Inherent in the nature of those daredevils who choose pole vault as their trade must be a capacity to cope with the ups and downs. Lots of them. Newton’s Law and all that. “A funny event,” Holly Bradshaw observed. “You can be in the best shape of your life and still come seventh so it’s really, really hard to win a medal.”
She’s known seventh and sixth, fifth and fourth too. So very close at global championships but as yet no cigar. Until Thursday in Tokyo when the 29-year-old from Preston flew into the night sky and parked herself on Cloud Nine. Olympic bronze, with a best clearance of 4.85 metres for the British record holder, surpassed only by Katie Nageotte of the USA, with gold, and Russia’s Anzhelika Sidorova in silver.
Nine attempts on the world stage, and finally this. No matter that she failed three times at 4.90m. By then two misses from the Rio 2016 champion, Katerina Stefanidi, condemned the Greek to fourth and assured the British squad of only their second athletics medal in Tokyo. “I think it just shows my resilience and will to keep going,” Bradshaw underlined. “I don’t know what emotions I’m feeling right now.”
Gravity has pulled her to darker places and harsher landings, times expectations remained aerial but her inner circle had to prise her off the floor. By her own admission, the Lancastrian lives for the thrill of this event more than the chance that medals will come. Injuries, deflation, lockdown, descents where little could cushion the impact.
“The start of my career leading up to 2012, I didn’t put a step wrong,” she declared. “While that was good in the moment, I didn’t really learn much about myself and the event. So then the four years leading to Rio and 2017 were really difficult. I had so many injuries, I put so much pressure on myself, I just got myself in a really dark hole where I didn’t want to be and it wasn’t me.
“In 2018 I had to change a lot of my inner values, work on myself and change stuff to enjoy it more. Since then I just feel like I love what I’m doing, whether I come sixth, fourth, first in any comp it doesn’t matter. It’s about me jumping, enjoying it and enjoying the journey. The last four years I’ve just been building, building, building.” More, she predicts, can still come.
Josh Kerr has been through his own spectrum of emotions within the past few days. Despair and relief at a poorly-judged performance in the heats of the men’s 1500m that forced him to sweat on progression. Bullet dodged, the Scot was infinitely more impressive in Thursday’s semi, charging through to advance into Saturday’s final at a canter in third place.
Ahead, Kenya’s Abel Kipsang set an Olympic record of 3:31.65. Behind Welshman Jake Heyward, in sixth, squeezed through as well. 2016 champion Matt Centrowitz took his leave.
Kerr had listened and learnt within 48 hours, and then put plan into action. “I had to really have a look at myself and recalibrate, work with my team, speak to my family and get myself back in a mental position where I can say ‘you know what? Even though I was the fastest loser getting into the semi-final, I want to be a big qualifier for getting into the final and show what I can do that hard work doesn’t leave you.’ I turned it around.”
For the first time since Messrs Coe, Cram and Ovett in Los Angeles in 1984, three Brits will line up and hunt medals in the men’s 1500m with Jake Wightman victorious in his semi in some style. Kerr’s Edinburgh club-mate left world champion Timothy Cheruiyot in his wake then celebrated as his compatriots assured a domestic battle within the world war ahead.
“It doesn’t mean you have to dislike each other,” Wightman said. “I want them to make the final and do well, but I just also want to beat them when it gets to the final. There is friendly competition between everybody. And I think domestic competition pushes you internationally, and that’s showing with three of us in the final.”
Scottish duo Nicole Yeargin and Zoey Clark advanced GB&NI’s women out of the 4×400 relay heats but with individual finalist Jodie Williams rested, both must now await a call for Saturday’s final.
Clark’s adept second leg put the Brits into fourth and then team rookie Yeargin accelerated into third to assure automatic progress in 3:23.99, some redemption for her disqualification in the 400m. “I thought ‘I have to give it my all,’” the 23-year old admitted. “I knew we had to get that third spot so it didn’t matter how much it hurt.”
Dina Asher-Smith bounced back from the injury that doomed her solo bids as the British women set a UK record of 41.55 secs to reach Friday’s 4x100m relay final. “I knew there was no way I wouldn’t be here,” the world 200m champion said.
UK number one Andy Pozzi was seventh in the 110m hurdles final, won by Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment. Ryan Crouser threw an Olympic record of 23.30m to win the men’s shot putt ahead of USA team-mate Joe Kovacs. While in the absence of Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Belgium’s Nafi Thiam retained her Olympic heptathlon crown with a total of 6791 points.