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Blackburn Harriers duo en route to London 2012
They may be aged 19 and 20 respectively, but Holly Bleasdale and Sophie Hitchon are arguably already East Lancashire’s biggest athletics stars since Dave Lewis was in his pomp nearly a generation ago.
While Lewis never reached the Olympics but was desperately unlucky to be competing against the likes of Coe, Ovett, Cram and Elliot, neither Bleasdale nor Hitchon have such eminent rivals and are looking increasingly likely to qualify for the London Games next year.
Their latest successes came in the European U23 Championships at Ostrava in the Czech Republic last weekend where Chorley’s Bleasdale won her first major title in the pole vault and Burnley-born Hitchon landed the bronze medal in the hammer while extending her own senior UK Record by another 16 centimetres to 69.59m.
Her nearest rival in the 2011‘Power of 10’ National Rankings List is more than three metres behind.
Bleasdale cleared 4.55m in windy conditions, but she already holds the senior UK Record having reached 4.70m at the Bauhaus Junior Gala in Germany at the beginning of the month.
Domestically, the former UK record holder Kate Dennison (4.60m) is the only vaulter on her horizons and Dennison has recently upped her season’s best to 4.55m.
Any performances set from May 2011 onwards can count towards Olympic selection, and Bleasdale has set the ‘A’ standard of 4.50m at seven different fixtures this year, including five since May.
Although Hitchon exceeded the hammer ‘B’ standard of 69m on May 1 – the very first day it could count – the ‘A’ standard of 71.50m for the time being is still out of her reach.
It is an incredibly tough ask as she is the only British athlete ever to reach even the ‘B’ level, but it would enhance her prospects if a serious rival emerges as for the Olympic Games only one ‘B’ athlete can be chosen per event instead of the usual three.
The next big step towards their 2012 goal is the 2011 World Championships which will be held in South Korea starting at the end of August.
The Olympic Selection Policy states that a top eight finish will be a guiding factor when choosing the team next year. The World Trial is at the Birmingham Alexander Stadium from July 29-31.
Blackburn Harriers is probably as strong as it has ever been in its 100 year history and can now boast a new European Champion in Holly alongside the 2010 World Junior Champion Sophie.
The club is flourishing with the senior track and field squad having won the Northern League for the last three seasons and it is a wonderful environment for their stars.
Dave Lewis spent his entire career at Rossendale Harriers, a relationship which benefited both the athlete and the club and it is to be hoped that our newest stars will take a leaf out of his book.