IAN LAMONT interviews a south London athlete who has overcome illness, depression and disappointment to drive her into becoming one of the world’s best discus throwers. Main photograph by IAN STRATTON
Jade Lally can put four years of hurt behind her on Sunday by securing a place in the British team for the Rio Games at this weekend’s Olympic Trials.
Britain’s No1 woman discus thrower made a tearful vow in 2012, after missing out on the London Olympics, saying that never again would she give selectors an excuse to leave her out.
Charles van Commenee, then the head coach of UK Athletics, drew Lally’s ire at the time. She said she would never forgive or forget the decision to leave her out of the squad of athletes who got the chance of a lifetime, to compete on the Olympic stage in front of a home crowd.
Then, as now, the selection process to win a place on the Olympic team had a twin track system, with those athletes achieving the A qualifying standard guaranteed selection if they also win or finish second at the trials. If no one achieves the A standard, then an athlete achieving the lesser, B standard, could get included in the team but only if the selectors, and the all-powerful head coach, says so.
In 2012, south Londoner Lally had thrown two B standards early in the season and spent months chasing the A standard by touring Europe, instead of concentrating on training for the summer spectacle in Stratford. As the only thrower with the B standard, she could, probably should, have been selected.
Four years on, and she has fulfilled her vow. The 29-year-old’s selection seems in little doubt, as she has the A qualifying standard having broken the English record twice in the space of three days when training and competing in Australia and New Zealand in February.
A 65.10-metre best throw is well beyond the 61-metre qualifying standard. She has half a dozen throws of sufficient length in the bag this year. To guarantee selection, all she now has to do is finish in the top two in Birmingham this weekend. And when she steps out for her event on Sunday morning, she knows she has thrown 9 metres further than her nearest rival.
“I was pretty bad when I wasn’t selected,” said Lally, who grew up in Mitcham. “I was quite depressed. I thought I was going to London. I had the B standard and nobody had the A standard, so they could have selected me. The conversation the selectors had must have been to put one person in or no one, and I will never understand that decision or fully get over it.”
Instead, Lally had to sit and watch as another British discus thrower, Croydon Harrier Lawrence Okoye, completed the fairytale of competing at the London Olympics. Okoye had only taken up discus throwing full-time two years beforehand, breaking the British record along the way and reaching the Olympic final.
Since 2012, the giant Okoye has pursued his sporting ambitions with a string of NFL franchises, most recently the Dallas Cowboys, while Lally has established herself as the country’s leading discus thrower, winning a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and consistently throwing around 60 metres.
Through all this, she has also had to contend with several bouts of kidney stones and an operation to remove a benign tumour in her neck.
With her health issues resolved, Lally set off Down Under for the winter months, to train with one of her heroes, Dani Samuels – the Australian who won the world title in 2009. Her hard work and determination finally paid off. Lally’s jubilation at setting an English record of 64.22 metres at the Auckland Track Challenge in February had some comical consequences.
“I jumped on someone’s shoulders and just kept swearing,” said Lally. “I didn’t have a word big enough to describe what I’d done. I was in disbelief and shock.”
As were UK Athletics officials, clearly. “I was told to expect a downward spiral by a member of the governing body,” Lally said. “I thought ‘I don’t believe in this stupid downward spiral’, and I went back to Sydney and threw 65.10 metres.”
Those distances have propelled Lally into the international elite competition of the Diamond League.
“That’s been really important,” she said.
“I’ve not competed at the Olympics or the world championships, so I only come up against the best in the world one or two at a time and not all in the same place. It’s good to get used to those sorts of situations.”
As well as Rio, Lally is looking ahead to the 2017 world championships, when they will be held in London’s Olympic Stadium. So far, Lally’s only competitive outing in that stadium was in May 2012, as part of the British universities’ championships, an Olympic test event.
“I don’t want the experience of competing at the universities’ championships there to be my only experience of the stadium,” she said.
“Hopefully by then I will be an Olympic ‘something’. To win a medal would be nice but I will at least want to have been a finalist.”
- Ian Lamont is a freelance journalist and experienced sports writer and editor, a former member of staff at the Croydon Advertiser, with experience in digital marketing and PR
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