British Shot Put champion Sophie McKinna heads to Halle this weekend ready to begin her first step towards the World Championships after a strange turn of events were put to bed by a triumphant 18.04m throw at the Loughborough international.
Despite her current status as one of the best female shot-putters that Britain has ever seen, European and Commonwealth finalist Sophie McKinna never originally intended to step foot in the circle during her early days in athletics.
Like most young kids competing in the sport, her ambitions lied with sprinting. However, far from her current shot put exploits, her sprinting mainly involved competing for Great Yarmouth at “county level”, with McKinna herself admitting she “was never going to be a Dina Asher-Smith of this world”.
However, an off the cuff suggestion by her mum persuaded the keen young sprinter to take a giant leap over to shot put. And from there, her achievements in the circle went from being slightly unexpected to downright astonishing.
“I gave it a go and happened to be alright at it,” says McKinna, “then within six weeks I made it to the English Schools and came second, so I sort of got stuck with it really.
“(under two years later) I went to the Youth Olympic European Trials and I think I threw a two metre PB and took the bronze medal and then by the time I got to the actual Youth Olympics I put my PB up by another metre.
“So that was certainly significant because it was my first taste of an international level and it’s something I still look back on as one of my favourite moments and a trining point in my career, back when (Commonwealth Javelin medallist) Jo Jennings was team manager and there were so many good youths on the team who are now senior athletes in the GB team.”
Now as a fully established senior athlete, McKinna has a first ever world championship campaign to look forward to after finally breaking the coveted 18 metre mark to qualify for the tournament.
However, for someone who left her early sprinting days behind years ago, it almost came as a cruel twist that her finest ever throw of 18.23m would in fact be deemed ineligible to take her to the worlds due to the meet she competed at lacking a photo-finish kit.
It was such a bizarre and frustrating way to be denied a world championship spot, which could easily have left 24-year-old wondering just what it would take for her to finally seal her much-awaited ticket to Doha, with plenty of hard work still to do.
Fortunately, McKinna soon found her answer, delivering a superb 18.04m one week later at the Loughborough International throw to once again clinch the world qualifying standard. And this time there were no doubts at all.
“It was great to finally see it go beyond 18 metres,” says McKinna, “because it really has been a long process with lots of hard work and a lot of frustration across last year because me and my coach thought that would be the year we crack it. So this year it was pretty key that the barrier was broken so we could move on to the next level.”
In truth, for the past few months it seemed a formality that the Two-time commonwealth finalist would break through to world championship level, in what has been an almost relentless run since 2018.
A strong start at the Commonwealth Games and a first ever European final proved the ideal “building block” for McKinna heading into 2018, with the only real negative being her lack of success with the coveted 18 metre barrier.
But her emphatic victory at the 2019 British indoor championships saw her once again come agonizingly close, this time just falling short by 3 centimetres after smashing the championship record with an impressive 17.97m personal best.
Ultimately with this sort of form it seemed inevitable that the 18 metre barrier would soon be smashed, regardless of whatever hurdles stood in McKinna’s way.
“I’m quite a stubborn person,” says McKinna, “so I wasn’t going to let a technicality like the photo-finish stop me from going on and progressing for the rest of the year.
“I also think as I’ve got older as an athlete that I’ve started to understand the importance of letting things go more. When I was younger I held onto a lot of stuff so things like not being given the world qualifying throw would have really affected me.
“But as I’ve got older I’ve realised that if you hold onto those things then it can potentially ruin the rest of your season, so now I’ve got better at just letting it go and getting on with my job which is throwing far and hopefully working towards the Olympics next year.”
And that mentality has certainly paid off, with McKinna’s defiant 18.04m throw at the Loughborough International leaving her some much needed breathing space to officially begin her road to the world championships.
First up on the road lies the Hallesche Werterfage throws event in Germany and a chance for McKinna to truly let her throwing roam free, making her first visit to German shores since her European Championship campaign in Berlin last year
“(Halle’s) an amazing event,” says McKinna, “obviously the Germans love their throwing and they know how to put on a good throws competition, so it’s always a brilliant atmosphere where the crowd really appreciate the athletes and get behind them which is great to see.
“Berlin was certainly one of the best stadiums I’ve ever competed in and having the German crowd there was great because they really understand throwing and the technicalities of it so as soon as they see you competing they’re happy to get behind you whichever nation you’re competing for.”
To see Sophie McKinna in action along with other international athletes live at Hallesche Werfertage, click here: https://www.runjumpthrow.com/event/hallesche-werfertage/