SOPHIE Hitchon’s Olympic dreams are close to becoming reality.
But she isn’t resting on her laurels as she looks to go on the attack on her return to competition, and try and hit the hammer qualification distance as soon as possible.
The 2010 World Junior champion has to hit the B standard of 69m twice this year - which she achieved with something to spare last year, throwing British senior records of 69.43m, and then 69.59m to win bronze at the European Under 23 Championships.
Alternatively, if she passes 71.50m, she will automatically qualify. The qualifying period opens on April 1st, and ends on July 8th, and while there is no rush, Sophie would like to get that out of the way as early as possible and focus on the biggest couple of weeks of her life.
She is back in the circle this week with a small invitation meeting at Loughborough, before the Winter Throwing Cup in Montenegro on March 17th and 18th, and then a first -ever visit to America for warm-weather training in California.
And after a hard winter, she is eager to get back into competitive action: “It’s been a case of working hard through the winner getting ready for this year, and I just want to come out, bounce right into it and throw well.
“I usually start the season well, so hopefully I will be able to do the same again.
“The aim is to get that 71.50m, so hopefully I can do that in the first few weeks and concentrate on competitions and planning. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll keep trying, not worry about it, just focus on making it happen.
“You’re unsure if you will be on the teamsheet, so it would be nice to go out and throw the A standard and then focus on the rest of the year.”
Being selected to wear the Great Britain vest is as far as she has allowed herself to dream - although a place in the final is a realistic ambition.
She said: “Just to be selected will be a massive thing for me - it would be amazing just to compete at the Olympics.
“Four years ago when I took up the hammer I never dreamed it would happen - I’ve come so far in such a short space of time, so just to be there would be incredible.”
They say form is temporary and class is permanent, but for an athlete in Olympic year, reputations could for little - it’s all about producing the goods: “Other sports pick their teams a year out, but in athletics we have to qualify, and there could be surprises. You have to produce and peak at the right time, ands it’s a very fine balance, working on strength, competition focus and technique, all with the aim of getting it right when it matters.”
Sophie’s experience of performing alongside the elite at the World Championships in Daegu last year will only help, despite her not performing as well as she would have hoped, finishing 26th.
At 20, she is ahead of schedule in her development, in that the current world record holder, Germany’s Betty Heidler of Germany, who hit 79.42m last year, aged 27, took until she was 22 to make the distances Sophie is reaching.
She admitted: “It was a great experience, although I didn’t do as well as I wanted, I was really glad I went.
“I learned a lot from being in that environment, and it bodes well for me. I’ve competed against all the girls before, but it was daunting, training with them the week before, and you can only improve from seeing them at close quarters.
“Hopefully it will drive me to be right up alongside them. Hammer throwers are quite late in athletics terms to hit their peak, and hopefully I have another nine years or so to see how far I can go.”