I was first introduced to Steph Twell when she had already claimed her U17 women’s National title. Little did I know that she would also develop into the Commonwealth Medallist, Olympian, training partner, inspiration and friend that she is today. Talented athletes such as Steph have high ambitions and targets that they need to achieve, but no athlete can do it alone. Though not unsupported, the loss of UKA World Class Podium Programme (WCPP) support for Steph is a big blow.
A statement released from UKA read “that a number of athletes have exited the programme as they are not deemed to be medal contenders in 2016, or have not met their agreed performance target for the year.” This is a concrete statement and they have been consistent with this across the board. However, does it seem fair that injuries, as common and often unavoidable as they are, are not considered as a part of reconsideration for the programme?
Steph suffered a severe triple ankle break in 2011 which saw her miss out on a winter season and track season. Steph hastens to add that the access to healthcare was what was important for her “I have never been money driven, I love the sport and only want to get better, the beauty of the programme is access to the very best nutritionists, physio’s and strength and conditioning coaches.”
Steph’s argument looks at the institution of funding itself. Steph feels as though she has been “bitten by her own success” as she moved quickly up the ranks from 2007 and was on the highest band of UKA supported athletes, but, as a result of no performances has been wiped off the map as if it were an “all or nothing” situation. This seems far from supportive and only reflecting “achievement rather than a longer term plan” and Steph adds aptly that “endurance running is never going to be a short term thing.” Therefore, why was there no back up from UKA in case the very likely case of injury were to rear its head and strike against one of their athletes, how come a “downgrading system” that would put Steph on ‘potential podium support’ in this case is not put in place?
For Steph, there is a back-up. With the “constant support and belief” from Mick Woods, her coach of a decade plus, and St Marys University College, Twickenham who have “up-trained” all their facility providers in order to assist their athletes with the very best treatment, Steph is able to fulfil her training targets looking into the new year. However she does not feel as though she has been “valued” and there has been a “disregard for me as an athlete” as she referred to the way in which UKA handled her dismissal from the programme. “A simple email, not exactly outlining why I had been dismissed” was what Steph received as her notice for being refused WCPP in 2013.
There was nothing of a “follow up” according to Steph, who is recovering from a stress fracture stemming from the original ankle break and saw her unable to compete at the Olympic Trails in July, to “see how I was, and potentially re-evaluate my targets for the year” which Steph would highlight as “important for looking after performance athletes.” Looking at the potential podium programme, many of the aspiring medallists are young and so far injury free, “it makes me worry for those athletes” says Steph, as “there is every likelihood they get injured or don’t perform, and then what, they just get dropped?” Steph thanks her position, whereby she has enough support to be able to carry on as normal, but it will not be the same for everyone. So, where is the safety net for athletes that are unable to benefit from the support year after year?
On from this, looking toward major championships in the coming years, Steph is not holding back. “Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games, will hopefully reiterate everything that was great about the Olympics, and it will be my home crowd.” As she thinks toward the1500m in major championships she outlines “the major talent” posed by those on either programme hoping that, come those games she will be fit and ready to prove just exactly her worth.
Finally, the question I am left with, should we fear for our inspired generation? What use is the legacy when we cannot rely on our governing bodies to look after our best and help them achieve? The life of an athlete is hard, why is this not recognised by UKA and why is it not supported?
The views represented in this article are views of my own and not representative of athleticos.