Keely Hodgkinson: Life in the fast lane a breeze for young star

By Nicola SuttonBBC Sport
Keely Hodgkinson and Athing Mu look set for a famous rivalry
Keely Hodgkinson and Athing Mu look set for a compelling rivalry

After enjoying arguably the most impressive season of any British athlete in 2021, Keely Hodgkinson is determined not to rest on her laurels.

Winning an Olympic 800m silver medal on her senior major championship debut - and smashing Dame Kelly Holmes' British record in the process - was the highlight of an astounding breakthrough year.

Now the ambitious 19-year-old is preparing for a jam-packed 2022 and the chance to add to her medal haul.

"I'd like some more bling to look at and some under-23 records," Hodgkinson said.

"This year's a blank page again. I'll look back on 2021 when I'm retired but I have to focus now on the new year to go again."

First up will be the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade in March, followed by three big summer events crammed into as many weeks.

The outdoor World Championships take place in Eugene, Oregon, in July, the Commonwealth Games start less than a week later in Birmingham and the European Championships get under way the following week in Munich.

'She's like another mum'

Her steely eyed focus is testament to the guidance received from her mentor and coach Jenny Meadows and Jenny's husband Trevor Painter.

The 2009 world 800m bronze medallist, Meadows provides a daily fountain of experience and inspiration from their Wigan base.

Combined with Painter's knowledge from guiding both his wife and young charge to the European indoor crown a decade apart - in 2011 and 2021 - the trio have created the ultimate partnership for track success.

"It's really cool with Jenny," added Hodgkinson. "A lot of athletes she used to race are still racing now and she knows how they run.

"To have her wisdom and experience is something I'm very grateful for - she's like another mum.

"We're very different athletes but she's taught me so much, as has Trevor, and she definitely gets just as nervous when I'm racing. Her main piece of advice is to make sure I keep my youthful enjoyment with the sport, especially as her years were affected (by dopers)."

Life-changing season

Starting the year with a world under-20 record in Austria in January, Hodgkinson capped her indoor campaign with the European crown four days after her 19th birthday to become the event's youngest winner.

But it was an eye-opening national championship victory over Scottish duo Laura Muir and Jemma Reekie which really catapulted Hodgkinson into the limelight.

Becoming the second-fastest European junior of all time set the scene for the Tokyo Olympics, where the young star improved her personal best by two seconds to capture the silver medal in a phenomenal display of brave, confident running.

Rewarded with a British record of one minute 55.88 seconds, Hodgkinson's run was almost six seconds faster than her pre-2021 best.

It also cemented her as the world's second-fastest junior of all time - behind American Athing Mu, also 19, who sped to Olympic glory with a mesmerising run.

The final icing on the cake arrived with victory in Zurich five weeks later, which - together with four other top-five finishes on the circuit - enabled her to seal the Diamond League crown.

"Because I was always on the move after Tokyo, the silver medal only hit me about a month ago," revealed Hodgkinson.

"My breakthrough in January feels like a lifetime ago, and I've had so many life experiences this year it's weird. It's been really enjoyable but I'm still trying to process it."

With the Tokyo Games postponed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, having an extra 12 months to prepare was a blessing in disguise for such a young athlete.

"Jumping from race to race was hard and learning about living on the race circuit was an eye-opener," she said. "The travelling was really tiring and my body doesn't cope well with long flights. I kept picking up niggles.

"But it was great to get used to regularly competing against the best in the world and it was a lot of fun."

Rivalry with Mu gives extra motivation

Hodgkinson, currently on a gap year from her criminology studies at Leeds Beckett University, knows she has to swerve the many distractions that come the way of a successful athlete.

Admitting she went hard at the wine and clubs for 10 days on holiday in Greece, Hodgkinson went from gracing the red carpet of the James Bond movie world premiere to enduring a tough high-altitude training camp in Font Romeu in the south of France to kickstart the winter grind.

Sporting 15 piercings and four tattoos, Hodgkinson lives a normal teenager's life living with friends in Leeds and spending her time outside of training in coffee shops and shopping for clothes.

"My priority is always the training so I'm good at managing the attention now and know I have to keep working hard," she explained.

Hodgkinson also intends to stake a claim on the British 4x400m relay team but it is the forthcoming battles with Mu that bring the greatest motivation.

"It's good to be on the same journey as Athing and at the same age, and good to have that rivalry," she said. "We've had the same personal bests every year since we were 14 so it's going to be very interesting to see how the next few years go.

"Trev and Jen say there's 30% more still to come. They've helped build me steadily and now it's about maintaining it and bringing my times down."

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