• London Olympics 2012

Bleasdale turns to new pole in bid for Olympic gold

ESPN staff
January 25, 2012
Bleasdale is currently the top-ranked pole vaulter in 2012 © Getty Images

Pole vaulter Holly Bleasdale is preparing to make a crucial change of pole in her build-up to this summer's Olympic Games after producing a stunning vault in her first event of the season.

The 20-year-old Briton produced a clearance of 4.87m indoors in Lyon, smashing her British record of 4.71m and moving to second in the all-time indoor list behind Yelena Isinbayeva in the process.

Bleasdale came up short as she attempted to break the Russian's world record of 5.01m, but is determined to raise the bar this summer with a switch to a 4.60m pole next week, 15cm longer than her current pole.

The new pole, the longest used by fellow vaulters on the women's circuit, will require greater upper body strength and runway speed as well as adjustments in her technique. The potential payoff, however, is the chance to move into world record contention and a shot at Olympic gold.

"When I look at some of the pictures from the weekend, I'm pushing off the pole about 60 or 70 centimetres," she told The Daily Telegraph before adding that the switch potentially puts her in line to clear 5.30m.

Bleasdale, though, is setting her sights on becoming a consistent 4.70m-plus vaulter for now. The outdoor world record, also held by her idol Isinbayeva, stands at 5.06m.

Coach Julien Raffalli-Ebezant believes Bleasdale is on target to eclipse the Russian both in London and in the record books. Since taking up the sport just four years ago Bleasdale has surpassed her own expectations year on year, but is fulfilling the potential the Frenchman spotted during a trial session in 2008.

"When I was jumping about 4.30 he was always joking about how I'd one day be able to break the world record and I just thought, 'Whatever'. I didn't really believe him. But at the end of every year he's given me a target for the next year and I've always done it.

"At the end of 2010 he said I'd be jumping 4.70 in 2011. I said, 'You can't just say that', but then I did it. At the start of this year he told me what I was capable of jumping. I'm starting to believe it."

Such belief will be vital this summer as Bleasdale bids to banish memories of her crushing exit at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. Then just 19, she failed to register a vault after failing at 4.25m, leaving the arena in tears.

The disappointment might have persuaded others to avoid tinkering with a winning combination in an Olympic season, but after producing a vault that would have won all but one of the women's titles in history Bleasdale and Raffalli-Ebezant are pressing on in a bid to scale greater heights.

"My coach initially thought that because it's Olympic year, we shouldn't change anything," she added. "The pole will bend in a different way so it might take a bit of getting used to. Julien was umming and ahhing about it but he's asked six or seven coaches and they've all said, 'Holly needs to go off longer poles or else she's not going to be able to jump much higher'."

Bleasdale expects to use the new pole in competition next month in Bydgoszcz, Poland, ahead of the UK Indoor Trials in Sheffield on February 11-12 and the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul in March, likely to be her first showdown of the season with Isinbayeva, who opened her season with a vault of 4.70m in Volgograd.

"When I started out, Yelena was always an idol and a role model, but now I can't really idolise her knowing that I want to beat her. Although she's really good, I'm up there with her now and I want to beat her now, not idolise her."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.