, she sees that failing as a blessing. “I’m really thankful for Daegu as it made me stronger and better as an athlete,” she adds.
The Olympics should prove a difficult prospect although she points out: “The pole vault is such a technical sport that it can fall apart even if you’re at the top of your game.”
That’s where Bleasdale currently stands, or at least very near to the top. Now she has the target of 4.90m set in her sights.
Olympic pole vault: August 4 & 6
by: Matt Majendie