5th August 2021
HISTORY-MAKER HOLLY SEALS BRILLIANT BRONZE
Holly Bradshaw made history by winning Britain’s first-ever Olympic pole vault medal with a brilliant bronze at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium.
Having finished sixth at London 2012 and fifth at Rio 2016, Bradshaw (coach: Scott Simpson, club: Blackburn) will finally get her moment on the Olympic podium after a clearance of 4.85m, just 5cm below her own national record.
True champions deliver on the biggest stage and the 29-year-old did exactly that by soaring over 4.85m at her first attempt, having needed two tries to get over 4.70 and 4.80.
Katie Nageotte (USA) was the only vaulter to clear 4.90m, while Russian Olympic Committee’s Anzhelika Sidorova beat Bradshaw on countback to win silver.
But the Brit took great pride in finally achieving her lifelong dream, as she notched Team GB’s second athletics medal of Tokyo 2020, following Keely Hodgkinson’s 800m silver.
“I think this shows my resilience and will to keep going,” said Bradshaw. “Pole vault is a funny event, you can be in the shape of your life and still come seventh. I’ve been so close for so many years but I knew at one point that I’d get on that podium and it feels so special.
“The start of my career, leading up to 2012, I didn’t put a step wrong and then I didn’t learn much about myself. Then I had so many injuries and put so much pressure on myself that I got myself into a really dark hole where I didn’t want to be.
“I had to change my inner values and work on myself to enjoy the sport and now I love what I’m doing. I’ve had the best season of my life, a new personal best and an Olympic medal.
“I couldn’t pole vault for three months and had to train in my house. I feel like this is a reward for staying focused. All those days where I trained were worth it now I’ve got this Olympic medal.”
While Bradshaw’s moment in the sun rightly took centre stage on Thursday evening, Team GB will also have three men in the 1500m final after Jake Wightman (Geoff Wightman, Edinburgh), Josh Kerr (Danny Mackey, Edinburgh) and Jake Heyward (Mark Rowland, Cardiff) all progressed through two keenly-contested semi-finals.
While the top five from each heat and two next fastest qualified, Wightman ensured he didn’t have to worry about any complicated mathematics by winning his race in style.
Halfway through the final lap, he moved to the front and pulled away from the pack to cross the line in a season’s best 3:33.48 ahead of Cole Hocker (USA) and, even more impressively, 2019 world champion Timothy Cheruiyot (KEN).
“All you have to do is come top five – that was the aim – I never planned on winning it,” said Wightman.
“But the opportunity came to kind of pass and my fear was everyone was going to close so quick that I’d rather have a jump into the home straight.
“I feel a lot better, felt a lot of better than I thought I would. It has given me a lot of confidence for the final.”
The second semi-final was run at a blistering pace as winner Abel Kipsang of Kenya broke the Olympic record with a time of 3:31.65.
Kerr and Heyward stuck to their task impressively and were both in the mix down the home straight – Kerr crossing the line third in 3:32.18 to safely reach the final.
Heyward was outside the top five automatic qualifiers but his personal best time of 3:32.82, which was also a Welsh record, in sixth was easily enough to qualify as the next fastest qualifier and ensure three Brits will contest Saturday’s mouth-watering final.
“That’s just the semi-final, it doesn’t really matter what you do at that, it just matters that you get through,” said Heyward.
“Everyone’s going to remember the final, so if you go out and have a good one there, that’s what counts. I hope everybody at home is proud of me and hopefully they’ve now got something to watch on Saturday!”
The women’s 4x400m relay squad also ensured they will have a presence in Saturday evening’s final after safely negotiating the heats.
Needing a top-three finish to qualify automatically, Emily Diamond (Benke Blomkvist, Bristol and West) led the quartet off strongly and handed over to Zoey Clark (Eddie McKenna, Thames Valley), who kept them on track.
Laviai Nielsen (Christine Bowmaker, Enfield and Haringey) maintained a qualification spot for Team GB and in a battle down the home straight on the anchor leg, Nicole Yeargin (Quincy Watts, Pitreavie) held off the strong-finishing Netherlands and Canada to finish third in 3:23.99.
USA and Jamaica crossed the line in first and second but Diamond was delighted with Yeargin’s gutsy finish.
“I was just shouting so hard for Nicole in that last leg but she had the strength,” said Diamond. “She’s run amazingly all season so we knew she’d be able to bring it home for us and for her to get hold of the final auto spot was amazing.”
And the Team GB quartet could be even stronger come the final this weekend, with individual 400m finalist Jodie Williams (Ryan Freckleton, Herts Phoenix) an option to come into the line-up.
Before the evening session at the Olympic Stadium, Callum Wilkinson (Rob Heffernan, Enfield and Haringey) and Tom Bosworth (Andi Drake, Tonbridge) were pounding the streets of Sapporo in the men’s 20km race walk.
In sweltering conditions, Wilkinson secured an impressive top-ten finish on his Olympic debut as he set off at a sensible pace, then steadily picked off those who had gone out too fast and were melting in the heat over course of 20km.
The 24-year-old – who was a junior world champion in the 10km race walk – crossed the line tenth in a time of 1:22.38, which was 1:33 behind the victorious Massimo Stano of Italy.
“My A-star goal would have been a medal – that’s the kind of racer that I am,” explained Wilkinson. “That is always in my head so then top six was the A goal, top eight the B goal and then top 16 the C goal.
“It’s good, so I give myself a C at my first Olympics – it’s probably being very harsh on myself but I hold myself to high standards so I’m happy even if it was my C goal for these Games.
“It’s all part of the progression and Paris 2024 is the one for me.”
Meanwhile, Bosworth couldn’t match his sixth-place finish in this event at Rio 2016 as he finished 25th in a time of 1:25.57.