AFTER two injury-ravaged years, Steph Twell is increasingly confident that she is now on the way back to reclaiming her best form.
Having missed so much top-level competition, the 23-year-old hopes to qualify for the world and European championships next year. But the event she has really set her sights on is Glasgow 2014.
Twell won 1,500-metre bronze at the last Commonwealth Games, in Delhi two years ago, in her first major outing in a Scotland vest. That third place showed that the former world junior champion could also compete at world level on the senior stage. But then came a severe ankle injury during a cross-country race in February 2011, and another this June ruled her out of the Olympics.
After so much disruption to her career, Twell is understandably cautious when asked to predict what awaits her in the New Year. But she is sure that, at least by the time the next Commonwealth Games come around, she will be able to do her talent justice.
“It’s been another interrupted year,” she said yesterday. “Not the best. But I’ve had all the metalwork taken out my ankle now, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made, my ankle is 100 times better.
“I had it done in July, and I couldn’t do anything for three months because I had to wait for the holes in my bones, from where the pins had been, to recalcify. With all the scar tissue I had, I couldn’t even swim or cycle because of risk of infection.
“Hopefully, it will be plain sailing from now on. I’ve been back running for seven weeks, and it’s going really well.
“I had a massive target in the Olympic Games, and looking back I was probably forcing my body to do what I wanted when I should have been guided more by what it was telling me to do. So I’m pacing it more steadily this time.”
That need to be patient has convinced Twell not to set too specific a target for next year. If she is selected for a major event in 2013, she will do everything she can but, if she is overlooked, she will simply remain focused on the real red-letter day in her calendar, 23 July 2014, when the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games will take place in Glasgow.
“In 2011 I missed the whole competitive season and, in 2012, I was out for half. So my main aim next year is to have a whole season back competing.
“I hope to qualify for the world cross-country championships in March and there are the European and world championships after that. But my attitude to them is, if they happen, they happen.
“I will aim to get there, but my main target just now is Glasgow 2014. Delhi was such an amazing experience and, with home support behind us, I expect the next Games to be even more enjoyable – and I hope successful as well.”
You would not guess it from her calm, polite demeanour, but Twell is an extremely tough and driven athlete. She has had to be to overcome the disappointment not only of injury, but also of being dropped last month from UK Athletics’ funding programme. Scottish Athletics has stepped in to compensate in part, and she has some long-term sponsorship in place, yet she still feels that the British governing body should have treated her with more respect.
“I really expected them to call me and thank me for what I’d done, so I was disappointed that there was no contact. It can feel that you’re not valued as an athlete unless you’re part of a certain clique, and my biggest worry now is that a UKA-funded athlete might be preferred for selection instead of me, even if I ran a faster time.
“Having said that, UKA have given me exceptional medical support and I’ll always be thankful for that. But, at the end of the day, I’m not doing my running for UKA. And I don’t do it for money. I’m not money-motivated. I run for my coach, my family and myself.”