Taking athletics to the next level

Posted on Friday 9th September 2011
Hannah England with World Championships medal

Hannah England with her World Championship medal

Following her recent success at the the World Championships, University of Birmingham Sport (UBSport) caught up with Hannah England to see what life was like in Daegu and what the future holds.

‘It’s weird to move on from the other competitions I’ve won, and I’m so proud of everything I’ve achieved, but it’s strange for it all to be eclipsed by one event now.’ So says recent World Championship medallist and University of Birmingham graduate Hannah England.

The 24 year-old was just happy to be part of the Great Britain squad for the 13th IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, but she returned home to her adopted city of Birmingham with a silver medal for the women’s 1500m, her first medal in a global competition. It was made even sweeter after missing out on representing Great Britain squad for the Beijing Olympics and the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, meaning her smile is wider than ever now.

However, the medal came as a surprise to Hannah. ‘I had a few people saying I could I was capable of it, and I knew that on the right day I had it within me as I’d finished high in races like the Grand Prix. Even though I knew I was running well and I was fitter than I was all season, I upped my game but assumed everyone else would too so I didn’t think it would be enough to medal.’

The final took place on September 1 at 1pm, with Hannah producing a stunning performance that has catapulted her into the spotlight. Biding her time by sticking closely to the inside of the track, right in the middle of the pack she switched out wide to unleash an outstanding sprint finish in the final straight.

She crossed the line in 4.05.68, just a couple of metres and 22 hundredths of a second behind the American gold medallist, Jenny Barringer-Simpson.

The 2009 Biochemistry graduate revealed the secret to her success. ‘I just thought to myself not to focus on the fact it is a World Championship race because it would stress me out, I just wanted to go out there and enjoy it. I spoke to my fiancé Luke [Gunn, UBSport Scholarships Manager and GB athlete] on the morning of the race and he knew I was fine because I was being a goof and my normal silly self.

‘I was just really calm and excitedly motivated, not nervously motivated. There is a very fine line between those feelings but the vide you get is very different. I just felt ready because I knew my training has gone really well so there was no need to feel negative.’

Even during the race there were no nerves for the UBSport graduate scholar. ‘I can remember thinking I felt really good because we weren’t going too fast and I knew it was totally within me.

‘At 200m I had a big kick and was nowhere near fatigue. It was wicked because I was waiting for a gap on the inside but it never came so I just went wide and went for it.’

‘I collected my medal the next day which was nice because I had a whole day to milk it, and I was upset because my family weren’t there and I had done it on my own, but it was pretty cool to see the flag and know it was up there because of me!’

She credits UBSport’s resident Sports Psychologist Jennifer Savage for helping her with her mindset before the race. ‘I did a lot of work with Jen, and it definitely made a difference. For me it stopped me leaking energy on stupid stuff, and helped me pool my resources together so I could compete against the best.

‘Luke is also essential for me to help me keep perspective as I do have a tendency to get too into it and obsessive over every little detail, which I think it a girl thing. But he will be like, ‘What are you doing, it’s 9pm stop thinking about athletics and watch the telly’’.’

Hannah still trains with the UBSport Athletics and Cross Country club, and it is obvious she still has a strong connection with the University of Birmingham. ‘I graduated in 2009 and have just stuck around because I don’t think I could get a better training environment. I was on a sports scholarship the whole time I was here, and I’m now a graduate scholar and I have definitely progressed as an athlete because of it.

‘The athletics club is great because everyone is there because they love it. It’s a nurturing environment and I know I can just turn up on the track and be supported. They give me the support I need and know I’m just a normal person. I feel comfortable around everyone at UBSport.’

So now Hannah is on her way to reaching the dizzy heights of sport super stardom, who does she look to for inspiration? ‘Kelly Holmes has been a massive inspiration and was an idol to me growing up. To have someone like Kelly have even show a small bit of belief in you is just great, she is a fantastic athlete and was so supportive before my race.

‘It’s weird though when you become a senior athlete because you have to stop looking up to other people so much and start looking up to yourself.’

Now Hannah will be looking forward to a well-deserved break in a few weeks’ time after she finishes up the races from the rest of the season. ‘It is an incredibly strange time because I live a much regimented life so it will be nice to watch the TV without feeling guilty. It’s like when you finish exams when you are a student and you have all this free time, and you are like ‘What do you mean I can do what I want now?’ I might have a pasty for lunch a couple of times because I don’t have to worry about the repercussions on my training!’

After the break it will be complete focus on the big event – The London 2012 Olympics. So how is Hannah feeling about next year? ‘I absolutely want to be in the final at the Olympics, and at the least arrive in the shape I am in now. I can’t predict how that race will go, but whatever it brings it will be an unforgettable experience.’