Keely Hodgkinson with Barrie Wells

A few weeks ago Keely Hodgkinson was winning silver at the Olympics, but this weekend she’ll be competing at a rather more low-key National Athletics League.

The Leigh Harrier has enjoyed the perks of her success — only this week, for example, she was driving an Aston Martin DB5 as her reward for reaching the Tokyo final from her benefactor Barrie Wells. However, just four days after breaking Kelly Holmes’ British 800m record on the highest stage in her sport, she was back to the grind at a training session with her usual group of young athletes at a rain-drenched Wigan. And, when she could have been chasing big prize money elsewhere, she is opting instead this Saturday for a 400m at the Nuneaton NAL. The 19-year-old European indoor champion has clearly not forgotten her roots and, although her club is not part of the NAL, she applied for one of the limited guest spots.

Commenting on her decision to run there, Hodgkinson said: “I always Iike to wear the Leigh Harriers vest, but this year I’ve not had many opportunities to wear it. I’m looking forward to this weekend and to show my best in the 400m.”

Her coach, Trevor Painter, explained further: “At this stage of the season, it’s hard to pick yourself up and do some tough training sessions again so we’re trying to mix it up. We know she’s in good shape for a 400m.”

She has competed in one or two one-lap races in each of the last five seasons and her PB of 53.73 set in May could be up for revision. The league record stands at 51.7.

Painter said of that race at the BMC Grand Prix in Trafford: “She was really disappointed with the time. It was pretty bad weather and she had no competition. So we thought let’s take the opportunity and do the league match and see what we can do.

“She’s definitely got a 52 in her. It’s how low she can go in the 52s. It’ll depend on if she’s got a good lane, if she’s got good competition and what the weather’s like. It’s her last year as under-20 so it’s nice to post a good time as an under-20 as well.”

Further highlighting the down-to-earth approach of the Olympic medallist, he explained how Hodgkinson had thrilled some of her usual training partners at that first session back after Tokyo.

“Her training partners got to see the medal and then she got back involved in the training,” he said.
As far as those group sessions are concerned, Hodgkinson’s improvement this year has given Painter a nice problem, he added.

“A lot of the boys in the group are at a similar stage to her but she’s surpassed most of them now in terms of time. They’re on similar stages but because of different ages and stages within the group, they all have slightly varying abilities, so there’s some missed reps and longer recoveries. It gets a bit messy for me as the coach but it’s just what you’ve got to do.

“We’ve got newcomers in the sport and then you’ve got Olympic medallists in the same group, so you’ve got to make sure it’s relevant for all of them, not just one.”

The final round of matches at the NAL sees Thames Valley Harriers looking good for overall victory. Having finished top at each of the three matches so far this year, they would need to be beaten by at least four other clubs to be denied.

TVH women’s team manager Manuel da Silva said: “Phil (Wetton, men’s team manager) and I are confident it will be a good enough team to win, especially with the amazing team spirit we have where all our athletes will strive to get those extra points required to win.”

Their team at Eton will include 400m hurdler Nicole Kendall, who has had four individual wins in the league this season, including one at 400m, and set two league records. However, in the shape of Jessie Knight, she will face the toughest test yet as she tries to keep her unbeaten record intact. UK No.1 Knight will run for Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow, having returned from the Olympics to set a big PB of 54.23. TVH’s Jessica Tappin, who is seventh in the British list this year with 56.93, contributes to a strong line-up.

Staying with that event, Chris McAlister, who leads the British rankings on the men’s side, will be seeking another win, with the league record of 49.40 perhaps under threat. Birchfield’s Efe Okoro, who has run 50.29 and is guesting at Eton, and WSEH’s Tyri Donovan (50.64) should make sure it’s a race.

Their club also have UK shot put No.2 Amelia Strickler and they will be strong in the hammer with Pippa Wingate and Kate Lambert. 

Alex Haydock-Wilson, who improved to 45.57 for 400m recently, will be looking for big points for WSEH in both the individual and the relay, especially after his 44.4 split this month. Discus thrower Amy Holder will be among the other top names for WSEH.

Harrow, who are second in the league, four match points behind, will be at Hendon, led by England 110m hurdles champion Miguel Perera, international heptathlete Holly Mills and European Juniors discus representative Taia Tunstall.

In Nottingham, Trafford will have Olympic trials runner-up Alicia Barrett in the 100m hurdles, UK U17 high jump No.1 Halle Ferguson in both that event and the triple jump and sprinter Trezeguet Taylor. At the same fixture, Sheffield & Dearne’s team will include 51.65 400m hurdler Ben Higgins.

For Swansea Harriers, who will compete in Yate, Joe Brier will be back, having competed for Britain in the mixed relay at the Olympics. He’ll line up in either the 200m, 400m or both. They will also expect good points from 400m hurdler Caryl Granville. Hosts Yate & District will be led by England under-23 champion Adam Brooks.