Holly Bradshaw ends run of near misses to win Olympic pole vault bronze

Nearly. Nearly. Nearly. Nearly. Nearly. Nearly. Nearly. Nearly. Finally.

After a decade when her tag as the nearly woman of British athletics seemed as if it had become written in indelible ink, Holly Bradshaw is an Olympic bronze medallist in the pole vault.

“It’s something I’ve been working for my whole life and I didn’t know if it was ever going to come my way,” she said. “I was queen of the fourth, fifth and sixth. But it finally did and I can’t believe it.”

She was not alone. Nine major global championships have come and gone in the 29-year-old’s career, usually with a hard luck story as a brutal payoff. Not this time.

While most finalists struggled with a swirling wind in their faces during the first hour, Bradshaw flew over the opening height of 4.50metres at the first attempt and confidently mastered 4.70m at the second.

At that point, after two progressions, there were four vaulters left: the 2016 Rio champion, Katerina Stefanidi from Greece, and the American Katie Nageotte, who had both needed three attempts to get over 4.50m. And then the Russian Olympic Committee’s Anzhelika Sidorova, who had looked smoothest of all.

The bar kept going up until Stefanidi bailed at 4.85m. Bradshaw soared over that but she had to settle for bronze, with Nageotte clearing 4.90m to take gold and Sidorova silver.

Bradshaw cited a change of attitude as making the vital difference. “The four years leading to Rio 2016 and London 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 competition it doesn’t matter.”

It may sound facetious but Bradshaw really did appear to be a walking embodiment of Rudyard Kipling’s If when the bronze medal was confirmed, meeting her triumph in the same stoic way she faced her multiple disasters.

She credited regular visits to a psychologist as a huge factor and she revealed she had almost finished a masters in the subject at Loughborough University. The title of her dissertation? Post-Olympic blues in coaches. “I’ve already done post-Olympic blues in athletes, which has been very interesting.”

It has been some journey which included being dumped by Nike and having no sponsor for months until Mizuno stepped in. To keep fit during the first lockdown Bradshaw put gym equipment from UK Athletics in her garage and she even practised by running down her garden with a baked bean can taped to a washing pole to simulate her run up.

She also gained attention when she filmed live stretching sessions for her followers, only for her Zoom to be hijacked by hackers who replaced her class with pornographic imagery.

When asked whether she was pleased to prove doubters wrong, her reply was instructive. “It’s not even crossed my mind,” she said. “The only thing I am so happy for is those people who have stuck by me. They love me regardless of whether I win, lose, whatever. They’re there for me. I’m not giving those other people a single thought.”

Britain’s three 1500m athletes – Jake Wightman, Josh Kerr and Jake Heyward – qualified for Saturday’s final, as did the women in the 4x400m relay.

The big final of the night, the men’s 400m, was won by Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas in 43.85seconds, ahead of the fast-finishing Anthony José Zambrano of Colombia in silver on 44.08. Kirani James of Grenada took bronze in 44.21. In the men’s decathlon the Canadian Damian Warner scored 9,018 points – an Olympic record and the second-highest in the world – to take gold. Kevin Mayer of France was second on 8,726, with Ashley Moloney of Australia winning bronze with 8,649.

The Belgian Nafi Thiam was also smiling after becoming the second woman – Jackie Joyner-Kersee in 1988 and 1992 was the first – to win back-to-back Olympic titles in heptathlon, scoring 6,791 points. There was a Dutch two-three on the podium thanks to Anouk Vetter (6,689) and Emma Oosterwegel (6,590).