30th January 2019


Now less than two weeks’ away, the SPAR British Athletics Indoor Championships will bring the very best in Britain together for what promises to be a superb two-day domestic battle at Arena Birmingham.

Among those aiming to impress is the rapidly-improving Laviai Nielsen (coach: Christine Bowmaker, club: Enfield & Haringey). While 2017 was far from a quiet year for the Londoner as she claimed both European Indoor and World outdoor medals in the 4x400m, it’s fair to say that 2018 was the year in which Nielsen made her name for herself individually following a string of eye-catching performances over 400m.

And, while questions about twin-sister and 400m turned 400m hurdles athlete Lina are never far away due to the close relationship the pair share, 2019 has been identified as a year in which Laviai’s focus on herself continues to take her to new heights.

As she explains ahead of competing in the 400m at the SPAR British Athletics Championships in a bid to make the podium as well as securing her individual berth on the British team for the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow (1-3 March), the hope – and ambition – is for further continued improvement as well offering an insight into changes in her personal set-up, including graduating from university and becoming a full-time athlete.

British Athletics: So first and foremost, you’re a full-time athlete now? How is that working out for you?

That’s right yes – I’m full-time now and an athlete, so I’m with my coach Christine Bowmaker and still based out of Lee Valley for most of my training. Mainly I’d have to say that only having training and competing to worry about is so much better; now I look back at when I juggled studying and training and sort of wonder ‘how the hell did I do that?!’

BA: So, how did you deal with it previously?

You just sort of do it without thought! it’s tiring and exhausting and I almost hated doing both!

I mean I loved my degree and I love training and athletics generally, but doing both was quite overwhelming, but as long as you’re organised and know your timings – I had everything written down and in a calendar – it can work providing you accept you’re going to be tired 24/7.

BA: Last year could have been as busy as you’d have liked it to be – the World Indoor Championships and Commonwealth Games offered early-season opportunities to compete on the international stage, but you yourself opted against the indoors and the Gold Coast which must have been tough?

Yeah absolutely…I remember thinking – and looking at my calendar – I just thought that there’s no way I could do the indoor season, the Commonwealth Games (held on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2018) and then look to qualify for the European Championships individually in the 400m, so I thought ‘OK, what do I actually want from this season?, and it was really about making my mark on the senior stage, and that pointed to Berlin.

It was really difficult to pick the phone up to Team England and say ‘sorry, I don’t think I can do it’, but when I put the phone down I was actually proud that I’d been able to make that call on my own because I didn’t really have anyone telling me to do it, so I’m glad I made the call because it felt worth it with how the European Championships went further down the line.

BA: Ultimately those big decisions made during the winter appeared to pay off come the outdoor season with the level of progression you showed – did you feel that this was the case and those decisions were validated by the times you produced?

Well I really took the pressure off myself last year in terms of times, so for me, because I’d competed quite well in my junior career it meant that the first two years of competing as a senior I put too much pressure on myself to improve my PB. After those years I thought to stop putting pressure on myself and just compete well without worrying about the times, and once I got that into my head that I was out there to race and compete the rest sort of followed.

I took the approach I had in the trials (British Championships 2018) into the Europeans and obviously it worked out well and the times were a bonus.

We worked on a lot of things – we sort of had to start from scratch (me and my coach) – I knew there were some weaknesses in my race, so we started with the start and the finish as things to work on while improving my endurance

BA: And now to the indoor season of 2019 – we saw back in 2017 that you have the tools to be a strong and competitive 400m racer indoors, but why is it that you enjoy the different challenge that the indoor event brings?

In 2017 it was such a fun season (winning British indoor silver and then finishing 4th individually at the European Indoor Championships).

A lot of people can be a bit scared by the event indoors because of the break for the inside after 200m, but I just love it and get my elbows out; it reminds me of my 800m days. It just makes it that more competitive and I just love the atmosphere indoors because it feels like the crowd is right above you, so there’s plenty of reasons to want to get involved in 2019, especially as the European Indoors are another home championships (in Glasgow).

BA: And 2017’s British Indoor Championships were clearly memorable for you and Lina when you went 2-3 for silver and bronze and Lina secured European Indoor qualification…

It’s an amazing memory and was completely unexpected – I knew I’d qualified because I had the time and obviously came second, but Lina had no idea that she’d gone under 53 seconds (the qualifying mark for 2017’s European Indoors), so we waited, waited and waited and obviously when she saw her time start with 52 she just screamed.

BA: Yourself and Lina trained together for such a long period but are now under different coaches undertaking different programmes: that must be interesting when it comes to racing one another as you are somewhat in the dark as to what type of shape each other is in or any ideas on tactics?

It’s the first time that we’ve trained with completely different coaches and different set-ups, so we don’t really have much of an idea which the other is doing.

Obviously we talk about training sometimes but it’ll definitely be interesting to race against one another again now…I really hope she does well because last time she went to the European Indoors she got injured and couldn’t race so I’d really love for her to make the team and race this time, but I’d also like to do really well too! It’s a tough one to balance out the thinking. I’m anticipating the championships being a really busy one where British athletes are concerned too, so it’ll be a strong team I’m sure.

BA: The confirmed names on the entry list for the 400m at the championships shows the event as being one that carries great depth with the likes of Eilidh Doyle, Zoey Clark, Meghan Beesley, Amy Allcock among others, but should the championships go as you intend, what would the end goal be come the European Indoor Championships?

Yeah the event is strong and the championships look like they are going to be really busy and competitive, but that’s what obviously what I expect too.

(Referring to Glasgow 2019) I’d definitely have to say I’d be targeting a medal – I’ve been so close so many times now and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished fourth, so for me a medal would absolutely be the aim.

It’s lovely with the team because it really is a team effort and to share that moment with girls you are really close with – the 4x400m team really is – is special, but there’s no feeling like standing there having won an individual medal because you feel like you’ve done it all yourself. Obviously you always have your coach and your support team, but to put the final performance in by yourself means the world.

The heats for the women’s 400m take place from 13:15 on Saturday 9 February, with the semi-finals at 17:45 later than day before the final at 15:58 on Sunday 10 February.

Tickets for the championships are still available via www.britishathletics.org.uk/events-and-tickets/spar-british-athletics-indoor-championships/

The SPAR British Athletics Indoor Championships will also be live streamed via the British Athletics website on 9-10 February.  A further advancement for the 2019 live stream of the championships, viewers will be able to see and hear immediate reactions and thoughts from medal winners being offered to viewers in the form of a live camera point in the mixed zone.