No pain, no gain for Sophie Hitchon as she returns to action ahead of World Championships in Doha
Last year was one of the most frustrating in Sophie Hitchon’s international athletics career.
But she hopes the pain will only lead to gains, as she builds towards the World Athletics Championships in Doha at the end of September, and next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
While midway between Olympics, last year saw the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, and a European Championships in Berlin.
The Rio 2016 bronze medallist spent the previous winter tearing up everything she had learned, to introduce a new throwing technique, designed to take her to the next level.
Coach Tore Gustafsson changed things up, moving her from a toe turn in the throwing circle, to a twist heel turn, to create more linear force.
However, the switch came with teething problems, as the gold medal favourite registered three no throws in the Commonwealth final, while she was eighth at the Europeans.
Sophie remains convinced that the change will bring the results she desires.
However, she would rather iron out any issues between Olympic Games, with Toyko the main goal: “The Olympics is always going to be the main focus - last year there wasn’t really anything major in terms of the Worlds or Olympics.
“I would have liked to have performed better, I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed.
“I’d like both ideally, but at the end of the day I would rather get another Olympic medal than one in the Euros, and that is my main focus.”
She added: “Last year was frustrating, the potential is high, but I didn’t always get it right.
“That’s the aim, to stabilise the technique this year - the building blocks are there for next year, stepping stones.
“It’s all about the feeling and timing, sometimes you can lose the feeling, it doesn’t feel right, something is off, it’s about being able to get back to it.
“We’ve worked on what makes it feel good to me.
“Training is about getting the feeling right, how I can get it feeling right every single day, and that is when the big throws come out - it’s about consistency.”
She admits that it was tough ask to get things right in time for last year’s major competitions: “Last year was the first year I’d changed my technique.
“But looking back, it was a fast turnaround to change it and compete in April at the Commonwealth Games.
“I never got the technique stable really, I never felt comfortable with it, and it was difficult in competition – you’d go into it not really knowing where your technique would be on that day.
“So it’s about getting it more stable and consistent this year, almost relearning the technique.
“We changed it because it has more potential.
“We could have kept things the same as before, but was that going to bring the results...
“I hadn’t really reached the distances I wanted to really, so we took the chance because the potential is higher with this technique.
“I wasn’t really going to be satisfied carrying on as I was, so it was the right decision.”
And with the World Championships later in the year than usual, the 27-year-old has put the time to good use, with an extended training stint in California.
She will open her season a month or two later than usual this weekend, with the Seiko Golden Grand Prix in Osaka on Sunday, and she said: “Last year I took some time off at the end of the season, got married - which seems a long time ago now! - and started back in training after September, so I’ve had a lot longer in training
“It was needed from last year, to be honest.
“It was a bit of a struggle at points.
“I’m keeping plugging away for the time being, and things seem to be going okay.
“The Worlds aren’t until the end of September/start of October, so it seems a little silly to start competing so early this year, and Olympic qualification only opened on May 1st as well.
“My first competition will be in Japan this week, a hammer challenge, which is a decent competition.”
While the Worlds are obviously a a major prize in athletics – and she has a fourth-place finish to her name in Beijing in 2015 to her name – the Olympics is everything to athletes, with everything geared to peaking every four years.
And the time between now and next summer is paramount: “A lot of it is time, I’ve had more time throwing in training, and it is gradually becoming more stable.
“Some days it felt like going back to the beginning, but really I have seen the potential is there - when I get it right and throw well, you can see it.
“You can see glimpses of it being really good for me, which is the positive thing, I just need to be more consistent with it.”
Her British record stands at 74.54m, the distance it took to win bronze in Rio, but she isn’t fixated with distances in training – just on getting the technique right: “It changes all the time, depending on how much training you have done, fatigue, but I don’t really tend to look at distances in training, I’m looking more to get the feel right.
“It’s only really in competitions you look at distances – when you throw every day, if you started to look at it every day, it would beat you down if it’s not as far as you would want, it’s not an ideal way of looking at it.”
The Worlds will be held in Doha in Qatar for the first time, at the Khalifa Stadium, the first completed venue that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
As with the World Cup being later in the year as normal, so is the World Championships, where the daily session timings will be later in the evenings – the marathons and walks in Doha will be held at the coolest time, around midnight.
The stadium will also be operating an air conditioning system that will moderate temperatures for the athletes and spectators in the arena.
It will be a first for Sophie, but she said: “I’m looking forward to it, I think it will be a great experience.
“The timing is a bit odd, later in the year, but it’s the same for every one, you just have to roll with it.
“I’m not sure how it will work, will we be warming up outside, and then throwing in an air-conditioned stadium?
“I’ll figure it out when we get there, and Team GB will do a recce before hand.”