Bradshaw's career of resilience finally gets the Olympic medal it deserves

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Holly Bradshaw celebrates winning Team GB's first-ever pole vault medal with bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Holly Bradshaw celebrates winning Team GB's first-ever pole vault medal with bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

From James Toney in Tokyo

Holly Bradshaw proved that good things happen to good people and also really do come to those who wait.

You'd struggle to find someone with a bad word to say about one of the most popular athletes on the British team in Tokyo.

And after a difficult few days for Team GB's seemingly snake-bitten squad at the Olympic Stadium, this was just what was needed to lift sagging spirits, as Bradshaw claimed Britain's first-ever pole vault medal with a brilliant bronze.

Bradshaw finished sixth at the London Olympics and fifth in Rio but a succession of injuries, including surgeries on her knee, back and Achilles have all conspired to add to her struggles, made worse when her long-time sponsor dropped her two years ago.

However, when your stock in trade is hurling yourself through the air as high as possible, obstacles are just challenges to be cleared.

TOKYO 2020 OLYMPICS - DRAMA IN RELAY AS USA FAIL TO MEDAL, HANSLE PARCHMENT SHOCKS GRANT HOLLOWAY - MORNING UPDATE
TOKYO 2020 OLYMPICS - DRAMA IN RELAY AS USA FAIL TO MEDAL, HANSLE PARCHMENT SHOCKS GRANT HOLLOWAY - MORNING UPDATE

Bradshaw might like to fly high but she also likes to fly under the radar, arriving here with a higher world ranking than Dina Asher-Smith, Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Laura Muir but a much lower profile.

"I think this shows my resilience and will to always keep going," said Bradshaw, following her competition live on Eurosport and discovery+.

"Pole vault is a funny event, you can be in the shape of your life and still come seventh. I've been so close for so many years but I knew at one point that I'd get on that podium and it feels so special.

"The start of my career, leading up to 2012, I didn't put a step wrong and I didn't learn much about myself. Then I had so many injuries and put so much pressure on myself that it got me into a really dark hole where I didn't want to be.

"I had to change my inner values and work on myself to enjoy the sport and now I love what I'm doing.

"I've always wanted to start a family but I've had enough good glimpses in my career that I have just kept me going. There were times when I thought I might walk away but since 2018 I've not thought like that. At the core, I just love pole vaulting."

Bradshaw's toughest blow was her performance at the World Championships in London four years ago, when she finished sixth, leading to criticism on social media that her coach, Scott Simpson, revealed hit her really hard.

She consulted a psychologist to change her mindset and is now even studying it for herself at Loughborough University.

It was this shift in approach that set her free and when lockdown hit, forcing her to train in her garage for three months, she simply embraced the challenge, rather than let it eat away at her.

"I don't feel I'm at my peak, I think I can give more and next year is a perfect place to do it with four major championships," she added, looking ahead to a non-stop 2022 season, which includes a World and European Championship and a home Commonwealth Games.

"I've had the best season of my life, a new personal best and an Olympic medal. I'm still in shock, it's a mixture of so many emotions I don't know how to explain it."

There is a unique esprit de corps with pole vaulters not found in every track and field discipline - perhaps it takes a certain person to throw themselves over the height of a London bus.

However, it suits Bradshaw, who likes being everyone's friend and now hopes this medal will be the catalyst for more to come.

"Watching Keely Hodgkinson win her silver was certainly inspirational to me," she said. "It's been a mixture of highs and lows for us this week which is totally understandable given the preparation people have had. I really think the medals will keep coming and hopefully this will be an inspiration for the team too."

An inspiration not just for the team but an inspiration for all.

Stream every unmissable moment of Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 live on discovery+, The Streaming Home of the Olympics.

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