Mike Rowbottom: Livingston laments the losing of London 2012, but Pooley's hopes are rising
Friday, 04 May 2012
And at the far end of the hall, again and again, came the sound of pistol shots as the three members of the squad who had not earned individual places in Rome – and hence had foregone any chance of qualifying for the London 2012 Olympics – were training on determinedly in order to optimise their chances in the relay event at the Worlds.
For Katy Livingston, a Beijing 2008 Olympian, and her colleagues Katy Burke and Kate French, it must have been a trying occasion. Before being ushered into the main hall, our little media throng waited outside an office from which Livingston emerged. One of our number enquired if she was going to be at the press event. "I'm not involved," she said with a brave grin. Ouch.
Talking to Livingston (pictured above) later in the afternoon I was struck by her honesty over what must have been a stomach-churning reverse. Since competing in Beijing, this graduate in coach education and sports development has been devoting her life in quest of an Olympic return on home ground – in common with the rest of a hugely talented squad.
"I would have loved it to be me, but I haven't performed well enough to get there," she told me.
But then the maths is against too many happy endings here. With only two Olympic places available for both the men and the women, there are going to be two more disappointed women members of the squad, and one heartbroken man. Such will be the human cost of a calculating pursuit of maximum medal impact at a home Games.
While Livingston continues her Olympic year in a spirit of true sportsmanship – "I hope to be around for the two girls that are selected for the Games," she said – other Olympic aspirants are still proceeding in hope. And in the case of Isobel Pooley, who stands well over six feet tall, those are high hopes. In the high jump, naturally.
Pooley, 19, has just finished the first year of her degree in Animal Sciences at Nottingham University, and she has been in Stratford this week preparing for what she describes as "the biggest test of my life so far".
This Saturday (May 5), Pooley will seek to press her claim for an Olympic place by jumping either the A qualifying standard of 1.95 metres or the B standard of 1.92m. Given that the personal best she set in Sheffield's indoor arena on February 4 was 1.88m, that is something of an ask. But it is an ask which will take place in a uniquely inspiring environment – the London 2012 Olympic Stadium.
Pooley (pictured above) is taking part in the British Universities and Colleges Sport's (BUCS) annual Outdoor Athletics Championships, supported by Visa, which this year acts as the Olympic athletics test event – and will be watched by a sell-out crowd of 46,000 people.
Speaking at the Olympic Park View Tube, just across the way from the centrepiece of the 2012 Games, at the launch of Universities Week, Pooley told insidethegames all about her rising sense of excitement.
"I was able to train in the Olympic Stadium yesterday and to high jump on the bed that will be used at the Games. The atmosphere was absolutely unbelievable – with no people there. So I can't imagine what it will be like when the competition has started.
"My high jump final is due to take place on Saturday night, when the stadium is due to have more than 40,000 people in it. I can't wait – it is so exciting.
"I have done 1.88m, and I need to get a qualifying height for London of 1.95m, or a B standard of 1.92 by the end of June. So this weekend is going to be a huge opportunity for me to jump that.
"Most people in my event reach their peak at around 25 or 26, so at 19 I could be thinking I was too young for 2012 and be looking instead towards the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
"But I have only got another four centimetres to jump to have a chance of making the Games and I honestly believe that could happen. If the 2012 Games were being held somewhere else then maybe I would be looking more at 2016. But because it is here in my home country I am working doubly hard to try and make it."
Having achieved her 1.88m at Sheffield's indoor arena in February, Pooley – who lives in Fleet, Hampshire and competes for Aldershot and Farnham AC – found herself moving down in the rankings only a week later as her 26-year-old training partner under coach Fayyaz Ahmed, Emma Perkins, managed a centimetre more to put herself second in the British rankings behind the 1.91m set at the same event by Jessica Ennis, otherwise occupied with the heptathlon this season.
The following month, however, Pooley beat her Olympic rival to the indoor British Universities' title. It is going to be a testing season for her...
She will be drawing inspiration in the meantime from the example of her uncle, Guy Pooley, who rowed for Cambridge in four Boat Races, and represented Britain at the 1992 and the 1996 Olympic Games in the quadruple scull and double scull respectively.
"I've got competition pretty much every week for a couple of months," she added. "But to kick off the season with such a huge event as this Saturday's is unbelievable. It's going to be the biggest test of my life so far. I am hoping to reach the London Olympics, so jumping in the Olympic Stadium seems like a good place..."
Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames. Rowbottom's Twitter feed can be accessed here.