Big Interview: Harry’s got eyes on an upside down career

Harry Gillam in action

Harry Gillam in action

First published in Sport
Last updated
Lancashire Telegraph: Photograph of the Author by , Sports reporter

FOR a young man whose career nearly ended before it got going, Harry Gillam has every reason to look on the bright side.

The freestyle aerial skier sees missing out on Sochi as a positive, a motivation to spur him on to bigger and better things.

Even when the International Olympic Committee gave him a second chance for Sochi – a chance denied by the British Olympic Association – Gillam shrugged it off.

As far as the former Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School pupil is concerned, if he is to achieve his dream he wants to do so on his terms.

“The whole reason the Olympics is hard to qualify for is because it’s the best athletes in the world that compete,” said the 22-year-old. “In my mind, I want to qualify for the Olympics as a podium challenger.”

Gillam narrowly missed out on the Team GB Aerials team for Sochi and when two more places became available, the BOA turned them down as he had not met their strict criteria.

It was a decision Gillam agreed with.

“I’m not mad or disappointed at the BOA,” he said. “At this current time I don’t believe I’m at that level, but this pushes me, makes me strive to do better and push for my dream.

“I did not hit the criteria that they set; it’s not as much of a disappointment as it is motivation to do better and show them that I do deserve to be at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.”

The fact that Gillam is competing at the top is a success story in itself after a horrendous injury in 2007 threatened to shatter those dreams.

Gillam, then just 15, had a trampoline accident and suffered a compound fracture of his tibula and fibula and lost a two inch piece of bone from his leg.

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Specialists opted to use an external fixator – a metal frame screwed in to the leg that keeps the bones in place – that, in layman terms, allowed the shattered bone to grow back.

Those were dark days but he thanks teachers, staff and pupils at the Blackburn school for pulling him through “QEGS were amazing to me, I wouldn’t be where I am without their support, especially when I had my accident which put me in hospital and rehab for a long time,” added Gillam.

“That was a dark part of my life as I honestly didn't see a light at the end of the tunnel. But lucky enough they stuck by me and fought for me when I couldn't.

“I owe all the teachers and staff at that school so much for believing in me and helping me get my GCSEs when I couldn't sit the exams.

“I specially want to thank head of sport Dr Mark Butler, as he pushed me to always do better even when I thought I couldn’t.”

Gillam made the best of a bad situation. On his time away from the slopes he enrolled on a BTEC National Diploma in photography at Blackburn College.

While there, he also competed in sports trampoline – an important part of training for freestyle aerial – and finished in second place in the men’s elite event in the British College’s regional finals.

His positive outlook on life and the fact that he admits to having “a bit of screw loose” meant that after five operations – one of which was to kill trapped nerves in his damaged leg – he is back competing again and has just competed in his first season in the World Cup.

While Gillam is yet to challenge for a podium place — his best was a 24th place finish at Beida Lake in China – his highlights have all been personal ones, including incorporating complicated triple twists in to his routine.

“The fact that I was able to train and compete triples this year was an amazing achievement,” he said. “When I had my injury I was worried that I wouldn't be able to come back, as we’ll as people thinking there was only a small chance I would be able to do doubles let alone triples.”

It is a far cry from the days when he was scared of the jumps at Rossendale Ski Slope.

“I didn’t know what aerials were until I decided I wanted to do freestyle skiing, which is where I started to train at Rossendale ski slope,” added Gillam who learnt to ski when he was five years old “I remember being so scared of the biggest jump up there which is funny to me now as I never thought I would do a bigger jump.”

Like all those who compete in the extreme sports Gillam admits fear is never too far away. But is it something he thrives on.

“I can guarantee that everyone that skis into these jumps has fear, but how we deal with the fear is different to how normal people would cope,” he said.

“If we get things wrong, hesitate or don’t commit to the jump it can be dangerous. That said, they do say to do aerials you have to have a screw loose!”

Gillam has short and long term aims but, now fit and raring to go, he believes his career is only getting going and the Olympics in South Korea in four years is something to strive towards.

“I honestly have that goal in the back of my head but its far away,” he said. “I want to focus on the ‘here and now ‘ to be able to push forward and make a name for myself as someone to watch out for as well as be a threat in competition.

“To me, my life as an athlete is just beginning.

“I never thought I would be here in the World Cup in 2014 and I’m grateful with every jump that my injury back in 2007 did not make me take early retirement.

“Missing the Olympics is not the end for me, it’s the beginning of my career.”

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