Chris Boden talks to Burnley Olympian Sophie Hitchon who is targeting a third Games in Tokyo this summer
The Burnley-born 28-year-old – a bronze medalist at Rio 2016 – endured a testing 2019, with teething pains following the switch to a twist heel turn technique, which saw her call a premature halt to her season.
She threw only three times, with a best throw of 67.51m – well down on her personal best of 74.54m set in Rio.
The 2010 World junior champion then had an emergency appendectomy, to round off a frustrating year.
However, Hitchon is back, and hoping a move back to a toe turn will bring about the sort of performances that established her among the world’s elite throwers.
There no regrets over the decision to change to a twist heel turn, designed to create more linear force, and she explained: “I took the rest of the season off, and just after that I actually had an emergency appendectomy.
“I had my appendix out, so that put an end to last year any way.
“I spent a lot of the break recovering from that.
“My performances weren’t where we wanted them to be at that time.
“For us, our focus was more on this year and the Olympics, and we didn’t want last year to affect pushing for this year.
“We felt that carrying on last year could affect a lot of the work we had to do this year, and it was more sensible to take that time off and reflect, give me a bit of a break and come back and do what we can this year.
“I was kind of pushing through, and the World Championships were so late last year, if we kept pushing, it was a predicament, that we either kept pushing, or ended my year to focus on this year.”
The decision to sit out the Worlds last year wasn’t an easy one to make, but it had to be done with Tokyo in mind: “It was the first major championships I’ve missed since my first in 2011, so it was a big decision to make, but ultimately the best decision in terms of this year.
“We went back to my old technique – we decided things weren’t quite working.
“In theory, what we were trying to do was right, but the difficulty was putting it into practice, and it wasn’t fully working.
“So we transitioned back to the old technique, around June last year we decided to go back to where I felt fully confident, and then we decided to finish the season early, which was the right decision.
“I just needed to find things that feel more comfortable, but if we hadn’t taken that risk, you never know. You can only look back and say we gave it a really good shot.
“It didn’t work, but there are no regrets, we gave it a good go.
“We’re now doing everything we can, I feel confident about things now, basically all we can say is we want to give it everything, and whatever the outcome, be able to look back and know that we did all we could.
“But right now I’m feeling pretty confident.”
The issue now for Hitchon is reaching the improved Olympic qualifying distance, which is now up to 72.50m.
She has to hit that by June 29th, although for Tokyo, 50% of competitors will be taken from the standard, and 50% primarily based on world rankings.
Hitchon has made the distance in five of her last seven seasons, with a PB of 74.54m set winning bronze in Rio.
With three months or so to her first competition this year, that doesn’t leave a big window to qualify though, and she admits: “It’s always stressful, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about it, but the whole point of sport is we take what we can get, and if I come out of it and I’ve done everything I could have done, I’ll come away happy.
“I have no choice, it either happens or it doesn’t, so fingers crossed.
“I’ll be doing everything I can to make it happen.
“I’m just looking to qualify at the minute, and make the team, then I can prepare for the Olympics after that, but it would be a great achievement to make it to a third Games.
“I wasn’t able to get the standard last year, so my main focus this year is to get to that point.
“We’re putting all we have into getting that, and that’s pretty much all I can say at the moment. It either works or it doesn’t.
“At the end of this year, we’ll look back and say we gave it our all, no matter the outcome.
“We’ll be fighting all the way – I would really like to make the team, for a third Olympics, and my main goal is to get the standard.
“My goal is to go out and get the standard outright, the ranking system works depending on the championships you go into, the place you finish etc, and I won’t get a ranking for last year.
“So that depends on the competitions that are out there this year, where I can go etc.
“My energy isn’t focused on the rankings, I don’t want to put it down to chance, I want to go out and take matters into my own hands.”
The hammer schedule is hit by the event’s absence from the Diamond League, a cause Hitchon has long fought for. But she will do all she can to get enough opportunities to qualify: “We’ll probably start competing around the end of April, beginning of May, out in the US. Then it will be about seeing which competitions I can get into after last year.
“I’ll look to do a lot of the hammer challenges, and work on improving my ranking.
“But the hammer schedule is hit and miss, although there’s a new continental tour which has the hammer in it, but it is seeing where they are and who will be competing etc.
“Sometimes you don’t know until the last minute, but the idea is to compete in the US.”