THE BIG INTERVIEW
Smashing the world pole vault record at this summer’s London Olympics is not just a dream for Preston-born Holly Bleasdale.
The 20-year-old athletics sensation, who was brought up in Euxton, near Chorley, is hoping to hit peak fitness and form when her event gets under way inside the Olympic Stadium later this year.
And if Bleasdale is in optimum shape, she feels Yelena Isinbayeva’s world record of 5.01m could tumble as she pursues her dream of winning gold on home soil.
Already this year, Bleasdale has written her name into the record books when she vaulted 4.87m – which was, at the time, the second best jump ever recorded in the world indoors and is currently the third best ever – in Villeurbanne, France, in January.
Her attempt at surpassing pole vault legend Isinbayeva’s world best of 5m in her next jump ended in failure.
But Bleasdale believes the experience she has gained over the past year at the elite level of the sport, and the fact that she has already attempted to set a new world standard indoors, will stand her in good stead when she goes for Olympic glory.
She said: “I was so happy when I cleared 4.87m in Villeurbanne that when I tried to clear 5.01m, my head was all over the place.
“I couldn’t really contain my excitement because of what I had just done – 4.87m was such a massive jump for me.
“But I think if I was to attempt a world record now, in my best shape, I would have a really good go at it because I would be more prepared. I think that’s my next step.”
Indeed, Bleasdale, who attended Parklands High School, in Chorley, has to pinch herself when she thinks about how far she has come in such a short space of time.
She has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past year, having only taken up the discipline around four years ago.
It was her athletics club – Blackburn Harriers – who first planted the seed in her mind that the pole vault could be the event for her.
She said: “It was at the end of 2008 that I started training for the pole vault. I first tried it when Blackburn Harriers put on a taster session to get more people involved and to get more points for the club in competitions.
“So I did the session and my coach Julien Raffalli-Ebezant, who is still my coach now, told me I was really good and he then invited me to go down to Manchester to train with him.
“I thought, ‘Well, why not?’ – it’s kind of gone from there.
“I’ve always been really good at sport – whether it’s tennis, badminton, rounders. I also did football and gymnastics. With athletics, I did a bit of combined events.
“I did a lot of Northern League meets with Blackburn Harriers. They put me in the field events such as shot, high jump, javelin. I also did the hurdles.
“I kind of just used to turn my hand to everything and anything, but without being world class in any of them.
“But all those sports have come together and created a good athlete for pole vault.
“It’s amazing to think that when the last Olympics in Beijing took place, I wasn’t even doing the pole vault, but now the next Olympics are here and hopefully I’m going to be getting a medal.”
Although Bleasdale has always had confidence in her own sporting ability, even she has been surprised to see her name alongside some of the sport’s greatest names so early in her fledgling career.
“Since I first took up pole vaulting, I have always wanted to be there at the top of the sport,” she said.
“And I can kind of believe what I have achieved because I have confidence in my own ability.
“But I am still quite down to earth and what I have achieved recently, it kind of just passes me by a little bit. I just want to jump as high as I can.
“If I ever have the chance to attempt and clear a world record, I think it’s then when it will hit me – I’ll think, ‘God that’s crazy’.
“But I am really happy with what I have achieved so far.
“The thing which pleases me most is my mum, sister and boyfriend are all proud of me.
“People in Chorley have come up to me and said they are proud of me and that means a lot. I kind of feel like I am doing it for them as well.”
Bleasdale, though, will have to be at her very best in London if she is to realise her medal ambitions.
She faces stiff competition from a whole host of athletes, including twice Olympic gold medallist Isinbayeva of Russia, and American Jenn Suhr, who won silver in Beijing.
Isinbayeva improved her indoor world record to 5.01m in February of this year and also holds the world outdoor record thanks to a leap of 5.06m, set in Zurich, in 2009.
In total, she has set 28 ‘world best’ marks and should prove to be a formidable opponent once more in the summer.
Suhr is placed second behind Isinbayeva both on the indoor and outdoor all-time list.
In fact, she relegated Bleasdale into third place on the indoor all-time list when she vaulted 4.88m, in Boston, just days after the Blackburn Harrier had produced her own personal best.
Bleasdale, who now lives in Wigan, has shown that she belongs in such exalted company after winning a bronze at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, in March. On that occasion, the European Under-23s champion cleared 4.70m – the same as silver medallist Vanessa Boslak.
She had to settle for third place on count-back having cleared the distance on her second attempt, with frenchwoman Bosluk achieving the mark with her first go.
Both athletes finished behind Isinbayeva, who had a clearance of 4.80m.
Bleasdale’s performance in Istanbul has given her further confidence that a podium finish in London is a strong possibility and, as she revealed to the Evening Post last week, she feels a medal at the Olympics in London is certainly a realistic target.
“I was really pleased with bronze at the world indoor, it was my first major senior medal,” Bleasdale said.
“To know that I can clear heights like 4.70m at a championship is fantastic.
“The most pleasing thing about it was the way that I performed on the big stage and when it really mattered.”
There is no bigger stage than an Olympic Games of course, and Bleasdale is brimming with excitement about the prospect of competing for a gold medal.
She was afforded the luxury of trying out the facilities at the Olympic Stadium in London a couple of weeks ago during a test event.
And she is pleased with how her training is progressing as London looms large.
“My preparations for the Olympics are going really well,” she said.
“I’m training really hard – harder than I ever trained before.
“I’m in a really hard block of training at the moment.
“I can see when I’m training, all the hard work is paying off.”
Being a home athlete during an Olympic Games has its pressures, but Bleasdale is convinced the backing of the Great British crowd will be a massive advantage to her and her fellow GB athletes.
“I’ve always dreamed of being in the Olympics,” she said.
“To get the opportunity to do that in my home country – well, it’s just unbelievable.
“Just the fact that so many more people are aware of the Olympics now.
“Everyone’s going to be watching it and, hopefully, everyone’s going to be backing the GB athletes.
“For me it will be so good to do well for all the people in Great Britain.”
“I am really excited, but I’m just trying to keep it low-key and concentrate on my training.”
Bleasdale took time out from her busy training regime last week to pay a visit to her former college Runshaw, in Leyland.
She gave a masterclass in the art of pole vaulting and chatted to students about her career and what it takes to become a world-class athlete.
As a student, Bleasdale studied A-levels in PE, biology, psychology and religious studies at the college.
She is currently an undergraduate at Manchester Metropolitan University, where she is studying sport science.
She said:“I do love taking time out and doing stuff like going to schools. I love going into primary schools and teaching the young kids. But I used to study at Runshaw, so it’s nice to come back and give something back.”