‘I want to attack every race’: Keely Hodgkinson sets sights on double gold

    On the eve of what Keely Hodgkinson believes will be a summer of golden illumination, she is asked whether she is primed to show her best at these European championships and the Olympic Games next month. Her answer speaks volumes. “Yes,” she replies. “I haven’t let you down so far, have I? I really feel like this year is hopefully the best I’ve ever been. I’m really looking forward to it.”

    The 22-year-old will be one of Team GB’s biggest stars in Paris. But she admits that she has another British poster girl, Jessica Ennis-Hill, to thank for reviving her interest in athletics when it waned before London 2012.

    “When I was younger I just fell out of love with it for a period of time,” she says. “I was doing all right but didn’t really want to go training. I saw Jess competing, she was like the golden girl, everywhere and that really inspired me to go back, to actually want to do the heptathlon. I did dabble in the javelin. But then I was like, ‘I’m just going to stick to the 800m’.”

    It has proved an astute decision. In just three years Hodgkinson has accumulated a healthy collection of medals and trophies, including three European and two Diamond League titles, as well as silver medals at the Olympics, world championships and the Commonwealth Games.

    If Hodgkinson were to triumph in Paris, she would also earn $50,000 (£39,000) from World Athletics. It is a decision that has proved highly controversial, but Hodgkinson is all in favour – in fact, she wants the International Olympic Committee to introduce it for all sports. “I don’t think anyone will turn down $50,000, will they?” she says.

    “I think it’s great. I know the Olympic motto is about competing as amateurs. But we’ve got to the point now where if you’re competing at the Olympics you’re not an amateur, you are a professional. That’s in every sport in the Olympics. It’s nice it’s happening, hopefully in other sports.”

    Keely Hodgkinson celebrates silver at the World Athletics Championships in August 2023. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

    However, gold is the currency she craves most. And she should certainly collect in Rome given she arrives here on the back of destroying the 800m world champion Mary Moraa at the Prefontaine Classic a fortnight ago in a stunning 1:55:78 in Eugene, Oregon. “Coming into the Europeans, I’ll always respect the competition but I am four seconds clear of the next person,” Hodgkinson says.

    “So how do I keep the motivation high? I want to attack every race, I don’t want to have 1:55 here and 1:58 the next week, I want to be as consistent as possible. I’ll keep setting myself little targets in training, in championships all the time to see how much I can push myself.”

    She also admits that a tendon injury around the knee over the winter, which kept her out for nine weeks and forced her to miss the world indoors in Glasgow in March, proved to be a “blessing in disguise”. “It allowed me to put together back-to-back weeks of getting my endurance, getting stronger in the gym and getting my speed.”

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    Hodgkinson has also watched the emergence of another British 800m runner, the 17-year-old Phoebe Gill, with a mixture of fascination and awe. Last month Gill ran 1:57:86 in Belfast, the eighth fastest time in 2024, although she has stayed at home to concentrate on her studies. “I’ve known about her for the last two years,” Hodgkinson says.

    “I watched her race because some of my training partners were in it as well, Erin Wallace and Annemarie Nissen, and my mouth was like this. Seeing a 17-year old running 1:57 is surreal. She’s doing really well. She should just focus on herself, not get carried away, and keep doing what she’s doing. It’s obviously working.”

    However for the next three days, Hodgkinson’s sole focus will be on Rome. And unlike some British athletes who have missed this event to train for the Olympics, it’s clear she wants as many medals as possible. “Why not? When you’re fit and healthy you might as well take the opportunities. If I can defend my title that will be great as a stepping stone.”

    Meanwhile, on the third morning of these championships Britain won their first gold medal in the women’s half-marathon team event through Calli Hauger-Thackery, Abbie Donnelly, Clara Evans and Lauren McNeil. Hauger-Thackery also took individual bronze in 1hr 8min 58sec, behind Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal.

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