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pooley cites 'first class' mentality in wake of british high jump record

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Isobel Pooley

14 July 2015

On the day of her graduation, Isobel Pooley looked to have struck the perfect balance between her training and her studies as she smiled with pride in her latest Twitter post, having achieved a first-class honours degree in Animal Science from the University of Nottingham.

And the 22 year old was as eloquent as ever, exuding a certain quiet confidence, as British Athletics caught up with her last week following her victory at the Sainsbury’s British Championships.

Isobel leapt to the British title at a sun-bathed Alexander Stadium on Saturday 4 July, equalling the British Record of 1.97m and securing a seat (hopefully with extra leg-room!) on the plane to Beijing in August for the IAAF World Championships.

But it wasn’t always plain sailing this season, as Pooley herself testified; an “abysmal performance” at the European Indoor Championships in Prague earlier this year might have broken others, especially given that two young British multi-eventers in Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Morgan Lake were jumping higher at the time. Pooley’s 17th place was way off her best and something had to change.

“I just wondered how on earth I could be sabotaging myself to that degree and I had to get to the bottom of it,” said the Aldershot, Farnham & District athlete.

“I was so physically capable but mentally crippled.”

Pooley had identified that it was the mental side of the high jump that she had to tackle and took steps to remedy this aspect of her performance. With the continued help of her coach Fuzz Ahmed, Pooley sought the expertise of his wife Julie Crane, along with British Athletics psychologist Jennifer Savage. They introduced Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) into Pooley’s routine and have successfully increased Pooley’s belief in her own ability.

“This season has been a gradual removal of the obstacles and barriers that needn’t ever exist.

“I have to visualise what it’s like to do the jump before I do it.”

The evidence of these NLP sessions can be seen in Pooley’s progression since the disappointment of Prague back in March. A 1.94m clearance at the European Team Championships in Cheboksary last month was, at the time, her best performance of the season. But Pooley still knew that there was more to come.

“1.94 was a good height but I know I could have got that 1.97 so that’s what I’ll be chasing now.”

A short break with family, and a few weeks away from competition later, and Pooley was ready to defend her British title in Birmingham. With conditions in stark contrast to last year’s championships, the sunshine was the perfect metaphor on a joyous day for Pooley in which she equalled the British record, secured her spot in Beijing and defended her British title in style.

“The crowd was such a big factor and I always enjoy interacting with them.

“They got on board so wholeheartedly and stuck with me through those difficult attempts at 1.94, they helped me keep that belief and confidence that once I had 1.94 out of the way, the sky was the limit.”

The nerves continued on Sunday for Pooley as she stuck around to watch her training partners, including Olympic bronze medallist Robbie Grabarz, contest the men’s event.

“Basically half of the field was composed of my training group and those guys are such an inspiration to me and so integral to what I do.

“I’m so jittery when I watch someone else compete – when I’m competing I can control my own performance but when it’s somebody else who you care so much about, you want it so badly to go well for them but you can’t do a thing.”

“When Robbie (Grabarz) jumped his 2.28 I was still wearing my medal, I jumped so high that it smacked me in the face! But I didn’t care, me and Fuzz (Fayyaz Ahmed) were just jumping around and didn’t know what to do.”

A British record, World Championship qualifier and First Class degree all in the space of 10 days will surely have left Pooley with a huge sense of pride and satisfaction, but she and her team know that business is far from complete this season with a certain trip to China on the horizon.

Next on the agenda for Pooley is the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco before she returns to the scene of her old British Record at the Hochsprung-Meeting in Eberstadt, Germany. The annual meet has been coined ‘High Jump Mecca’ and Pooley will be hopeful of leaping to even higher heights there and again in Beijing.