Holly Bradshaw discusses her indoor season, moving on from Nike and image in sport


No matter where you set the bar, both in pole-vaulting and life, Holly Bradshaw will channel all her positivity and determination to rise above it.

The British record-holder has made a habit of conquering adversity, spending the last four years juggling injury rehabilitation and admirable championship performances. Those constant niggles do little to deter Bradshaw's hunger to succeed nor her desire to smile through it all, so it only seems fitting that the injuries have subsided in 2019.

The result? An incredible indoor season. Bradshaw was once again crowned British champion, captivating the crowd with a clearance of 4.80 metres, before going one better by defeating Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi at the Birmingham Grand Prix. Then, just for good measure, she added a European silver medal in Glasgow to an ever-burgeoning trophy cabinet.

Now that athletics has crawled out from the indoors and into the summer, we caught up with Bradshaw ahead of an outdoor campaign that could define her career. On the long road to Doha, it seems the Brit has seldom had such promising preparations for a major championship and she was in typically high spirits as she spoke to GiveMeSport in Loughborough.

"It was amazing, I did not expect that," Bradshaw smiled as she reflected on Glasgow. "This year is all about the World Championships, so the fact that I even got an indoor season was more of a bonus. I was going from 12 steps and just doing the British Championships, Birmingham Grand Prix and then if I was in good enough shape to go to Glasgow, then that would be a bonus.

Lessons from the indoor season

"And then to come out and jump 4.80m and then 4.81m, it was so surprising. From just 12 steps, it's a pretty crazy jump. I literally had the perfect indoor season and off the back of that, I'm just so confident for the outdoors and in that respect, I couldn't have asked for anything more from the indoors."

Bradshaw had every right to feel confident. It felt as though the vaulter was riding a wave of British support throughout the winter and images of her passionately celebrating on the mat were becoming commonplace. Momentum can never be underrated in sport and as someone who applies such an impetus on sports psychology, Bradshaw is already feeling the benefits.

"I think that's what Katerina Stefanidi does really well," the 27-year-old explained in agreement. "She's got like year on year of momentum right now, it's a massive thing and I think that's what I've experienced in the last two months really. I had an amazing 2018, where I was just loving it and every competition I was jumping 4.60/4.70m and then building up to Berlin.

2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships - Day Three

Momentum and sports psychology 

"And then I've had a couple of big crashes that have brought up a little niggle and I almost feel like I've lost a little bit of momentum. I'm one of these athletes that is super positive and confident, I can turn it around like that but for other athletes, I can totally see how losing a couple of month's momentum would hurt and that's why I think 'sports psych' is important. It's so important to me.

"It's one of my strengths because I have that 'sports psych' element, I can speak to them and then turn it around so quickly. In Japan and China, because there were a few stumbling blocks, I was really vigilant with writing lists of what was positive on that day and what was going well in camp. I think momentum and confidence is so important in athletics." 

The triumphs of 2019 came just a few months after one of the most successful years in Bradshaw's career. Despite missing out on the podium at the Commonwealth Games, she came into her own later in the summer - producing medals in the Athletics World Cup and European Championships respectively.

24th European Athletics Championships - Day Three

Nike drop sponsorship

However, it seems Nike didn't get the memo about her incredible performances. Despite having backed Bradshaw through thick and thin in recent years, the famous sports brand turned their back on her despite a rush of European glory. Nevertheless, it's credit to Bradshaw's character that the whole situation has done little to alter her outlook or motivations this season.

When asked if the news put fire in her belly, the Olympian responded: "A lot of people have said: 'show them!' but that's the opposite of who I am. Yes, it was a shock. Off the back of four years of injury, they supported me still, they were really positive with helping me out and then I thought off the back of 2018, that I proved to myself and others that I had managed to step up.

"Then when they made the decision, I was really shocked and I was gutted because I'd been with them for nine years. Being a Nike athlete was part of me. It was really difficult, but when I started back in 2009 I didn't think: 'I want to be sponsored by Nike and want to learn lots of money.' It was like: 'I want to jump as high as I can,' because I absolutely love what I do."

2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships - Day Two

Image in sport

Bradshaw compared the feeling of a good pole vault session to hitting a tennis ball in the sweet spot and it's that sensation that always drives her, not the finances or sponsors. Nevertheless, it will come as little surprise that Bradshaw has now teamed up with another sports brand and had nothing but kind words to say about her new partners Mizuno.

It was refreshing to hear the Japanese company's approach to the deal, particularly in a time of growing suspicions that athletes can be signed on image as opposed to performance. "It's a bit of a difficult topic," Bradshaw admitted. "I think it's an elephant in the room and nobody wants to say it, but I definitely feel that if you look a certainly way, you will have more opportunities.

"For me, I don't wear any makeup, I'm more of a tomboy: I wear long socks, baggy shorts and I compete in a onesie. I definitely think that's not as marketable as people wearing another set of uniform or making loads of effort with makeup. I think that's just down to preference, that's just not me and I wouldn't want to do it anyway.

"If someone said to me: 'if you wear loads of makeup and wear a skimpy outfit, you'll get loads of sponsorship,' that's really just not me and not what I'm about. It's sad. People have said to me that it's a lot about image these days but for me, I just prefer to be myself, go out there and compete. I want to be who I am and not what somebody else wants me to be." 


World and Olympic aspirations

The only attire preference that Bradshaw will have in 2019 is a World Championship medal. The Blackburn Harrier has achieved enough in the sport to retire a British legend already, but the one thing missing from her resumé is a World or Olympic medal. Now with three consecutive majors on the horizon, Bradshaw is determined to make that well-deserved step on to the podium.

The European medalist explained: "Ever since I started and especially back in 2012, I've known that I'm good enough to be a World and Olympic medalist. I think if I was to have a baby and not be able to come back, I would always kick myself. So that's why I'm still going now, I want to give myself more time and I'm still only 27.

"I think Jenn Surr is exactly 10 years older than me and she's jumped 4.90m. In a sport like pole vault, where you really do get better with age because it's so technical, I've got so much more time. I want to give myself the best possible chance of getting a World or Olympic medal because I think it's well within my capability. I just need to stay healthy."


Huge three years ahead

Bradshaw is channelling the same positive tension that bristles through her vaulting pole upon impact, and she's ready to clear every challenge that 2019 presents. British athletics is building a strong cohort of medal-challengers going into Doha and you can be certain that Bradshaw will be leading the charge when September/October rolls around.

We're keeping our fingers crossed that the very smile that emerged from the mats in Birmingham and Glasgow will be on full display at the Khalifa International Stadium. If so, Nike will wish they kept the tick that graces their attire right by Bradshaw's name. 

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