A Steph in the right direction

Steph Twell: Commonwealth bronze in Delhi, 2010. Main photograph: Jeff Holmes
Steph Twell: Commonwealth bronze in Delhi, 2010. Main photograph: Jeff Holmes
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Next year will be the tenth anniversary of Steph Twell being named European Athletics Rising Star after making her senior GB debut at the Beijing Olympics as world junior 1,500m champion.

Two years later, she won bronze for Scotland in the women’s 1,500m at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, and that star seemed to be heading on an inexorable upward course but a horror ankle injury at a cross-country event in Belgium the following February cooled its glow and, when a further foot injury crushed her London 2012 comeback dream, it was sadly on the wane.

Now 28, Twell’s indomitable spirit and sheer love for the sport has seen her rebuild her career and she will travel to Gold Coast next year as one of Scotland’s senior athletes, as excited about the prospect as she was when breaking through as a wide-eyed junior with the world at her feet.

“I made sure I was here at the team announcement – I want to be part of the momentum because that carries you through,” said Twell in Stirling last week as Scotland’s athletics team was named with high hopes of medals after a highly successful two years.

“We’re all training independently so to get to chat to my team-mates about how things are going and everyone’s plans – that’s nice because you always follow everyone else on their journey so that when you are at the champs, you feel like you’ve been there the whole way with each other. It’s about sharing and celebrating each other’s success.”

Born in Colchester to an English father and Scots mother, Twell is as passionate about pulling on the Scottish vest as she is the GB one and rates competing at Glasgow 2014 as one of her career highlights, despite not being in the shape to do her talent justice.

That was her first major since Delhi after battling back from the injury setbacks and, having moved up to 5,000m, she finished 14th at Hampden.

Since then she has made it to another Olympics in Rio and is now part of an exciting Scottish-dominated GB distance troupe that also includes Laura Muir and Eilish McColgan. She outsprinted the latter to win the British title in Birmingham last summer ahead of the London world championships.

Of course, leading light Muir won’t be in Australia in April as she focuses on her veterinary studies at university and Twell agrees that puts more responsibility on her and McColgan’s shoulders.

“It’s a real shame that Laura’s not going to be there – I’m gutted about that,” said Twell. “But we’ve got a really experienced team and that’s what we should focus on. I’ll try to do as well as Laura could do – all you can do is try.

“I’m buzzing. It’s another away Games and Glasgow will be hard to beat but it’ll be quite a small team that’s away and I think the fact the bond that we’ll have because we’re away from home means that the support we’ll have for each other will be even greater.

“We’ve only got a couple of weeks until Christmas then it’s indoors then we’re away. The momentum’s building so I can’t wait.”

Twell qualified as a teacher last year, her studies curtailing the amount of mileage she could put in through the week but it is supply teaching so she can revert to the kind of full-time regime that will have her in the best shape for the 2018 season.

A tragedy which befell her local Aldershot club has added fresh perspective and drive as she embarks on this new phase of her career. Just over a year ago two teenage female runners out road training were run down and killed while by a drunk driver who was subsequently jailed for six years.

“It was hard and the club are all strong together and that’s how we get through it,” said Twell. “The girls passed doing something that they loved and we are celebrating that. It’s been a tough year for the club. I think about them regularly and I know a lot of my team-mates do too and I think it makes you appreciate life and what you’re doing.”

She may only be 28 but the wealth of experience both on the track and in fighting back from injuries means that Twell will be one of the leaders of the Scottish team that flies Down Under – and she embraces that role.

“Being a senior athlete has changed things,” she said. “Myself, Eilidh and some others who have been to quite a few champs are taking a few of the youngsters under our wing.

“There’s always pressure on yourself because you want to do the best you can do. I have got a bronze medal, then Glasgow was a bit unfortunate because I didn’t have the best run-in due to an injury and I was gutted about that but I was so proud to be on the start line and get to the finish.

“This one, my third one, will be so special and hopefully I’m in a better place and in better shape than before.

“It’s so satisfying to be where I want to be right now. I know that I can’t put my foot on the pedal too much pre-Christmas but I’m happy and I want to stay healthy and if I can, I’ll be able to produce my best performance.

“I’ve been at 12 champs – the first ones are clear in my memory, the middle ones are a bit of a blur and now I can remember the most recent ones and I’m like wow, that was really 12. So it does come around fast and I think it’s great because now, I’m the one at the bar getting all of the juniors to celebrate.

“It’s good because I know what to expect now. You go through the process as a junior of everything being unknown and that naivety and running blind can help you achieve success. But now it’s more about contributing to the team’s success and also knowing where I am in that journey because I’ll be putting the pedal down when I come back to Edinburgh [for the international cross-country at Holyrood Park] in January and then that will be my transition into championship prep. I still get butterflies though – going through the race the night before and going through your build-up in training, all of that.”

She may be more focused on the 5,000m now but Twell retains a love for the 1,500m event which yielded that bronze in Delhi almost eight years ago.

“I’m top six [in the Commonwealth] for 5k and I’m doing the 1,500m too,” she said emphatically. “The 1,500m will be really good prep for the 5k. Who would not want to run the 1,500? We’ve got such a history in it. And I loved running for Team Scotland in Delhi – that was the start of the bond that’s just kept growing.

“If we’re sending a small team, I want representation.

“I even offered to do the 4x400m relay because we cannot not have a 4x4 team. I’ll even be a reserve – I’ve offered twice. I’d love to but I think there’s some other girls who’ll be in there ahead of me.”