Becoming the England long jump champion at the age of 18 wasn’t something Lucy Hadaway expected.
But the teenager from York managed a lifetime best of 6.39 metres to take gold in Manchester last summer, just one of a few things that have given her a huge boost of confidence going into 2019.
Focusing on a single event also seems to be paying dividends. “I used to do combined events but I was getting too many injuries so decided to mainly focus on long jump, with a bit of hurdles and shot put on the side.
“You have seven events to fit into training in a week and I was at college and had school work to do. Since stopping I’ve only had a few niggles which most athletes are used to getting.”
The last two years have also seen an exciting international breakthrough. Lucy picked up silver at the World Schools Championships in France, and bronze at the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas in 2017.
The latter came in difficult circumstances, as she explains what happened in the days prior to competing. “I got injured in the warm-up and bruised bones in my ankle and damaged ligaments.”
There were fears that having travelled over 4,000 miles, her tournament could have been over before it had started. “I blocked one of my jumps quite badly and my spikes stayed still but my foot kept moving. I ended up on crutches and had to have injections.”
“It was constant pain – probably one of those where I should’ve stopped – but I just thought ‘I’ve come all this way’. It was my one chance to compete at the Commonwealth Youth Games, so I pushed through the pain. I knew that if I got a medal it’d be worth it, even if I’d be out for a few weeks afterwards.”
Competing at the tournament also meant experiencing a new culture, not to mention a different climate from the North East! “It was so amazing. The hotel was right on the beach and you could look out onto the sea and when you woke up you could see the sunrise.”
Determined to build on the experience, Lucy started 2018 with a flourish, coming third at the British Indoor Championships with a 6.06m jump, just two centimetres behind second-placed Jazmin Sawyers. Not bad for a 17-year-old.
“I was on the podium with Sawyers and KJT (Katarina Johnson-Thompson) and was like ‘wow, am I actually with you now?’, it was crazy. I’ve competed with Jazmin twice and she’s lovely!”
Another exciting foreign trip followed as Lucy got her first Great Britain vest at the World Under 20 Championships in Finland. “I’d just finished work and missed the (selection) call. I called back straight away and was over the moon as I’d been waiting a while for a GB vest. I didn’t get automatic qualifying so it was touch and go whether I’d be selected.”
Once there, Lucy says “it was really exciting meeting everyone and you realised it was a really high level competition. I came in ranked 12th and came out 6th. I went away thinking I could’ve jumped further, but on review I had done quite well to be six places higher.”
Two weeks later came her triumph at the England Athletics Senior Championships in Manchester (below). “It was really surprising to have won.”
“Jumpers always say ‘I can feel a bigger jump in me’, and my coach (Matt Barton) always says there is a big one coming! Elements have often been against me – either a headwind or pouring rain like in Finland – but there was a nice breeze this time and it all came together with my technique.”
While it can be made to look simple on TV, the discipline can be tough to get spot on, and fine margins can make all the difference. Lucy was beaten by just one centimetre by Jade O’Dowda at the England Under 20 Championships last year, and she herself was three ahead of Holly Mills.
A similar scenario at the indoor equivalent saw the leading trio – including Hadaway and Mills – separated by 2cm going into the last round.
She admits it comes part and parcel with the event. “You get a bit used to it, though it is heartbreaking. I was so close, I’d never got first place at an age group champs before and it was going well and then I thought ‘oh no’ as Jade went and jumped 1cm further.”
“I try and focus on my own performance. If other girls’ PBs are further, I’ve just got to jump as well as I can and it makes me want it more.”
Keen for redemption, Lucy is also buoyed by the prospect of representing Great Britain again this year. “The goals for 2019 would be to make the European Juniors and hopefully to come away with a medal.
“In terms of jumping distances wise, I’ll be aiming for around 6.50m. As it’s my last year as an under 20, I also want my first age group gold medal.
Training seems to be going well and Lucy is excited about taking the next steps, while sticking with the plan that’s worked for her so far. “Staying at home with my coach is important. I have to go up to Leeds for training but it’s worth it!
“I’m on a year out at the moment, but I’ve been accepted at York St John (University) for next year and I’ll also be going to Africa to volunteer for an animal conservation charity.
Lucy’s already mentioned that she enjoys the travel aspect of athletics…fortunately she does an event that has a runway, take-off and landing!