Mollie Courtney (coach: David Warner) has made great strides of progression over the course of 2016, with two sub 13.5 postings in Mannheim, Germany back in June. This saw the Cheltenham athlete achieve the qualifying standard for July’s IAAF World Junior championships, a competition which served as her first overseas appearance in a British vest at a major championships.
The 19 year old repaid the faith shown in her by lowering her personal best to 13.28 in her heat, with a clocking of 13.42 in the semi-finals seeing her narrowly miss out on making the final.
Now focused on spending her time between her training schedule and university work as a first year Animal Biologist student, Mollie spoke to us about her ambitions for 2017, a year in which she will transition into competing at U23 level.
Where does your relationship with athletics stem from? Was it a particular athlete or event which influenced you in regards to taking up the hurdles?
I started athletics because my sister did it, and she still trains with me now! She is a great motivation and created a friendly environment for training. I actually joined a sprint group because my friends did - I really wasn’t any good at all, but my coach encouraged me to do hurdles and I really enjoyed it; everyone was better than me but I was determined to be good too, so I stuck at it.
How do you reflect on your 2016 season as a whole?
It was by far my best season yet, and being my last year of U20 it was great to finish off my junior career on such a high. I feel like I’ve progressed massively and put myself on the scene as a good athlete.
Just by putting myself high on the all time rankings I feel extremely confident going forward, but in saying that, and despite my successes this year, mostly I think I have learnt the most from all my experiences and difficulties, and that’s what is going to help me go on further.
You competed at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland back in June; how did you find the competition as an overall experience?
My aim at the start of the year was to purely get on the team for these championships, and I thought it was ambitious due to the tough qualification standards, so just being on the team meant the world to me as it was my first major championships.
At the time I was disappointed with my performance due to not making the final, but that’s because I put so much pressure on myself. Looking back it was the best experience I have ever had in sport - it was a massive learning curve in regards to what it’s like to compete at world class competitions, how it feels to travel, how to manage myself etc.
A personal best of 13.28 (+1.3) this year saw you leap to 5th on the all-time British U20 list. Jessica Ennis-Hill’s time is the next fastest in terms of U20 times - that must serve as a great motivation to keep getting quicker.
I took over half a second of my personal best in one year; I never expected to run that fast at the start of the year so I was beyond happy. To run a personal best [in Bydgoszcz], put myself 5th on the all-time U20 rankings and place 9th in the world all in one year is something I would never have expected, plus seeing my name on the all time rankings just behind Jess’ is so motivational - she is one of the greatest names in sport and if I can progress near her level that’d be extraordinary.
You also sit at joint 8th this year for British U20 High Jump; is there a plan as such regarding this event going forwards? Or is it simply something you enjoy competing within?
I’ve made a decision to focus on hurdles, so all my training is hurdle and sprint based, but I’ve always had a love for high jump – I competed it in before I started hurdling and it’s something that comes quite naturally to me. Nowadays I rarely train for it, but I do like doing some competitions within it towards the end of a season or for a club competition.
Several athletes who were previously on the Futures programme have now gone on to become household names on both the Olympic & Paralympic side of the sport - how pleasing was it for you to be recognised for your progress with a spot on the 2016/17 programme?
I didn’t expect it at all. It’s such an amazing programme, and I’m delighted to be a part of it. All the support is going to help me massively in ways I can’t explain.
Most of all it gives me a lot of motivation: British Athletics chose 32 athletes in the entire country that they believe in for the Futures programme this year, so to be one of those that they have faith in makes me excited to both improve and prove that I should be on the programme.
Do you have any specific plans for the next 12 months or is it about taking each competition as it comes?
My main target for the year is to get on the British team for the U23 European Championships back in Bydgoszcz; hopefully I can make a smooth transition into U23/senior ranks. Besides that, my main aim is to simply get faster every year and get as close to the sub 13 barrier as I can. I don’t think there is any point settling where you are - the aim is to get better and improve, and I believe I have all the opportunities to do so.
Mollie Courtney is one of 32 athletes supported by the British Athletics Futures Programme 2016/17. “Futures”, supported by Nike, is a British Athletics support programme for emerging athletes and their coaches which underpins the World Class Performance Programme (WCPP). The 2016-17 programme runs from 1 December 2016 to 30 November 2017 and will continue British Athletics’ drive towards supporting the next generation of talent with more targeted support for athletes and their coaches.