Sophie’s eyes on Rio as she looks to build on big 2015

Great Britain's Sophie Hitchon in action during the Women's Hammer final, during day six of the IAAF World Championships at the Beijing National Stadium, China. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday August 27, 2015. See PA story ATHLETICS World. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No transmission of sound or moving images and no video simulation. Call 44 (0)1158 447447 for further information
Great Britain's Sophie Hitchon in action during the Women's Hammer final, during day six of the IAAF World Championships at the Beijing National Stadium, China. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday August 27, 2015. See PA story ATHLETICS World. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No transmission of sound or moving images and no video simulation. Call 44 (0)1158 447447 for further information
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Sophie Hitchon goes into an Olympic year full of confidence after banishing any self-doubt in a remarkable 2015.

The Burnley-born hammer thrower had enjoyed an inexorable rise before suffering a couple of tricky seasons after joining the senior ranks.

However, it all came together in Beijing in the summer, as the 24-year-old twice smashed her own British record to claim fourth place in the Birds Nest.

The plan now is to build on that success in Rio, and the preceding European Championships in Amsterdam.

And the former Ivy Bank pupil has praised her coach Tore Gustafsson for helping give her the mental steel to bounce back from illness and injury which hampered her efforts at the 2014 Commonwealth Games –where she was disappointed to only win bronze – and the Euros.

Looking back on a real year of progress, Sophie said: “I think it has been my best year, it feels even better after obviously having a couple of not-so good years in my eyes. It feels so much better to come back and be able to perform the way I know I could before.

“Sometimes you think ‘maybe I can’t, maybe it’s gone, maybe it’s not meant to be and I’m not going to be able to make it at senior level’, you kind of start thinking like that.

“But Tore has kept me going a lot of the time, especially after last year, he said we’d get to 2016 and see where I was then, and after a great year, you just want to do it forever again.

“A lot of it is confidence, keeping things in perspective, you know you’ve had a great week of training, but one session might not be as good as the rest, and that’s all I could think about, that one session, instead of saying, the weather was really bad that day and it was a Friday and I’d had seven sessions before that...

“I don’t like making excuses for myself, I don’t like saying things that are true, I feel like you’ve got to keep things in perspective and realise it’s only an off day.”

But that day in summer in China was far from an off day as she threw further than ever before to claim a stunning fourth place finish: “I wasn’t particularly expecting to perform like that, training beforehand was going well, so I expected to do well, but fourth was a big surprise.

“To get to the final was the goal, but to finish fourth was amazing. People say fourth is the worst place as you’re disappointed to be so close to a medal, but I wasn’t as I didn’t really expect to come fourth before I went in.

“If someone had said at the end of last year I would come fourth at the World Championships, I would have taken that straight away.”

But she isn’t dwelling on the past, her fourth place performance has been parked, and all eyes are on Brazil: “It’s kind of, ‘I did that, that was great’, and you move on from that.

“I think always the goal for me is to make it, one, to the final, two into the top eight, and then it’s where can it go from there?

“I don’t feel like I can say I want to get a medal, because it’s about the process of it. I just focus on what I have to do, because you can’t affect what the other girls are going to do.”

Beijing was a third Worlds for Sophie, who now looks ahead to a second Olympics after reaching the final on home turf in 2012: “London was a great experience, but I was kind of thrown into the deep end a bit, it was a goal, but a year out, I was a metre and a half off the standard.

“I think when you’re a lot younger, you do things and don’t realise how much of a big deal it is, you just think ‘this is lovely’, obviously it wasn’t quite like that, but you take things easier when you’re younger.

“This year has given me a lot of confidence, but a lot of pressure as well, because I want to emulate that, and it’s another expectation I put on myself.”