BIG INTERVIEW: Olympic pole vault ace Holly Bradshaw aims to use her experiences to make a difference in the sport

The Euxton pole vaulter reached a milestone in her life earlier this month when she barely turned 30.

A veteran of three Olympic campaigns – the most recent of which saw her win a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics this year, Bradshaw is no longer the young upstart on the circuit but rather the seasoned activist.

After clearing 4.87m indoors at the age of 20 – a mark that still ranks in the top 10 of all rooftop pole vault records, the former Parklands High School student had a decade at the top of sport.

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Holly Bradshaw with her Olympic bronze medal (Photo: Getty Images)

It was not all easy, injuries played their part and slowed down his progress on several occasions.

However, this year stands out as the best year of his career.

In addition to her Olympic medal, she broke her personal best in breaking 4.90m outdoors this summer – another mark that places her in the all-time top 10 – set at the British Championships in Manchester.

Despite entering her fourth decade, it looks like the best is yet to come for the Preston-born star.

While Bradshaw’s wealth of experience means that she is a much more complete athlete than ever before, it also means that she is someone that other athletes – especially the younger ones – admire.

This is the reason why she has used her status lately to speak out on issues that have affected her during her career.

Abused online for her teenage appearance, Bradshaw recently raised the question of what outfit female athletes are supposed to wear when competing.

Indeed, her Olympic experience this year was almost marred by the “skimpy” outfits of the GB team in which she was supposed to compete.

Panicking and dread when she saw the kit at first, Bradshaw denounced what she was supposed to wear, with the result being that she was able to push for something more comfortable.

Speaking out, she hopes she has empowered women and girls to have more control over what they wear in the future.

It’s not only this issue that the former Blackburn Harrier was frank about, she also commented on the topic of mental health.

Indeed, she is the author of a research article on the theme of post-Olympic blues experienced by athletes.

Her new role as the stateswoman of sport is one Bradshaw has embraced as she is keen to use her competitive experiences at the highest level to make a difference to other competitors.

“I think speaking out is the first step in making a change,” Bradshaw said.

“It just shows that there are issues that people weren’t aware of before.

“A lot of people came to me recently and said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you had no choice what to wear.’

“Like I said speaking is the first step and hopefully over the years things change. It’s about getting the ball rolling.

“I hope that women and girls can wear what they find comfortable and don’t feel pressured to wear anything else.

“Regarding the post-Olympic blues theme, I actually co-wrote this article.

“It was really interesting going through this journaling process and hearing different stories.

“I think highlighting the issue of the post-Olympic blues and the mentality of the people around it is really important.

“The study was a real success and highlighted some very important messages.

“It’s something that I’m really passionate about and I’m doing another study on post-Olympic blues in coaching.

“I’m very interested in sports psychology and I think that’s something I’ll do when I retire.”

Bradshaw can speak lucidly about her own sanity, especially since she has had different feelings after the three Olympics she competed in.

In 2012, Bradshaw was the young home favorite at the London Games, where she reached the final but finished out of the medal race.

Four years later in Rio she was billed as a medal contender but failed to make the top three, her clearance of 4.70m securing her fifth place.

Certainly, there was a sense of fate at the Covid-19 affected Tokyo Olympics as she eventually found herself on the podium, clearing 4.85m for bronze.

“Obviously I’ve been through three Olympics and each of them was slightly different,” said Bradshaw, who was European indoor champion in 2013.

“I had a different post-Olympic blues each time.

“I think doing the research helped me reduce the post-Olympic blues after Tokyo.

“I really struggled after Rio in 2016.

“People criticized me a bit for finishing outside of the medals – they might say, ‘There is always next time’.

“I was happy with fifth place and I think it’s about highlighting the best way to help people cope after the Olympics.”

Bradshaw strongly believes that medals should not be just the barometer for recording success.

Last month UK Athletics confirmed that Joanna Coates and Sara Symington both stepped down as chief executive and performance director respectively after the UK suffered its worst Olympic performance in athletics since Atlanta in 1996.

“Absolutely agree with that,” Bradshaw said.

“I think the athletes feel like they’re medal machines which I think is really bad.

“It shouldn’t depend on how many medals we win. It shouldn’t be “Oh, you only won so many medals, that means you should get fired”.

“It should be about how well an athlete improves, it should be about participation levels and involving people at the club level.

“I firmly believe that the mantra of the medal that we have is really, really bad.”

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